The Kansas City Chiefs' 42nd season in the National Football League began with a lockout and ended with the team outside the playoffs. The season is mercifully over, and only one word properly describes the 2011 campaign: cursed.
This season will be remembered for torn ACLs. (Chiefs players could probably get a bulk discount on the surgical procedures. At least they won't be lonely during rehab.) But Kansas City's pain wasn't just on the field. The Chiefs suffered off-the-field debacles, including front-office PR blunders, ego-fueled catfights, fan buffoonery and embarrassing lawsuits.
The Chiefs managed to play spoiler to history, ending the Green Bay Packers' bid for a perfect season. But with every victory on the way to a mediocre 7-9 record, the team played itself out of the running to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
In an effort to exorcise the 2011 season's demons, we begin the offseason's self-flagellation with a timeline of the season's lowest and strangest moments. Help us, Hank Stram!
Punch Out, Go Home
July 20, 2011
It's important when running a business to keep overhead low. Sometimes management needs to trim costly benefits like health insurance and 401(k)s. But cutting an employee perk during a recession? That's just cruel. Yet the Chiefs did just that.
For years, ticket takers, parking attendants and other seasonal, hourly employees could clock out, go inside Arrowhead and watch the games, reportedly in the standing-room section. The team discontinued the benefit last season.
"We're working to develop policies and practices that provide the best possible experience for our fans; and fair and appropriate compensation and benefits for our employees," the Chiefs organization said in a statement.
The Chiefs apparently believe that watching the game after sweating or freezing while helping fans is unfair and inappropriate.
The move made Internet headlines, giving the Chiefs just enough bad karma before the start of training camp. It was especially miserly given rich-person magazine Forbes' assessment that the Chiefs are the 27th most valuable pro-sports team in the world — in the world! — worth $965 million. The franchise was also further from the salary cap than any other team in the league, meaning that the chintzy organization was willing to go into the season with journeyman Tyler Palko and rookie Ricky Stanzi as its backup quarterbacks. Better pray that Matt Cassel doesn't get injured.
Maybe the penny-pinching will help the club climb to No. 26 in 2012.
Never Forget ... to Charge Admission
July 22, 2011
A local firefighter told 610 Sports' Nick Wright that the Chiefs were charging 100 firefighters, who would be taking part in a pregame ceremony, to stay and watch the game — on September 11. The rumored price to stay: $25. Hours after Wright tweeted the information and the news spread, Wright reported that the Chiefs called him and said the firefighters could stay for free. The baffling plan was the team's second PR boner in two days, and the season hadn't even started yet.
Bye-Bye, Brian Waters
July 28, 2011
Releasing guard Brian Waters after 11 seasons was like putting down a beloved family pet. At age 34, Waters was on the backside of his career. Waters was a class act to the end. "This was a mutual decision between us," Waters told The Kansas City Star of his departure. "We both felt the time was right. There's no ill will. There's no bad blood. I think it's a good move for both parties." The New England Patriots snapped him up, and he had himself a hell of a season. "He's really worked hard, just doing everything that you would want a player to do," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the Providence Journal. "He's worked hard in studying his plays and being in his notebook and watching film and asking questions. He's very well prepared. He's a true professional and he really works hard at his job. He takes a lot of pride in it." The Chiefs, a team that allowed 33 sacks and 72 hits on the quarterback, definitely couldn't use a guy who had a Pro Bowl season (his sixth).
Rookie Fight Card
August 19, 2011
The Chiefs needed a wide receiver to complement Dwayne Bowe. So the franchise abandoned its previous strategy of drafting "good citizens" and used its first-round draft pick on Jonathan Baldwin, a wideout from the University of Pittsburgh with a troubled past, which included charges of assault and harassment. Baldwin claimed that he had matured. "I won't be a problem," he told the Chiefs in April. Four months later, Baldwin was brawling in a locker room with veteran running back Thomas Jones. In the scuffle, Baldwin hurt his thumb, causing him to miss the Chiefs' final three preseason games. In a press conference following the Chiefs' 31-13 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Chiefs coach Todd Haley wouldn't explain why Baldwin was held out of the game, saying only that it was "family business." Instead, the tough-on-the-outside, touchy-on-the-inside Haley took time out to whine about the Ravens running up the score. At least Haley shook Baltimore coach John Harbaugh's hand. Does that count as progress?
