We recently sat down with ESPN’s Adam Teicher to discuss his new book, Kingdom, and covering the Chiefs for nearly 3 decades.
Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher timed his arrival with Joe Cool’s. It was 1993 when Teicher was first assigned coverage of the Chiefs, a year that still stands out as one of the best in team history, and perhaps the single best chance the Chiefs ever had of winning a Super Bowl before Patrick Mahomes was drafted in 2017.
Since documenting Joe Montana‘s tenure with the Chiefs, Teicher has covered a lot of Chiefs football—some of it exciting, much of it miserable. However, he saved his first book venture for the best days in franchise history in Kingdom, a look at the title run of the Chiefs in 2019. To begin, he goes back 50 years and brings the reader all the way through the lifting of the Lombardi Trophy.
We recently asked Teicher, who is now at ESPN, about Kingdom, his days reporting about the Chiefs, and what it was like to finally cover a Super Bowl winner.
You’ve been covering this team for a very long time, certainly much longer than most NFL reporters cover a single team.
If you’d told me I’d be doing for 28 years when I’d started, I’d say, ‘Not a chance.’
For what reason?
I don’t know if I thought I’d live long enough to do this for 28 years, number one. I can’t really tell ya. I just never figured I’d be doing it this long.
Is it safe to assume this is the most fun covering a team this good? The franchise has just never seen a stretch like this.
There was a little taste of it when Joe Montana was here, but nothing like this. In retrospect, you can see that the Chiefs, even their best teams over the years, were always half a team. They were either very good defensively and their offense was along for the ride or they were very good offensively and their defense was along for the ride. Last year was the most complete team they’d had.
As far as the quarterback goes, it’s remarkable how the Chiefs throughout their history of 57 before Mahomes got here, they’d never really tried to draft and develop their own guy. For most of those 57 seasons, they were playing with somebody else’s discard at the game’s most important position. Even going back to Lenny Dawson, who was a Hall of Fame quarterback and for an extended period was the greatest quarterback in Chiefs history before Mahomes arrived, he was discarded by a couple teams. Cleveland didn’t want him. Pittsburgh didn’t want him. He was just sort of out there when the Chiefs picked him up.
The Chiefs drafted three first-round quarterbacks in their history before Mahomes got here. One of them barely started or played at all. The other two started games, but they were also in and out of the lineup. There was never any commitment to either of them. It makes you wonder if the Chiefs had ever drafted a guy and committed to him, if they’d been doing that regularly over their history, how many Super Bowls would they have won now? Would they have been winning them for 50 years? I doubt it but it makes you wonder. The first time they really tried, the first time they put their resources and commitment to it, look how it’s worked out.
Do you think there was an organizational fear of the unknown?
I can’t speak to what happened before I started covering the Chiefs, which was in ’93, but I can speak in some detail about what it was like since then. The Chiefs were always in that win-now mentality. This has changed a bit now when you see young quarterbacks coming in right away and succeeding. Justin Herbert is an example. But for years and years, basically you brought in a young quarterback and you were going to suffer with him for a little while. The coaches and general managers that the Chiefs had were not interested in developing quarterbacks and suffering with them. They wanted veteran guys where they knew what they were getting, even if it wasn’t a great thing that they were getting. They still wanted to know what they were going to get.
Look where it got the Chiefs over the years. There were a few times that I thought the Chiefs were going to draft a guy in the first round, but the coaches, at least in some cases, just didn’t want the player. One instance I can site was in 2002 when Joey Harrington came out of Oregon. The Chiefs really liked him and Dick Vermeil didn’t want him and it was sort of a tug-of-war of who’s gonna win this battle. I can almost hear the cheering from the coaches’ offices on the day of the draft when the Detroit Lions drafted Harrington ahead of the Chiefs. They didn’t want him. Harrington didn’t work out for a number of reasons, but maybe he would have if he’d have come to the Chiefs.
There are a number of examples, more or less like that, that you can point to. Even going back to the one time the Chiefs have the first overall pick in 2013 when Andy Reid comes in and John Dorsey comes in as general manager. There were no first round quarterbacks available, much less No. 1 overall caliber. You had Geno Smith out of West Virginia and E.J. Manuel out of Florida State. Obviously neither of those guys were worth the first overall pick. So between a lack of interest or lack of opportunity, it never really happened for the Chiefs.
