A couple of solid wins and some excellent individual performances have the Chiefs charging in the right direction, and we’re back to embracing that very profound-sounding concept: The Kansas City Chiefs control their own destiny.
Of course, every team controls its own destiny at the start of the season. I haven’t double-checked the record books, but I’m pretty sure any team that has gone an entire season without losing a game has made it to the playoffs, and done rather well there, assuming they continued to win. But destiny, like a high-school party at your parents’ house, is one of those things that gets harder to control the longer it goes on. Even Anakin Skywalker could not, ultimately, control his own destiny—though his midi-chlorian* levels were off the chart, he had no choice but to accept his dark fate as Al Davis Darth Vader.
*Forget Wikipedia; I had to look that one up on Wookieepedia, “the Star Wars Wiki.” Seriously.
But controlling our own destiny is the happiness we‘re all raised to pursue. It’s as American as apple pie from the McDonald’s drive-thru at two in the morning. If we want it, and we work for it, we can get it.
This is what we love about football, about sports in general: that it is (supposed to be, at least) a meritocracy. The better team—on that particular field on that particular day—is going to win. Sure, a ref will often make or miss a ridiculous call, the ball may sometimes bounce the wrong way, and on occasion Josh McDaniels will videotape and steal your plays. But for the most part, whether you win or lose is up to you (and/or God—though sometimes He’s just not that into you).
As Patrick reported yesterday, it is simple, if not easy: all the Chiefs need to do is win (and win, and then win just one more time) and they’re in.
Less than an hour after the rout in Seattle, as if to reinforce this point by contrast, the BCS announced its weekly winning numbers. Imagine for a second that the Chiefs’ playoff hopes rested entirely on a few computer formulas and some sportswriters’ ballots. If pro football operated like D-I college football, then first place in a mid-major division like the AFC West—with a bunch of wins over the NFC West, the WAC of the NFL—wouldn’t get Kansas City anywhere near the Tostitos Allstate Discover AFC Playoffs by VIZIO.
Ask TCU* if it would like to trade scenarios with the Chiefs. The Horned Frogs (great name for a ska band) have won every game on their schedule and now must wait to see whether, should another team fail to control its own destiny, they will get to control their own destiny in the National Championship Game. In other words, they don’t control anything.
*TCU: A small, southern school that will soon be joining the Big East. Discuss.
The Chiefs don’t need to wait for any voters or to hope they finish .000082 poll points ahead of San Diego or Oakland. The only organization that can stop the Chiefs is the Chiefs. This, of course, is a topic worthy of its own discussion—in fact, it’s the subject of most Chiefs discussions.
My point—and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering, “Why have I read this far when there doesn’t seem to be a point?”—is that despite all of this, we stubbornly see destiny as most destined precisely when it is beyond our control. When we have control, we tend to focus only on losing it, because that’s what seems always to have happened in the past. We fall back to the position that a destiny is only truly valid when it seems highly unlikely.
Think back to January 2, 2000 (yes, this is now the third instance in five posts that I’ve referenced this one particular, painful game, but go with me one more time): Of course, that regular-season-ending, post-season-denying, overtime loss (at home) to the Raiders was awful in its own right. But the memory gets worse when you zoom out a bit.
Several weeks earlier, the Seahawks had trounced the Chiefs at Arrowhead, raising their record to 8-2 and dropping Kansas City to 5-5—the Chiefs didn’t look like they could control their cholesterol, let alone their playoff destiny. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the rematch: the high-flying Seahawks lost four in a row, and the reeling Chiefs pulled off four straight wins. They arrived in Seattle a game up in the division. Miraculously, the Chiefs now controlled their own destiny! The final coffin nail was polished and ready to go. Or was it? Seattle 23, Kansas City 14.
So the Chiefs entered that Raiders game needing some help. Then, late in the game, with K.C. still clinging to a lead, the official result came in from New York (well, New Jersey): Seattle had lost to the last-place Jets! The division title was the Chiefs’ for the taking! Only they didn’t take it.
And what did we say, after settling down a bit and replacing the smashed TV? It wasn’t meant to be.
Or, the other way around, consider the last time the team did make the playoffs, at the end of the 2006 season. As you’ll recall, the Chiefs needed to beat Jacksonville (which to their credit, they did) and then a whole series of improbable events needed to unfold: Tennessee and Cincinnati had to lose at home, San Francisco had to beat Denver, Dewey had to defeat Truman, the chicken had to come before the egg. It all happened.*
*And when it was all over, I remember marveling at this gem of a quote from Herm: “Let’s don’t get this thing twisted and think we backed into this deal. You know what? If we don’t get in, if we don’t win, and those other teams do, you know what they’ll say? You didn’t win. Well, I wasn’t born at night. There’s only 12 spots and we got a spot. We’re one of the six. We’re representing the National Football League and we’re representing the Kansas City Chiefs.” Think about that for a moment, relish the contradicting clauses, puzzle out the mathematical inconsistencies, get lost in the Möbius strip that is Herm’s sentence structure. But not for more than a moment—your brain will start to swell.
And so by Sunday night, as we could have predicted, the celebration on the buzz-o-sphere quickly devolved into panic as we started to feel Philip Rivers’ hot, stinky breath down our necks. But as I sat watching Peyton Manning play catch with San Diego’s secondary, I insisted on holding onto this happy thought, perhaps because it feels so unfamiliar: None of this even matters, because the Chiefs I just saw look like they are in control. And they control their own destiny.
Sure, everything that I have just written applies equally to the Chargers. As you all already know, if San Diego wins out—including over Kansas City on December 12—they’ll finish up at 11-5, which, under those conditions, would be the Chiefs’ best possible record, as well. And the Chargers, by virtue of the divisional-record tiebreaker, would win the division. They, too, control their own destiny.
But I have to believe that that simply won’t happen. Not this time.
Because their destiny will run right smack into ours.