Stark Raven Mad
August 19, 2011
Chiefs-related violence wasn't limited to the team's locker room. After the Ravens beat up the Chiefs on the field, a rowdy Kansas City fan tussled with a group of Ravens fans in the stadium. Outnumbered 3-to-1, the Chiefs fan started throwing punches. A cellphone video of the fisticuffs showed the Chiefs fan knocking one man to the ground with a couple of thundering blows before a group of Ravens fans jumped in. It was almost as ugly as the game. With several injuries to come, perhaps the Chiefs should have watched the footage to learn how to take a hit.
Tony Moeaki's Season Ends
September 1, 2011
Kansas City's preseason ended with a 20-19 loss to the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Green Bay Packers. The loss on the field paled in comparison with losing promising second-year tight end Tony Moeaki for the season. Moeaki, who caught 47 passes and scored three touchdowns as a rookie, tore his ACL in the second quarter. The injury cost the offense its second most prolific receiver from 2010 and was just the first injury domino to fall.
THE SEASON BEGINS
An Ugly Start
September 8, 2011
A cosmetic study of NFL players found that the Chiefs were the butt-ugliest of all NFL squads. The Wall Street Journal commissioned a study from Ursinus College to analyze the facial symmetry of 320 football players, and the findings only wounded the Chiefs' pride. A couple of days after the results were released, Team Ugly lived up to its reputation with a 41-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills — the most attractive team in the NFL, according to Ursinus.
The Injury List Swells
September 11, 2011
The Chiefs' pathetic season opener — the most lopsided opening-day loss in team history — came with lasting consequences. Three plays into the game, Buffalo wide receiver Stevie Johnson dived to block Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and ripped up ligaments in Berry's left knee. Berry was lost for the season. Some fans grumbled that Johnson's block was dirty. Haley tried to put on a bold face, saying the team wouldn't let the injury "in any way, shape or form drag down our team or our ability to have a successful, exciting season." The season turned out to be neither. Despite all of the franchise's salary-cap space, the Chiefs went with Sabby Piscitelli, leaving Chiefs fans to Google a name straight out of Grease 2. Haley immediately threw Piscitelli under the bus. "If you lose somebody, you've got to have somebody ready to step in and fill the void," Haley said after the game. "In some cases, as history shows, those guys that step in that you're thinking are a stop-gap to fill the void become better players. But today that didn't occur."
Jamaal Charles: the Unwitting
September 18, 2011
Week two of the Chiefs' season was a bit of déjà vu: The Chiefs were blown out (this time, losing 48-3 to the Detroit Lions), and another key player suffered a season-ending knee injury. This week's victim: running back Jamaal Charles, who tore his ACL while lunging for a first down. The injury to Charles, who had rushed for more than 1,400 yards in 2010, was a critical blow to an offense that had already lost Moeaki. But Charles' injury was made worse when the NFL used a picture of a broken, grieving Charles being carted off the field in an advertisement for fantasy football. The ad copy read: "Injury ruin your fantasy season? Start again on NFL.com. It's not too late." The NFL pulled the ad almost immediately and called it a mistake. But there was no season reset for the Chiefs.
Raiding the Coffers
September 19, 2011
Oakland Raiders fan Clifford Trammel went to a game at Arrowhead in 2009, got in a fight with Chiefs fans and got whupped. In 2011, he came back with a lawsuit seeking $250,000 in damages to bite the Chiefs organization in the ass. That's a bad metaphor, though, considering that Trammel claims to have lost four teeth in the fight. Trammel says he was beaten by two men, fell down two rows of seats and received cuts to his face. You'd think the loss of teeth would make him even scarier in spiked shoulder pads and silver and black face paint.
