Jan 2, 2011; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs former coach Marty Schottenheimer is inducted into the 2010 Chiefs Hall of Fame during halftime ceremony of the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Big Matt’s Time Machine: Halcyon Days, Warts And All?


For those of you who can remember Chiefs football from the ’60s, it must sound strange to hear us talk about the ’90s as the halcyon days. After all, we never made it to a Super Bowl in that decade. In 10 years, a team actually has better than 50/50 odds of at least making it. Or they would, if all quarterbacks, coaches and payrolls were created equal.

Regardless, for most of us, halcyon days is exactly what they were.* Our greatest triumphs, our most heartbreaking defeats, our best players, our legendary (or infamous, depending on your perspective) leaders. Wins, wins, and more wins. After the years that followed, the ’90s began to look like the pinnacle of sports fandom. Our team won games? Every year? What an amazing experience that must’ve been!

*Maybe it would be more accurate to think of the ’90s as a quick break from our 40-year rebuilding program. Everyone knows it takes 45 years to really get your people in place, and give everyone a fair chance. If my calculations are correct, the rebuild should be complete in 2015. 

I’m as guilty as anyone of romanticizing that period. I talk about how great Marty was, how much I miss great defense. This is a popular sentiment among Chiefs fans.

And yet, at the time, opinion wasn’t nearly as unanimous. I’m sure we all remember the term “Martyball.” What we may not remember, at least not actively, is that “Martyball” was used as a term of derision at least as often as not. While Marty was here, even in the midst of his heyday, there were many who believed his philosophy was fundamentally flawed. He won many games, but fans lamented that he didn’t win big games. Some few seemed to think this was because of Marty himself, which I’ve always found ridiculous. The idea that his strategy was flawed, however, is an idea we should probably talk about.  Because for better or worse, it’s a strategy we’re about to resurrect.

A team that is significantly better than its quarterback. That’s about the long and short of it. That’s what we had throughout the ’90s, and thats what we’ll have this year.

Four months ago, going with Cassel in 2012 would’ve seemed unthinkable to at least half the fan base. All it took was one legitimately good free agent signing, and most of us (including me) are now willing to swallow another year of the same at the most important position on the field.

I’m now reading comments like, “This is the year we finally see what we have in Cassel.” At first I found myself agreeing with this, but it’s actually silly when you think about it. Matt Cassel has made 54 NFL starts, across four different seasons, in a variety of circumstances, good and bad. We’ve seen him throw over 1200 regular season passes in a Chiefs uniform. The next time he takes a snap for us, he’ll be 30 years old. This isn’t a prospect. We’ve seen enough of Matt Cassel to know what he is: a QB who will succeed in a favorable situation, and fail in a difficult one.

When playing against a good defense, Matt Cassel is bad. When playing with limited talent around him, he’s bad. When pressured, he’s bad. With a confused offensive coordinator, he’s bad. When the right plays are being called, his line protects him, and his primary receiver is open, he’s pretty damn good.

It may sound like I’m clownin’ on the guy. I’m really not. I said months ago that I was fine with him being the starter this year. And let’s not forget, at various points I’ve been the conductor of the “Cassel til ’15″ bandwagon.” I’m just saying, this guy in NOT an unknown commodity. With time to throw, good receivers and a great running game, Cassel will succeed. Is there any NFL quarterback not named Palko or Croyle who wouldn’t succeed in those circumstances?

If you have to line everything up just right for your quarterback to do well, he isn’t that good.

I think we can win, even win playoff games, with Cassel at quarterback. But it won’t be a measure of how good he is, it will be a measure of how good the team around him is. We’ve gone right back to the ’90s blueprint: Defensive coach, stellar defense, stellar running game, mediocre-to-decent quarterback. Matt Cassel is this generation’s Steve DeBerg, Dave Krieg, Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, et al.

I’m sure some of you are bristling. Get those hackles down. That formula worked then, and it can work for us now. Those quarterbacks had some respectable seasons for us. Granted, our defense is not yet as good as it was in those days. But our skill position players are better. If a few things break right for us, we could be a slightly more balanced version of our good ’90s teams.

Isn’t it funny how things have come full circle like this? It’s 2012 and here we all are salivating about our defense and anticipating a run-first offense. No fan of this team would claim our quarterback is one of our 10 best players. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the Staind. Oops, sorry guys, got distracted there. Am I the only one excited for that Staind/Godsmack tour this summer?

Pioli has unwittingly imitated a past he has no connection with. I’m sure he didn’t mean for things to go like this for Cassel. You don’t pay $63 million to a quarterback you anticipate being average. And his first head coaching hire was actually offensive-minded. But Carl Peterson left him three Pro Bowlers on defense, he’s added a potential two of his own, said offensive-minded coach went bonkers (or already was bonkers), and now here we are hearkening back to the good old days with Romeo Schottenheimer, Steve Cassel, a questionable OC and a plethora of exciting defenders. This feels right.

It would be vindication of a sort for Marty’s chosen style if the Chiefs had success with it again over a decade later. But is that something ye Addicts are interested in? Do you think a return to Martyball can yield a Super Bowl appearance?

Tags: Marty Schottenheimer Matt Cassel