Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs named Kevin Ross to the team’s Hall of Fame. It was an unassailable choice, and gave us all another opportunity to look back at greatness, which right now is much less agonizing than looking ahead and wondering what—if anything—is to come.
Ross was one of the first Chiefs players I remember knowing by name. That’s probably because his was among the generic-brand, locally produced trading cards that I was given by Officer MacDonald (I never knew Officer MacDonald’s first name, though I probably thought it was “Officer”), the off-duty cop who moonlighted (well, technically, daylighted) as the crossing guard in front of Brookridge Elementary School. As I recall, the free Chiefs cards were part of some initiative to teach kids not to be too shy to approach policemen if they ever needed anything. Did it work? I can’t say I have any fond feelings for the police, but I’m sure this helped feed my developing Chiefs fixation.
I remember, as I first started to understand the basics of football,* that Ross was one of my favorite players because his job was to catch balls that were not thrown to him. That struck me as so much more impressive and difficult, if less painful, than, say, trying to run through a line of 300-pound men without getting crushed. He earned a starting job before his first NFL game and pulled in six picks in his rookie season. Ross, of course, went on to become one of the most consistent, dominating defensive backs in the NFL, and an anchor of one of the greatest defenses of the 1990s. Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith were so free to do their thing, in part, because Ross and Albert Lewis had their backs (and/or receivers). In short, Kevin Ross was a lock.
*In my earliest, earliest memories of watching football—perhaps from my crib—I remember thinking that the whole point of the game was to make as big a pile of bodies as possible in the middle of the field. I don’t think I realized, at first, that there was even a ball involved.
But here’s something I didn’t know, probably because I was in third grade when it happened: Ross was drafted in the seventh round. Number 173 overall. The Chiefs took eight players ahead of him: Bill Maas, John Alt, Herman Heard, and five other guys I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard of, at least not as Chiefs. And Ross wasn’t even the first DB the Chiefs picked that year, so it’s not quite like they just weren’t trying to fill that position—they used their fourth-round pick (#90 overall) on Mark Robinson, a consensus All-American at Penn State, who would be traded to Tampa Bay a few years later and finish with a perfectly respectable 15 career interceptions (23 fewer than Ross).
This was before ESPN or any cable channel covered the late rounds, as far as I know (this was also before my family had ESPN or any cable channels), so I have no idea what Mel Kiper, Jr., would have had to say about the pick, if he was doing all that talking yet as a fresh-faced, not-yet-gelled-over apprentice draft analyst. But I’m pretty sure neither he nor any NFL exec saw Ross’s future coming. He wasn’t any team’s first choice. Or second choice. Or third choice. Or fourth choice. You get the point.*
*But let’s finish it, anyway: Or fifth choice. Or sixth choice.
Lyle already admirably analyzed both how well and how poorly the Chiefs have picked at times over the last ten years. And Big Matt just pointed out that even in free agency—with players who have supposedly started to prove themselves at the highest level—there are far more question marks than sure things (you know, at least in our team’s established price range).
Everyone loves to put together lists of first-round busts—and sure it’s fun, even decades later (the more hindsight, the better), to talk about that one time the Chiefs took some guy named Todd Blackledge while Dan Marino and Jim Kelly were just sitting there.
But you could probably make a longer list of talent nobody thought enough to take an early chance on. Earnest Byner, Karl Mecklenburg, Jamal Anderson, Jay Novacek, Terrell Davis, Richard Dent, Shannon Sharpe, Mark Clayton, Herschel Walker, Lester Hayes, Dwight Clark—just some of the All-Pros and Hall-of-Famers who didn’t get drafted until deep in the triple-digits. More recently, of course, there’s sixth-rounder Tom Brady. Oh, and that seventh-rounder who started out as Brady’s backup. Matt something?
And that’s not even taking into account the occasional legend-to-be who never got drafted in the first place.
So, assuming, as I must, that there will be a draft, I will be paying much more attention than I have before to those late rounds. There’s a chance, maybe even a good one, that my future favorite Chief is someone nobody is talking about right now, not even Mel Kiper, Jr. I just hope the Chiefs don’t waste that crucial seventh-round pick.
And it will be nice to hear Ross’s name announced at Arrowhead again. He is to be honored at a home game next season—assuming, as I must, that there will be a season—perhaps when the Raiders visit, as Ross is currently Oakland’s secondary coach.
Happy Marty Gras, everyone!