Taking It From the Chin
September 21, 2011
After losing its best offensive and defensive players and losing its first two games by a total of 89-10, the Chiefs were ripe to be made into a national punch line. And Jay Leno came through. During his September 21 monologue, the host of The Tonight Show quipped: "Well, here's something frightening. Scientists from NASA have said a research satellite the size of a bus will crash into the Earth on Friday. They say they have no idea where it will land, although they say it has better odds of landing in the end zone than the Kansas City Chiefs." The worst part: There was no way to refute him. Maybe Haley should have focused more on installing the offense than conditioning in the offseason.
Haley and Cassel Shout It Out
October 2, 2011
There was plenty of unnecessary drama and infighting, even when the Chiefs won. During the team's week-four win over the Minnesota Vikings, Haley and quarterback Matt Cassel got in a shouting match on the sidelines. The argument was so contentious that players and coaches had to separate them. The spat came late in the second quarter after Cassel spiked the ball, forcing the team to attempt a third field goal of the half. Haley wanted Cassel to try a little harder to get the first down. The embarrassing tiff was broadcast live on Fox — and posted to sports blogs around the country as further proof that this was a team in disarray. Haley and Cassel were quick to make nice in the afterglow of the 22-17 win. "You hug, you make up, you do high-fives and you just move on to the next play," Cassel said. He might have been on to something. The Chiefs reeled off three more victories before falling apart again.
[Insert Sponsor Name Here]
at Arrowhead Stadium
October 14, 2011
In mid-October, various media outlets reported that the Chiefs would soon be announcing a naming-rights deal for Arrowhead Stadium. Fans went into a tizzy guessing the new name of Arrowhead. Google Field at Arrowhead? Sprint Stadium? H&R Block Arena of Mediocrity? Turns out, there was no deal. A team spokesperson quashed the rumors and said the team had been looking for a name sponsor since 2006. At least the Chiefs didn't sell the name of its stadium to a refinancing company subsequent to the bursting of the housing bubble (Quicken Loans Arena); a TARP recipient that took money from the federal government and wanted to charge its customers debit-card fees (Bank of America Stadium); or a company guilty of staggering corporate fraud (Enron Field). Let's hope that sponsor-ready Arrowhead Stadium doesn't catch MF Global's eye.
Turquoise and the Hair
November 6, 2011
Known for a rather disheveled look that included wearing shabby jeans and sweatshirts straight out of the Bill Belichick fall line, Haley began growing a "lucky beard" just before the Chiefs' four-game winning streak began. There's a rich history of sports streaks and hair growth, but Haley broke with tradition when he didn't shave his hobo beard after the team was blown out at home 31-3 by the previously 0-7 Miami Dolphins. Rather than breaking out the clippers and cleaning up, Haley stubbornly kept the beard. He even missed an easy chance to fault his superstition for the loss. "My grooming habits have nothing to do with the performance of our team," he told the Star in the week after the defeat. "That's my own obsession, compulsive disorder, whatever they call it." Something to remember next time he finds a coaching job: When you lose, blame the beard.
Broncos Storm the Cassel
November 13, 2011
The bad news piled up in the Chiefs' 17-10 loss to the Denver Broncos in week 10. Under the pile of Broncos defenders Elvis Dumerville and Von Miller, quarterback Matt Cassel suffered an injured throwing hand. After the game, Haley told reporters that he wasn't sure how long Cassel would be out. "The length of it, we're not sure, but there's some optimism." This level of spin was admirable. Cassel was put on injured reserve days later and wasn't seen the rest of the season. The future under center belonged to either Palko or Stanzi.
