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Pain Rankings: No. 7, the Kansas City Chiefs


Where were you the last time the Kansas City Chiefs won a playoff game? That would be Jan. 16, 1994, when 37-year-old Joe Montana led K.C. to a comeback win over the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome. Me? I was probably taping Ace of Base singles off Z-100 while plotting out a battle plan for the upcoming Spring Fling dance.

In the years since, Montana got that Skechers money, the Oilers and Ace of Base slipped into the societal ether and the Spring Fling dance took its rightful place as a monument to teenage failure. As for the Chiefs, they've appeared in eight playoff games since that day, losing every damn one of them. The active streak is an ignominious NFL record shared with the Detroit Lions.

The anguish reaches way back beyond recent team history, too. The Chiefs appeared in two of the first four Super Bowls, but have sat out the big game in each of the 45 years since. From 1972 through 1985, they never even qualified for postseason play. The 1990s brought some sustained success, including seven playoff appearances in eight years under Marty Schottenheimer. But all those trips to the dance produced more heartbreak than joy, including two one-and-done trips as a No. 1 seed. (More on that later.)

Chiefs fans are a loyal, passionate, *rambunctious* bunch who haven't gotten nearly enough to celebrate over the years. For that reason they've "earned" their place in the Pain Rankings.

For the next two weeks, we will count down the seven teams that have suffered the most -- both from an organizational and fan standpoint -- during their NFL existence. We start in the heartland.

Pain Résumé

Note: The franchise came into existence in 1960 as the Dallas Texans, one of the founding teams of the AFL. The Texans won a championship in 1962 before moving to Kansas City in 1963. We acknowledge this past history and success (how big of us) but don't factor it into the franchise's K.C. iteration.

Patron Saint Of Pain: Marty Schottenheimer

In which we choose the figure who best represents the suffering ...

When deciding who should be the face of all this disappointment, it's hard to look past Marty. And that sucks, because Schottenheimer was a damn good NFL coach, fielding competitive teams everywhere he went for 21 seasons with the Browns, Chiefs, Chargers and Redskins. But that sustained level of success helped define his undesirable legacy: No NFL coach has won more games (200 in the regular season, five in the playoffs) without going to the Super Bowl.

Schottenheimer coached teams to 10 or more wins six times in his decade in Kansas City, earning seven trips to the postseason. But all that January football produced just three playoff wins in 10 games. Marty Ball -- a run-first coaching philosophy famous enough to have its own Wikipedia page -- became synonymous with tight-as-a-snare-drum playoff performances. For Chiefs fans, Schottenheimer represents unrealized potential and missed opportunity.

Browns fans nod their heads in unison.

Apex Of Pain

In which we study the lowest point in franchise history ...

In 1995, the Chiefs went 13-3 behind the best defense in the NFL. The success earned them the top seed in the AFC and an eventual home matchup against a plucky Colts team led by Jim Harbaugh, still basking in the afterglow of his Saved By The Bell: The New Class cameo. Sample dialogue: "You know, people think I'm a hero because I can throw a football, but I wouldn't be anything without my teammates."

The game was played in terrible conditions with sub-zero wind chill. The Chiefs turned the ball over four times and kicker Lin Elliott missed field-goal attempts from 35, 39, and 42 yards in a 10-7 loss. The misses can be seen in a YouTube video titled, "Look The Devil In The Eye!" Feels right.

"I tried my hardest," Elliott said to the assembled media that night. "Maybe I'm not good enough, but I tried. Maybe I was not good enough for today, but it's good enough for me as a person that I tried."

Well, good enough for some people. Derrick Thomas told a local radio show he was going to "kick his ass," in reference to poor Lin. Something tells me Elliott didn't get invited to the "Babes, Bros and Jet-Skis BBQ '96" bash at Neil Smith's place that summer. Lonesome kicker, indeed.

The crushing loss is known by Chiefs fans as The Lin Elliott Game. Tip for pro athletes everywhere: You never want to be connected to "The (Insert Name Here) Game." No good comes of it.

Fun fact: Since the Chiefs' lone Super Bowl win in 1970, Kansas City kickers have made just 12 of 25 field-goal attempts in 16 playoff games. The Chiefs have lost 13 of those games, including six defeats by four points or less. That's some spectacularly crappy kicking!

The Hurt Files

In which we study some other deeply punishing low moments ...

Super Bowl I: The Chiefs entered the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game (as it was initially known) as a heavy underdog to Vince Lombardi's Packers. The AFL was seen by many as an inferior brand compared to the more established NFL, but the Chiefs were extremely competitive in the first half, outgaining Green Bay despite a 14-10 deficit. The Packers outscored the Chiefs 21-0 in the second half, however, keeping The Establishment on top.

