I’m not much of an NBA fan*, so upon hearing the latest news of that league’s lockout—Commissioner David Stern has cancelled the first two weeks of the NBA season—all I could think was this: Ah, if only those first two weeks of the NFL season had never happened! The Chiefs would now be 2-1, the only blemish a loss at San Diego (expected) by the score of 20-17 (quite closer than expected). The team would still have a healthy Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles (assuming they wouldn’t have been injured in Weeks Three, Four, or Five). And Todd Haley would probably not be desperate enough to pledge to go unshaven (and to continue wearing velour hoodies and dirty sweat pants) so long as the Chiefs keep winning.
*I don’t know—watching monster-sized millionaires smash into each other on a football field doesn’t seem nearly as ridiculous as watching full-grown multi-millionaires scurry around in shorts on a squeaky court.
It’s so hard to analyze this team right now. The Chiefs seem both better and worse than their 2-3 record. Over the course of five weeks, they have laid down and died, and then fought back when it made no sense for them to have any fight left. And hindsight, as it does, has changed the context, too. While there’s no excuse for the embarrassments of the first two weeks, the two L’s on the schedule—against the only team New England hasn’t been able to beat this year and a team no one has been able to beat—aren’t looking as bad. The two wins, meanwhile, came against teams that were winless at the time, but both were real victories, requiring comebacks and last stands.
So the team may not be hopeless, but still doesn’t inspire much hope. Plus, even the “Suck for Luck” dream is dead, as the Chiefs are now in line behind or alongside 10 other teams—including the Eagles and Falcons!—for that first draft pick. As Lyle put it plainly in his post yesterday, “the odds of the Chiefs getting the #1 overall pick are about as likely as the Chiefs winning the division at this point.” And that, frankly, is depressing. This team seems destined for mediocrity of the mediocre kind: Four wins? Five wins? Maybe six? The Chiefs still don’t have an identity and it’s hard to imagine exactly what identity will emerge. I can see this team losing to Denver and then beating the Patriots or Packers. I really can.
So…it’s probably just as well that we are heading into the bye week, that curious once-a-year (per team) phenomenon that the NFL introduced in 1990 (according to Wikipedia), in order to extend the season by a week and “provide time for teams to rest” (according to nflbyeweek.com*). Perhaps we should all take a rest, too, some time to clear our heads and clear the slate.
*Yes, that’s real: there is an entire web site—one page—dedicated solely to a listing of NFL teams’ byes by week. It is brought to you by the same people who created whatdayoftheweekisitwhereyoulive.org and clickheretoseeawebpage.net.
The first five weeks of the Chiefs’ season have been volatile, discombobulating, roster-changing, and fortune-killing. But seeing what becomes of this team, and this entire NFL season, will still be interesting. While several traditional powers are looking traditionally powerful, not a single one of the eight 2010 division champs is currently leading its division. Hell, the current top seed in the AFC is the Buffalo Bills!*
*Man, that is just soooo 1990! Or 1991. Or 1992. Or 1993.
In a way, it’s fitting that the Chiefs first game back in action will be against the Oakland Raiders, a matchup that never needs a larger context. It is a wholly self-contained experience. And it promises to be all the more emotional with Al Davis joining Lamar Hunt as they look down on the Oakland O.co Coliseum like Anakin and Obiwan at the end of Return of the Jedi.*
*And Yoda was there, too, right? Not sure who takes his place in this image…Hank Stram? “The ball down the field, keep matriculating you must, hmmmm?”
The Raiders game may be a perfect test case for these Chiefs. Will they get blown out and embarrassed? Will they get blown out, but only in the first half before mounting a furious, glorious comeback? Or will they surprise us completely, with a solid effort from beginning to end? Hey, if they win—that sure would be fun. And even if they lose, it’s still better than the NBA.*
*Okay, now it’s coming back to me: My last Kansas City Kings game at Kemper Arena. I was ten years old. And the Kings were doing something they didn’t do very often in that long farewell season of 1985: they were winning, by quite a lot—108 to…something. What mattered was that if the Kings scored 110 points than the ticket stub of every fan in attendance would be good for one well-known menu item from a certain multinational hamburger chain. As everyone in the arena chanted “Big Mac Attack!,” the Kings slowly dribbled the ball up the court…and then dribbled out the clock. “Farewell” officially became…well, it also starts with an “F.” And the feeling is (still) mutual.
The Chiefs will likely be underdogs in all but maybe one or two of their remaining games. This season will not end well, but “any given Sunday” (or occasional Monday night) just might. Matt Cassel may look good. Dwayne Bowe (likely) will look amazingly great. Jackie Battle may battle some more. And Todd Haley’s unkempt whiskers may continue to grow until they tangle into the plush synthetic fibers of his unwashed sweatshirt. Even if the big picture doesn’t change much, the promise of pleasant surprises is back.
So let’s take one week off. And then enjoy one week at a time.