The Age of Orton Begins (Sort Of)
November 23, 2011
The Chiefs finally spent a whopping $2.5 million on a quarterback. The Chiefs won the Kyle Orton Sweepstakes, claiming Orton from waivers and keeping him from going to his desired destination: the Chicago Bears. Despite Palko serving up three interceptions in a disastrous 34-3 Monday Night Football drubbing by the New England Patriots, Orton wouldn't see the field until the second quarter of week 13's game. Meanwhile, Stanzi was left on the sidelines admiring his "Made in USA 1987" tattoo.
Throw Your Hands in the Air
and Show You Don't Care
November 27, 2011
The Chiefs were driving on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Down 13-9 in the fourth quarter with time running out, the Chiefs were sitting on the Steelers' 37-yard line. Palko was in a rhythm, having already thrown two interceptions while Stanzi was daydreaming about how much he loves America. On this final possession, Palko looked to the Chiefs' top receiver, Dwayne Bowe, and Bowe raised his hand to call for the ball. Despite Bowe being surrounded by defensive backs, Palko threw it. Bowe didn't even bother to raise his hands to catch the football, which was intercepted by the Steelers' Keenan Lewis with 29 seconds left. "I've seen a lot of lame stuff in the NFL ... ," mused stunned NBC analyst Chris Collinsworth. Game over.
December 2, 2011
Perhaps the most upsetting piece of news for Chiefs die-hards came in early December when a longtime front-office employee filed an age-discrimination lawsuit against the team. Brenda Sniezek worked for the Chiefs from 1982 to January 2011, when she was cut loose as the team's community relations director.
Sniezek, 52, was told that her position was being eliminated. But her lawsuit alleges that the Chiefs wanted to weed out those older than 40 from the team's operations departments. The lawsuit claims in part that Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli, who was named NFL Executive of the Year a week before Sniezek was given her walking papers, was overheard saying, "We're going to get rid of everyone who was with [previous GM] Carl Peterson, especially anyone over the age of 40." Sniezek's lawsuit names other fired employees by name and includes a line graph illustrating the alleged drop in ages of front-office employees called "How the Chiefs Were Built: Going Young."
The Chiefs denied any wrongdoing.
"The allegations in the lawsuit are both baseless and ridiculous," said Mark Donovan, team president, in a statement regarding the lawsuit. "The plaintiff's claims are completely false, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves."
Orton Hears a Boo
December 4, 2011
In an almost comical bit of bad luck in week 13, the Chiefs replaced one injured quarterback with another. Palko failed to get the offense into the end zone during his two starts in the weeks prior. He flamed out again in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears. Haley pulled Palko in favor of Orton. On his first snap — a flea flicker — Orton was hit by Chicago's Major Wright and went down on his right index finger and was lost for the game. A journeyman QB, Palko had failed to catch on in the United Football League, the Canadian Football League and other NFL teams, but he returned and miraculously connected with receiver Dexter McCluster on a Hail Mary touchdown pass to close out the first half with a 7-3 lead. The Chiefs hung on for a 10-3 win. Meanwhile, Stanzi was still thinking about America over on the sidelines.
December 11, 2011
After the Chiefs' pathetic showing against the New York Jets, Haley said the first half was the worst that the team had played all season. All season? Try all time. The Chiefs produced only 4 yards of total offense in the first half and headed into the locker room down 28-3. In the second half, they weren't much better. During the Jets' final touchdown drive, the Chiefs gave up 81 yards on penalties, with Haley contributing 15 for unsportsmanlike conduct. The game ended with running back Jackie Battle getting gang-tackled in the Chiefs' end zone for a safety. Final score: Jets 37, Chiefs 10. The loss also signaled the end of the Haley era.
Throw the Bum Out
December 12, 2011
Owner Clark Hunt, GM Pioli and the fans had seen enough after the loss to the Jets. Haley was fired. "This was a difficult decision but one that we feel is best for the future of the Chiefs," Hunt said in a statement announcing that Haley's sweat-encrusted baseball cap had seen its last bleaching at Arrowhead. "Although there have been bright spots at different points this season, we have not made meaningful progress and we felt that it was necessary to make a change." Pioli added: "Todd helped this team in many valuable ways over the past three seasons, and I am thankful for his contributions." Haley left the Chiefs with a 19-27 coaching record.
