How crazy is K.C. about the Chiefs?
You don't want to know -- and Denver week has taken it to a new level
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Late on Monday night, near last call inside an empty, dark hotel lobby bar, two senior citizens are groping each other as Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years" plays softly overhead and a giant mound of nachos, meant to be shared, slowly goes cold and gelatinous.
This is not the start of some joke. It's the beginning of my column.
I'm sharing this disturbing sight, tattooed on my brain now for all eternity, for good reason. Do you really want to know what the vibe is like in Kansas City in the week leading up to the undefeated Chiefs' game against the 8-1 Denver Broncos?
Well, the only thing that managed to untangle these two was a breaking news report on the top of the local news -- before a word on the typhoon in the Philippines -- about the status of Peyton Manning's ankle.
Welcome to Chiefs-Broncos week in Kansas City.
The rest of the football world might still be a tad skeptical about Andy Reid, Alex Smith, the perfect Chiefs and how they will fare against an actual, qualified NFL quarterback this week in Denver. But not in K.C., not in a pretty great sports town that's somehow gone 20 years (and counting) since its last playoff win.
This town is ready. This town is confident.
Mesmerized by the world's weirdest, saddest hotel lobby bar, the next TV segment I saw just after arriving in Kansas City was a split screen, side-by-side comparison between the 2013 Chiefs and the unbeaten, world-champion 1972 Miami Dolphins, perhaps the greatest team in NFL history.
A half hour in, I knew Chiefs-Broncos Week in Kansas City was gonna be one weird, wild ride.
So I decided to jot down a few postcards (G-rated, I promise) along the way.
Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe is so unaccustomed to the spotlight that during a photo shoot for ESPN The Magazine this week he jumped about five feet in the air the first time the camera flashes went off. Poe was the darling of the 2012 NFL combine because of his 4.9 speed, his strength and a backside that had scouts swooning. But, it turns out, his best assets are his work ethic, explosive, disruptive hands and his endurance. So we were all right about Poe, for all the wrong reasons. That's scouting for you in a nutshell.
Poe did squats Monday. He ended at 495 pounds. It was a light day, he said.
When he was a freshman in high school in Memphis, Poe had such a giant head he had to share a helmet with a senior on the varsity team. Not much has changed. I got a look inside his helmet on Monday, and my scientific guess is it's roughly the size of a small beer cooler.
The banner for the Chiefs' win in Super Bowl IV hangs by itself on the far side of the team's indoor practice field -- on a wall, behind the goal post and above a bull's-eye target set up for the team's kickers.
This is nuts, I know, but somehow I think the Dwayne Bowe arrest may end up helping the Chiefs. They were relaxed and chilled after so much success and a week of vacay, and that incident seemed to snap them back into focus using the time-honored (and ridiculously trite) Us Against the World motif.
The congregation for Reid's presser was so big, people from the Chiefs were taking pictures of the crowd. First question? How will the altitude in Denver affect the Chiefs? Seriously? This was either someone's poor attempt to move the conversation off Bowe or some coded reference to the Chiefs getting high.
Random stat that I'm sure means something: Manning has 33 passing TDs and the Chiefs have nine.
I like the fact that you can always hear a train whistle off in the distance in Kansas City. Jeez, I sound like Larry King, only lamer.
According to a whiteboard on the practice field, the No. 1 running drill for the Chiefs on Monday was: skipping.
Lest you think Reid is tight or distracted by the Bowe stuff, he wore shorts to his news conference and, at one point, when trying to put Manning's genius into perspective he compared it to the work he could do at a buffet.
If people in Denver aren't, at this very moment, working on signs that refer to Bowe asking cops about Sonic during his arrest, then I have lost all faith and hope in humanity.
I can sum up Reid's Wednesday news conference like this: When asked about Bowe, Reid said "Dwayne will play, he will start." Then he deflected and deferred, expertly (I mean, he did spend several years in Philly, after all) by repeating the phrase "rules and regulations" so many times I lost count.
To be fair, Reid just isn't used to handling problems during or after bye weeks. He's 13-1 in games following a week off. He has done so well, in fact, that a few weeks ago Saints coach Sean Payton said he called Reid to pick his brain on his methodology. The answer, according to Reid, is typical of the overthinking NFL. His secret? He gives the players a week off. Yep. That's it. His secret is treating the bye week like, well, a bye week. Genius.
What would the over-under be on a Chiefs/Panthers Super Bowl, like 13?
While I do enjoy the giant whimsical shuttlecocks on the lawn of the superb Nelson-Atkins Museum here in K.C., it's very nearly a crime against art the way they have been allowed to obscure the nearby Magdalena Abakanowicz sculpture Standing Figures.
Random stat that I'm sure means something: Manning has been sacked eight times in the last three games.
Incorporating yoga stretches into warm-ups is the latest trend in the NFL. The Chiefs go a step further and use resistance bands around their ankles and knees to activate their glutes. How in the world do I know that? The great folks at Athlete's Performance put me through a similar workout in the lobby of the Indianapolis Omni during the combine a few years ago as part of my reporting for "Call of Booty."
No matter how you slice this game, I think it comes down to this: It's going to take 35 points to beat Manning in Denver. OK, maybe 30 if he's hobbled. But how are the Chiefs going to generate that many points? How?
There's a cardboard replica of the Lombardi Trophy here, sitting in a storage-type closet behind a few cases of water and soda.
Linebacker Tamba Hali says he likes night games; they remind him of his days playing high school football on Saturday nights in New Jersey.
I think Poe summarized the Chiefs' attitude heading to Denver rather nicely. "We're 9-0, but we're still hungry, we still have an attitude, we're still fighting," he says. "We didn't set out to be 9-0, we set out to get to the Super Bowl and win it. You don't get too much recognition for going to the playoffs and losing. You don't get a ring for it. We're trying to be one of those teams that makes history."
The fans in Kansas City already know the plan.
The rest of us will catch on Sunday night in Denver.