|09-28-2008, 12:59 AM|
The Boom Boom Room
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Babb:As the Chiefs’ season unravels, players can’t bring themselves to consider......
As the Chiefs’ season unravels, players can’t bring themselves to consider how bad it might get
BY KENT BABB THE KANSAS CITY STAR
Times are growing desperate in here, a space that seems to close in on them each game, each week, each day.
It feels tighter inside the new Chiefs locker room, designed for its openness and to comfortably accommodate more than 60 hulking men. They wander around, shoulders slumped and heads down, their eyes drawn to cell phones and their minds trying to find anything to distract them from 12 losses in a row.
It is the fourth week of the NFL season, and already the Chiefs are trying to cope with the prospect of a season spinning out of control.
“It’s bad, man,” linebacker Derrick Johnson says.
Johnson doesn’t look at the Chiefs’ schedule. It’s too painful. This team is trying to ease the pressure, not add to it. And Johnson knows that studying Kansas City’s next eight games would be unnerving, a boot in his gut.
Those eight opponents enter today with a combined 16-8 record. All eight could be playoff teams. Three of them have yet to lose.
Then there are the Chiefs, who have yet to win this season and who last won on Oct. 21 — of last year. Their best chance to steal a victory and snap the longest streak in franchise history might have been the last two weeks, when the hapless Oakland Raiders and the fledgling Atlanta Falcons trounced the Chiefs and sent them back to this locker room with nothing to look forward to until their schedule lightens on the final day of November.
No, Johnson has better things to occupy his mind than to study the schedule. Less stressful things. More pleasant things. Like the prospect of eternal damnation.
He’s sitting in front of his locker now, debating religion with defensive tackle T.J. Jackson. The men are discussing whether the Almighty frowns on men who sip alcohol on occasion.
“I don’t think it’s bad to drink,” Jackson says. “Maybe it depends on your intentions for drinking.”
“Yeah,” he says, pulling off his football socks. “That’s kind of how I think.”
They say something about heaven and hell, the joys of salvation and how long eternity must feel like. It’s heavy stuff, but when you spend time in this locker room, everything but football seems light by comparison.
Then someone interrupts, forcing Johnson’s mind back to football — like it or not.
“It’s hard to look ahead,” he says. “We could end up with a pretty good record, but we’ve got to get going. We don’t want to be in the sixth or seventh or eighth game going, ‘OK, we still need a win.’ That’s not good. We really don’t want to be in that situation at all.
“Even though it’s definitely still early, it’s going to start getting late pretty soon.”
He pauses. Jackson is gone. Johnson’s cell phone is out of reach.
For now, there’s no distraction to put his hands on. He remembers his conversation with Jackson and smiles.
“You’ve got to keep the faith,” he says.
• • •
The old pro had a bird’s-eye view of a meltdown, a prime seat to watch the Chiefs’ season unravel.
Rich Gannon was on good teams and bad ones, the kind that go to Super Bowls and the kind that step aside when better teams plow through. He’s a game analyst for CBS now, and he was in the booth two weeks ago when the Raiders beat the Chiefs by two touchdowns.
“Stunning,” says Gannon, a former quarterback for both the Chiefs and Raiders. “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Gannon says he wouldn’t have predicted the Raiders could rush for 300 yards. He wouldn’t have thought that the Chiefs’ running attack would go flaccid and that coach Herm Edwards would cycle through three quarterbacks in the first quarter.
Gannon says he noticed several problems that week that could haunt the Chiefs throughout these next eight games. They are problems that might persist and probably will make the Chiefs underdogs in each game until at least Nov. 30, when they play at Oakland.
Gannon says he thinks any NFL team can beat another, even the Chiefs, but for Kansas City to have a chance in the next two months, Edwards needs to choose a quarterback and stick with him until Brodie Croyle returns. And Edwards has to give that quarterback more than half the practice snaps, as Gannon says Damon Huard took before starting the Oakland game.
“That’s not nearly enough,” Gannon says. “Then they expect you to go out there Sunday and be sharp.”
That game appeared to be when the Chiefs hit bottom. The Raiders were young, mismanaged and immersed in chaos as embattled coach Lane Kiffin’s collar tightened. And they had no problem with the Chiefs, whose basic problems seem to be motivation and youth.
Then there was last week: Falcons 38, Chiefs 14.