Haley Finds Work; Pioli Apologizes
December 13, 2011
Haley didn't go quietly. He told the Star that he had considered quitting so that he would be able to publicly gripe about the team's front office rather than being silenced by a severance agreement. He decided to get fired instead. The scruffy coach didn't keep his mouth shut for long. Three days after being fired, ESPN hired Haley to be a guest analyst on Audibles, a show in which football experts answer viewer questions sent via Twitter and Facebook.
For his part, Pioli issued a mea culpa to Chiefs fans and took responsibility for the team's wretched season. During a firing-day press conference, Pioli sat next to Hunt, looking like a sorry dog hoping to avoid punishment. "We have a locker room that has talent. We also have a good makeup of character in that locker room, but it's abundantly clear that we're not in a spot we need to be with our record where it is and our team in a position it is. I need to do a better job," Pioli said. Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel was named interim head coach. In four seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, his record was 24-40.
Home Is Where the Bling Was
December 20, 2011
Of course, in a season filled with this much bad karma, the trouble had to follow players home. On December 20, prosecutors announced that Daniel LaBlance had been charged with breaking into McCluster's home and stealing $25,000 worth of property while the Chiefs played the Broncos on November 13. McCluster and his girlfriend returned home to find the door kicked in and electronics, clothing and jewelry missing. The bounty that LaBlance allegedly got away with included $300 Prada shoes, $350 Beats headphones, a $260 pair of Versace sunglasses, a $300 pair of True Religion jeans, and a $15,000 diamond Chiefs helmet pendant. It's unclear where the hell the thief was planning on fencing that last piece of bling. LaBlance, who reportedly was convicted of murder as a juvenile, was charged with first-degree burglary.
Perhaps the worst thing to come out of the Chiefs' year of being hexed is the uncertainty of the looming offseason. With a 2-1 record as the Chiefs' head coach, will Crennel lose the "interim" tag? With proven winners like Jeff Fisher and Bill Cowher available, it would be foolish to assume that the Chiefs will promote Crennel without at least testing the A-list waters. Then again, we've learned this season that if the team spots a way to save money, it'll take it.
With the draft almost four months away, Pioli is no doubt already feeling his blood pressure rising. The Chiefs sucked but didn't suck enough to play the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. So that leaves the Chiefs likely drafting 11th or 12th in the first round. There's also the uncertainty of how Cassel, Moeaki, Charles and Berry will return from serious injuries. And will the Chiefs sign Bowe to a contract extension? The only sure thing about next season: It has to be better than 2011. Right?
Ex-Chief Jared Allen Hates on Kansas City
There was no shortage of people talking shit on the Chiefs this season, most notably former Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen.
Allen, who spent four seasons in KC and is now with the Minnesota Vikings, trashed the team when he spoke with reporters before the Chiefs' home game against the Vikings in week four.
"His name was Carl Peterson," Allen told reporters when he was asked why he wanted to leave Kansas City. "You can write that in caps. Obviously, I guess I had a problem with Clark [Hunt], too, because he chose Carl over me."
Allen didn't stop there. After ripping the Chiefs' front office, he went on to praise Minnesota, where he has more than 50 sacks in four seasons.
"I should probably thank [Peterson]," he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "He did me something awesome by not signing me back when we tried to do an extension. I'm at a great organization now. The Wilfs [owners of the Vikings] are phenomenal. The contract I was going to sign, this one is 10 times more than that one. I'm just truly blessed to be in Minnesota."
That's a strong statement considering that Allen is "blessed" to play for a team that missed home games in 2010 due to the Metrodome's roof collapsing under the weight of snow. Team officials have also tried unsuccessfully to convince taxpayers to pay for a new stadium. If he'd rather play there than Arrowhead, he must really hate the Chiefs organization.