It doesn't bother me in the least that Andy Reid, slathered in classic Chief red, now looks like a large bottle of ketchup on the sideline. I don't care that his leading receiver is a guy named Donnie, currently the 39th best in the league. Or that the guy who throws to him is a man named Alex who spent seven years not living up to our expectations before entering his eighth year with a QB rating of 79.1.
All I care about is that the National Football League franchise in Kansas City, Mo., a humble, heartland haven of a town, is at the front of the pack again, which is way good for a league too long consumed by the same old handful of bold-faced franchises. The drought in the stockyard town (the cattle are long gone, but the fragrance of barbecue is still wafting through the Arrowhead parking lot at 7 a.m.) has gone on way too long. It's been two decades since transplant Joe Montana had them in an AFC title game, and four decades since they won their Super Bowl.
Of late, it's been downright ugly. Many years ago, the meticulous Hank Stram insisted the team travel in red blazers. ("We looked like The Killer Beets," the late John Matuzak said.) In recent years, the sideline was being prowled by Todd Haley, the only head coach in history who thought that looking like a guy living in a refrigerator crate underneath an interstate bypass was a cool thing. (Sorry, Todd, Belichick's cut-offs had already staked that ground in more palatable fashion, and Bill never wore a baseball cap with sweat stains.)
Then, as if it could get any more wincingly weird, when Haley got the axe, he claimed that his office was bugged -- and even weirder, maybe it was. Under former Patriots GM Scott Pioli, brought over in 2009 to stem the bleeding of a team that had gone 2-14 in 2008, Belichick's former protégé oversaw four years of in-house KC policies that seem downright Orwellian. In a part of the land where everyone inevitably is nice to a fault, under Pioli -- and CEO Clark Hunt, whose signature was on the paycheck -- Chiefland turned into Langley. Certain employees couldn't roam certain floors of the team's headquarters. Non-football staff with views onto the practice field had to draw their shades, to ensure they didn't steal state secrets and sell them to WikiLeaks.
The last time I interviewed Pioli, way back in Foxboro, he was a refreshingly personable guy with a New York Mets bobblehead doll in his office, the antithesis of the hoodied coach I'd just spent a few hours with. But as some British baron once said a few hundred years ago, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." So maybe Pioli had become Captain Queeg. On maybe he was just micromanaging per the orders of Hunt, a graduate of the Goldman Sachs training program. (Talk about savvy football credentials!)
We do know this: Pioli's subsequent hiring of the eminently likeable head coach Romeo Crennel, who had worked for Pioli in Foxboro, proved equally ineffective (as has, thus far, Mr. Haley's offensive-coordinator tenure in Pittsburgh). Crennel has proven that really nice guys don't always make for good coaches, or that Belichick graduates don't always make good GMs. Pioli was axed this past December.
His replacement John Dorsey hit the ground running, ten days after Reid's arrival, after spending most of his football life in Green Bay. He picked up Alex Smith, whose current quarterback rating of 92.1 is good for 13th, ahead of Cam Newton and Drew Brees. His interception total is more impressive: zero.
But the beauty of this resurgence can't be quantified by numbers, although 4-0 will sound nice after (barring an unexpected asteroid hit on Arrowhead) this Sunday's defeat of the New York Aints (just lop off the G and reverse the two vowels). No, the beauty is in the focus on football returning to a town where there seem to be more red cars than any city in America, celebrating a team that has never felt the need to make its symbol more menacing, or its orangy-red more bloody-looking. Where red arrowheads are ubiquitous Christmas ornaments. Where a native-Missouri friend who's a fanatic, now living in Los Angeles, has a long-standing request with a friend back in K.C. to keep an eye out for Chiefs paraphernalia in thrift shops; the friend has thus far come up empty.
Then again, so have the Chiefs, for way too long. Amid years of mediocrity, Schottenheimer and Vermeil each did manage to post a 13-3 season, each time losing at home in the first playoff game. Somewhere in there was a guy named Gunther, and then Herm, the king of the post-loss presser. And a quarterback named Elvis, who left the building.
Now that building's rocking again, the way it did in the day -- and a pretty cool building it is, designed by architect Charles Deaton, the same guy who did the desert house in Woody Allen's Sleeper -- for what Dorsey calls this "crown jewel" of a team. (After all, they did play in two of the first four Super Bowls.)
Instead of all-solar-system linebacker Willie Lanier, these Chiefs have sack king Justin Houston, who hails from Statesboro, Ga., immortalized by Blind Willie McTell, and subsequently covered really well by the Allmans, in "Statesboro Blues". Instead of the stingy defense of the Buck Buchanan Seventies, they have one that's giving up just over 11 points a game.
Instead of Stram, they have a man who, with all he's been through, has been given a well deserved second chance -- and who doesn't even seem grumpy anymore.
And the Entertainment Football League has a new franchise face, bereft of bold-faced names, to remind us that you don't neon to sell your sport. Just red.