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Once a great rivalry, Raiders-Chiefs taking second billing this weekend

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Back in the days of Len Dawson and Ben Davidson, Ken Stabler and Willie Lanier, hardly anything was bigger than a Raiders-Chiefs game.

My, how times change.

Now it's Brodie Croyle and Kolby Smith, and Daunte Culpepper and Justin Fargas. The Chiefs (4-6) are on a three-game losing skid, while Oakland (2-8) has lost six in a row overall and nine straight to Kansas City.

A once-great NFL rivalry has been reduced to second billing to a college game, for this week at least.

Dominating water cooler conversation and sports radio all week in Kansas City has been the Big 12 showdown in Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night between No. 2 Kansas and No. 3 Missouri, who are 21-1 between them and vying for a shot in the national championship game.

In the hearts and minds of most Kansas City residents all week, the Raiders and Chiefs on Sunday have seemed almost an afterthought. But Chiefs coach Herm Edwards understood.

"They both deserve the attention they're receiving right now," Edwards said Friday of the two Big 12 teams. "I think the coaches, players and universities are excited about what's going to transpire tomorrow, and I think the people from Kansas City and Missouri are. All the alums will be here. It's good for college football."

It'll be a long, tiring night for the grounds crew and cleanup squad. The Missouri-Kansas game probably won't be over until about 11 p.m. Almost 80,000 people will be in the stands and officials believe another 15,000-20,000 could spend the evening in the parking lot during the biggest game in the 116-year-old rivalry. The place will be a mess.

Hundreds will be up all night getting the field squared away and the stadium and parking lots cleaned up in time for the noon kickoff between the Chiefs and Raiders.

Arrowhead, in the span of about 20 hours, will host two football games and move about 150,000 people in and out.

Luckily for the sake of the grass surface, Saturday night should be dry.

"I think if it was raining and the field was muddy then you'd be a little bit more nervous about how the field was going to look the next day," Edwards said. "But our grounds crew does a good job and I think it's going to be a great event."

The Chiefs' running game was averaging 77.5 yards even before Priest Holmes retired at midweek. The Raiders' rush defense is allowing more than 152 yards every time out.

In their 98th game against Oakland, the Chiefs will start a third-team running back. Smith, a rookie fifth-round draft choice, has carried 10 times for 19 yards. But with Larry Johnson missing a third straight start with an injured foot and Holmes no longer available, it'll be Smith taking the handoff from Croyle, who'll be making his second NFL start.

Is the rookie ready?

"We're going to find out," Edwards said.

The 5-11, 219-pounder started 10 games for Louisville last year in relief of an injured Michael Bush. He had 862 yards and seven touchdowns as the Cardinals went 12-1.

"You always have to think of yourself as a starter," Smith said. "You never look at yourself as a backup."

The Chiefs haven't won since they beat the Raiders 12-10 in Oakland on Oct. 21. For Oakland coach Lane Kiffin, it's a chance to make use of the knowledge he gained about Kansas City the first time around.

"I really like it a lot because you get to see, because of our first year together, a new system of how they attacked us, what they did against us, what they like to do, how our matchups were individually as well," said Oakland's first-year coach.

"I'm excited by the challenge of it and a chance to come back and play a team we went down to the wire with. It was like a lot of our games: could have went either way."

Despite all their troubles, the Chiefs are only one game behind Denver and San Diego in the weak AFC West. But the Raiders harbor no illusions about playing for any titles.

"No, we've got a lot of problems," Kiffin said. "We're not worried about the division and what the records are of the other teams. We've got to play better so we can start winning games."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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