1993 AFC Championship Game: After Montana led Kansas City to back-to-back comeback wins over the Steelers and Oilers, the Chiefs faced the high-powered Bills with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Kansas City was outclassed in the 30-13 loss and Montana ended the game on the sidelines with a concussion. The first of eight straight playoff losses (and counting).

1997 Divisional Playoffs: Rich Gannon replaces an injured Elvis Grbac and wins five straight starts to guide the Chiefs to a No. 1 seed. Grbac is healthy by Week 17 and Schottenheimer makes the ill-fated decision to put Gannon back on the bench ahead of a divisional round matchup against the Broncos. The offense struggles with Grbac and K.C. loses 14-10. There's controversy, as well, in the form of a contested end-zone catch by Tony Gonzalez that was ruled out of bounds.

"That always haunts me," Gonzalez told last year. "I feel if we had won that game we could have won the Super Bowl that year because Denver went on to win the Super Bowl. That's the way the cookie crumbles."

Schottenheimer's decision puts the wheels in motion for Gannon's exit from Kansas City. He signs with the Raiders in 1999, wins MVP honors in 2002 and takes Oakland to the Super Bowl. Grbac lasts three more years with the Chiefs, posting an 81.0 passer rating and 18-19 record. If you were to rank every starting quarterback in NFL history, Elvis would be right smack in the middle. He is the mean average. The Elvis Line.

2003 Divisional Playoffs: The Chiefs have the best scoring offense in football and go 13-3 to secure the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Two wins are all that stood in the way of a return to the Super Bowl, but the defense lays an egg against Peyton Manning and the Colts in a 38-31 loss. This is remembered as the No Punt Game, a reference to how many times the two teams sent their punters on the field. It would be the first of three postseason losses to the Colts over the next 11 years.

2013 Wild Card Playoffs: The Chiefs -- led by an opportunistic defense and a humming Alex Smith -- opened up a 28-point lead in the third quarter against the Colts in Indianapolis. The Colts fought back, however. In the game's most memorable play, Andrew Luck recovered a goal line fumble and dove into the end zone to cut the deficit to one possession. T.Y. Hilton capped the comeback with a long touchdown reception with less than five minutes to play. The Chiefs offense didn't respond and Kansas City lost, 45-44. It stands as the second-biggest playoff collapse in NFL history.

Elvis Grbac's 1998 "Sexiest Athlete" spread in People magazine:Just read this.


From someone who should know

Joel Thorman is a Kansas City native who co-manages the popular SBNation blog, Arrowhead Pride. Last year, he wrote a column titled, "Ranking the Kansas City Chiefs playoff losses by how much they sucked." This made him a natural fit for this exercise.

What are your thoughts on Lin Elliott?

On our site, he is referred to exclusively as The Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named.

How much has the quarterback position factored in the Chiefs' struggles?

It's been since 1987 since the Chiefs have drafted a quarterback that's won a game for them. (2006 third-round pick) Brodie Croyle went 0-10! He didn't win a freakin' game! Maybe Bill Kenney? He might be the last guy.

(Note: It was actually Todd Blackledge, the seventh overall pick in the 1983 draft, who won his last game for Kansas City in 1987.)

Then you go back and look between 2009 and 2013 and the Chiefs had a top 5 pick three times and there was never a quarterback there. In 2009, Stafford went No. 1 , they picked third, missed out on that. In 2010, they had the fifth pick and took Eric Berry. And then there's the Eric Fisher year (selected No. 1 overall in 2013), there was no one there to take. So even when they did get the opportunity to draft a QB they just get screwed out of the year.

Are the Chiefs cursed?

I think saying it's a curse is the easiest way to explain it and when you say the Chiefs are cursed in the playoffs, other Chiefs fans know exactly what you mean. So it's almost a unity thing among the fans. I don't actually believe there's some otherworldly thing going on here, but I think when it comes to sports curses I think this merits a mention. Run down the list of crazy things that have happened in the playoffs, it's crazy. There's only a few franchises that can match that.

Is there any joy to take out of the fan experience?

It's fun to go to games at least. Chiefs fans always have that to fall back on. If you talk to any of them it's always like, "Well, at least we have tailgating!" Because you can't talk about anything else. They had a stretch in the '90s when they were pretty good, and the fan base has always been pretty proud and the stadium is usually filled up, so I don't think anybody's saying, "Feel sorry for us." But the Chiefs' résumé of sadness stacks up with all but a few of the franchises.

Up next on The Pain Rankings: No. 6, the Cincinnati Bengals

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