For most Chiefs fans, the 90s are the halcyon days. The salad days. The Age of Heroes, for you Game of Thrones fans (you know your boy Big Matt is all up in that). Universally remembered fondly. The bards will sing of the 90s Chiefs for years to come.
The Vermeil era was fun, and will always remain notable for its incredible offense and abysmal defense. The Herm years will live in infamy for at least as long as I’m alive. Pioli is forging this team’s new destiny, and if nothing else I would imagine he’ll be around and in charge for quite some time. His teams will be remembered.
The Gunther Cunningham years, for whatever reason, have been forgotten. Or rather, are being forgotten. I rarely see anyone reference the ’99 or ’00 seasons. They reside in the same no-man’s land as most of the ’80s seasons. Insignificant, seldom discussed.
I will never forget those seasons. They remain among my favorites in Chiefs history. I’m pretty sure they changed me as a fan. I won’t venture to say whether the change was positive or negative, but my eyes were definitely opened to some things. There really was some pretty crazy stuff going on. The coach was a lunatic, the team was a bunch of clowns, bad decisions were being made all over the place, and in Gunther’s worst season he still had more wins than Herm’s last two years combined (couldn’t resist that). Seriously though, the team went 16-16 under him. Thats pretty unbelievable, knowing what we know now.
Let’s review some highlights from the Gunther era after the jump:
- Elvis Grbac was the starting quarterback. His backup was Warren Moon.
- The running backs were Bam Morris, Donnel Bennett, Mike Cloud, Frank Moreau and Rashaan Shehee.
- Cris Dishman was referred to as a “playmaker”.
- Bam Morris was referred to as a “scatback.”
- Carlton Gray was signed to a multi-million dollar deal.
- A 2nd round pick was used on William Bartee.
- Pat Dennis was part of Gunther’s “core”.
- Jimmy Raye was offensive coordinator. Chosen over Al Saunders.
- Lew Bush
- Glenn Cadrez
- Derrick Ransom
- Lonnie Johnson
- Marcus Spears
- Our best pass rusher was Eric Hicks.
- Our kick returner was fat.
- Our field goal kickers’ range was 40 yards max, and kickoffs were routinely dropped at the 20.
- Danny Pope was the punter.
- Joe Horn was let go and Kevin Lockett was kept.
- The John Tait draft debacle.
- The scrimmage brawl with the Saints
Lot of pretty crazy stuff in there. How the hell did those Chiefs go .500? They actually improved in Gunther’s first year, going 9-7 after Marty’s final team had gone 7-9. That was when all the stories in the paper were about his crazy 20-hour workdays, sleeping in his office and such. Can’t help but wonder how much of that was pure baloney. Every time any coach in any sport is hired there will be fluff pieces about how hard he works. And really, I don’t want the guy leading my team to be hanging around his office at 3am on a Tuesday.
Regardless, the wheels came off the bus quick. Veterans stopped trying, the team lost all discipline, and things got more clownish with each game. The coup de grace to that comedy of errors was when Gunther learned of his firing via the team webpage. I would really, really love to know how that was botched so badly. I mean, that would be busch league for a kindergarten t-ball team.
And yet, 16 wins. Those teams had some unlikely saving graces. In 1999, our turnover differential was plus 21. The defense scored nine touchdowns that year. Grbac threw for 4,000 yards in 2000. Derrick Alexander had ten touchdowns. Hicks had 14 sacks. Tony Richardson got the ball more than any of our awful tailbacks, and ran for a surprisingly high average. Duane Clemons and Dan Williams each had 7.5 sacks. People pretend Glenn Dorsey’s a good pass rusher and his career total is half that.
As odd as it sounds, Gunther was probably one of the luckiest head coaches of all time. I don’t recall it seeming that way at the time, but the curtain hadn’t fully been pulled back on him yet. Most of us still thought him responsible for at least some of our success in the 90s. We assumed it would be business as usual when he took over. Great defenses, division titles. We couldn’t have known what was to come.
Frustrating years? To be sure. But there were laughs a-plenty too. Do you guys remember that play when Chester McGlockton threw the ball behind his head as he was slowly shuffling out of bounds? We recovered the ball, but it was essentially an intentional fumble. And he didn’t know who was behind him. I’ve never seen anything else like that at the professional level. As far as I know McGlockton was never reprimanded in any way.
Gunther’s first year we ran the ball more than we passed. At one point he even said it wasn’t the quality of runs that mattered, but the quantity. That was when I first knew we were in trouble. It was also when I first learned how dangerous it was to have a coach stuck in the past. It was a lesson we’d learn again almost a decade later.
The next year, Gunther’s philosophy changed dramatically, and we passed the ball 50% more than we ran it. A huge change. The team’s strategy went from poounding big backs up the middle to having Elvis Grbac air it out. Weird, wild stuff.
It was during those years that I first learned to laugh as I cried. An important skill for a fan of Kansas City sports. You must learn to laugh at yourself, else be driven insane. Dear lord did I have some laughs at those Chiefs. The brawls, the laterals, the drug-dealing, the insane coach, Grbac accidentally winning Sexiest Man in the NFL. It’s all there. And despite it all, a .500 record. Am I going to sound ridiculous if I call that a remarkable time in Chiefs history?
I don’t like Gunther Cunningham. He was a bad coach who did a bad job. But I will never forget Gunther’s Chiefs.