Let’s jump ahead to the title run covered in the book, Kingdom. Given 28 years with the team, how was that for you personally to cover a Super Bowl team?
Most people don’t understand this, but I don’t live and die with the wins and losses. I’ve never been promoted or given a raise or anything like that because the Chiefs have won, and I’ve never been demoted or taken a pay cut because the Chiefs had lost. So I’m detached from it in that sense. I’m more about the stories and the people than the wins and losses. I know I can speak for a lot of my colleagues who are the same way. Most people don’t understand that, and I’ve tried to explain it to a lot of people and they just dismiss me like it’s not true, but it truly is. It’s more about the job and the stories than the winning and losing.
Having said all of that as background, I thought last year was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun to see how everything developed and the despair when Mahomes got hurt during that night game in Denver. People thought the season was lost. Later on, the Chiefs are 6-4, playing lousy defense, and not scoring as much as they did before. Everyone is thinking it’s not going to happen and then you see how things developed down the stretch.
One of the funnest weeks I’ve had doing this was the week of the AFC Championship last year. There was so much anticipation among Chiefs fans that it was a lot of fun. One of my regrets is that I spent Super Bowl week last year down at the Super Bowl. I wasn’t in Kansas City to be a part of it. I wasn’t in Kansas City as the Chiefs ended up beating the 49ers. That part was a little disappointing because I didn’t see it. I don’t know what that was like. I heard some stories, but I wanted to be a part of that and see it, to witness it.
Long story here, but when the Royals won the World series in 2015, I was in London with the Chiefs. If you remember, they played a game over there against the Lions and the Chiefs then had a bye week. My wife and I stayed in London after that. So I didn’t see the parade for the Royals the last time around.
But it was all a lot of fun to see. There was so much coming together. You can’t separate the tortured history and how difficult it’s been for the Chiefs over the years to get to where they got last year. It was a lot of fun and there were so many people inside and outside the organization that I was just so happy for.
Any plan to stay in K.C. this year?
I don’t think so. It’s part of the job. You gotta go where the game is. But here’s another thing, and I was telling so many Chiefs fans this last year down in Miami, but it’s never going to be the same. The Chiefs might win a Super Bowl every year for the next 20 years, but it’s never going to be the same as the first one. It will still be a big thing. It’ll still be celebrated and all that. But it will never be as appreciated as much as the first one. There’s more of an expectation now. There’s more of a demand now that they get it done. Before it was like, ‘Please do this for me.’ Now it’s more of an expectation. That makes things a little different for the Chiefs and their fans. It doesn’t make it meaningless. I’m not saying anything like that. But it won’t quite be what it was last year, the first one in 50 years.
You mentioned the Chiefs previously unbalanced rosters—being top-heavy on offense or defense. When the Chiefs made wholesale defensive changes before the 2019 season and brought in Spags, Frank Clark and others and got rid of Justin Houston and Dee Ford… did you believe they would finally find that balance?
No, not necessarily. We’d seen these attempts before. Let’s remember that the Chiefs were attempting a lot last year defensively, from a new coordinator to a completely new defensive staff to a new defensive system to a bunch of new defensive players, that’s a lot of “new” to fit together in one year. I was wondering how it was going it was going to work and we saw early last season that it wasn’t working well.
You knew there would be growing pains, so were these those growing pains or were these signs that it wasn’t going to work. Tyrann Mathieu played well for the Chiefs from the start last season but Frank Clark was slow getting going. You had to wonder what the Chiefs did here. Then he picked it up late in the season and certainly in the postseason and was a big part of what the Chiefs accomplished, but you wondered for a little while. So no, I wasn’t sure. I’d seen these kind of things before and to get it all done, and particularly to do so in one year, can be difficult.
Do you have a single favorite story of covering the Chiefs last year that gets overlooked?
Well there are a lot of good stories in there. I don’t know if there are favorites. When the publisher contacted me two or three days after the Super Bowl, I thought about it for a while and then thought, ‘Yeah, I am interested because there are so many stories to tell. There were so many colorful players. One thing I told them is that I had to talk about the 50 years from the last one to this one because that’s so much a part of what happened last year and how tortured it was to be a Chiefs fan all those years—all those near-misses and disappointments and the really bad seasons. I just felt like it was the perfect time to tell those stories after the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.