“Believe me,” Edwards said in the days after that game, “I’ve never sat in this chair before. This is hard. To do this, this is hard. As a head coach, I’ve never lost three in a row. First three, I’ve never done that. I’ve lost two and fought my way out of it, but never three. So we’re all sitting in a place that’s not very comfortable to sit in.”
Those two games were supposed to be the slumpbusters. Instead, they drove the Chiefs deeper into a funk that has lasted nearly a year — and might last longer.
Gannon says the Chiefs would have to be perfect to surprise one of their next eight opponents. He says they have no clear strength, no star or dependable package they can rely on to carry the day. No, this team is in trouble, and there’s a good chance nothing will change unless the Chiefs play a flawless game.
“They’re not good enough to be off,” Gannon says.
Gannon says he did see some things two weeks ago that suggest Kansas City can win a game sometime in the next two months: Dwayne Bowe. Tony Gonzalez. A group of young players whose resiliency masks their inexperience.
Mostly, Gannon says, this team needs confidence. Edwards says one win would restore a year’s worth of bad vibes, and any old win would do. But it needs to happen sooner rather than later.
It’d be “like three Christmases rolled into one,” the coach says of winning a game. “And New Year’s.”
• • •
Will Franklin sits on his locker room stool and stares into space. He knows this feeling of losing, and knows it can change — even if it won’t change immediately, as the Chiefs hope.
He played at Missouri — before the Tigers were the toast of college football. He played on the weak teams and said there was a time after his sophomore season that things clicked and everyone knew MU’s troubles were over. He’s trying to believe that day is coming for the Chiefs.
“You go through your hard times,” Franklin says, “and right now, it’s hard times.”
Franklin wants to believe that the Chiefs’ problems will end this season. Heck, he wants to believe it’ll happen today. He also knows there have been no indications that Kansas City’s worst days have passed.
“Hey,” he says, “there ain’t no other way to go but up.”
For now, Franklin and many of the young Chiefs are trying to improve. Franklin wants to work his way into the starting lineup. Glenn Dorsey wants to be a force on the defensive front. Jamaal Charles and Brad Cottam want to show why the Chiefs drafted them.
Edwards says that while victories aren’t coming, the Chiefs have to concentrate on progress. Otherwise, this locker room might never be filled with joy. The Chiefs won’t ever stop looking for distractions from football. Won’t ever find something to feel good about. Not until the week they play Miami or Oakland or Cincinnati — some team that gives the Chiefs a chance.
“Once you get that one win,” running back Larry Johnson says, “a lot of things change. A lot of attitudes change. You start believing a lot more than you would if you were like, ‘All right, if we just hold on for a couple weeks; we’ll get it turned around.’
“I look at it as: Other teams are winning now. I look at it as: Other teams are taking us for granted. That’s what I’d rather have. When we go out there and really shock them, and they understand what we are about and how we play. That’s better than just trying to wait until we play a team that’s losing.”
Until then, this is the locker room’s mood: Left guard Brian Waters sits in a shadowy corner, alone. Bowe, the normally rambunctious 23-year-old receiver, has no jokes to make and no trash to talk. Bernard Pollard, the quirky safety who is almost always smiling, has nothing to smile about.
And Larry Johnson is lying on the floor. It’s 48 hours before kickoff of the Denver game, and the Chiefs’ running back is sprawled on the red carpet, one arm at his side and the other covering his eyes.
It’s that depressing in here. Until the Chiefs win, whether it’s an upset or a late-season triumph, this team wants something to take its mind off where it’s been and where it might be going.
“It’s what we’ve got to deal with,” Johnson says.
Then Johnson’s phone vibrates in his hand. It’s a text message. He reads it and smiles, and if only for a few seconds in the Chiefs’ locker room, there is relief.
|09-28-2008, 01:05 AM||#2|
Join Date: Apr 2005
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Ah great religious stuff...we know what all the guys being bible thumpers did for the Royals.
|09-28-2008, 01:10 AM||#4|
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
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|09-28-2008, 04:10 AM||#5|
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I love the fact that Herm says he's never lost 3 in a row as we just finished losing our 12th consecutive game...
Now, he may have been talking about 3 to start a season, but a loss is a loss, and the sumbitch hasn't won a gat damn game in 12 ****ing moons.