Ranking the top 10 Kansas City Chiefs linebackers of all time

Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell (Photo by James Flores/Getty Images)
Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell (Photo by James Flores/Getty Images) /
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Kansas City Chiefs, Gary Spani
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – JANUARY 19: The Kansas City Chiefs helmet logo is seen on the field before the AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

10. Gary Spani

"“I think I have a long way to go. A lot of these guys have been around here for a long time and they still learn something every year.” – Gary Spani"

Gary Spani played during one of the roughest stretches in Kansas City Chiefs history. From his rookie year to his final one, a total of nine seasons, the Chiefs won a mere 61 games out of 144. Even worse, the Chiefs only finished above .500 twice during that span, their best record of 10-6 coming in his final season of 1986.

Adding insult to injury, 1986 was the only year Spani’s Chiefs made the playoffs and they were absolutely eviscerated by the New York Jets in the Wild Card by a score of 35-15. Even so, Spani left an indelible mark on the sport of football.

A Kansas native and alumnus of Kansas State University, Spani was a tackling machine in college. From 1975 to 1977 he was the team’s leading tackler and a three time All-Big Eight selection. He would finish his career with 543 tackles, a school record and one he would hold for 25 seasons, and be honored as the 1977 Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year.

Despite the accolades, Spani would be somewhat overlooked as a prospect coming into the NFL. Nine other linebackers would be chosen before him in the 1978 NFL Draft. It wasn’t until the beginning of the third round when the Chiefs scooped him up. Whether that lit a fire inside of him or not is hard to say, but Spani hit the ground running.

In just his first season, Spani became the starter at right inside linebacker and went on to lead the team in tackles in the next four seasons.  He started almost every game for the rest of his nine seasons and finished with over 100 tackles in five of those. His signature season came in 1979 when he broke the NFL record with 157 tackles, a record that stood until 2002.

Though he was never elected to the Pro Bowl, Spani was elected a team captain and lead his team in a myriad of ways. The 1983 NFL Man of the Year and Chiefs Hall of Famer held the franchise record for tackles with 999 until 2016, and for that deserves a spot on this list.