K.C. Chiefs moved on from tragedy

Dec. 1 was the tipping point in Kansas City, proof that a franchise was completely, hopelessly screwed up. Before that day, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt had big problems, sure. His general manager, Scott Pioli, was so reviled by fans that some of them paid to have a banner flown over the stadium during game days, calling for Pioli's firing. His quarterback, Matt Cassel, had 14 turnovers in the first five contests, and when he was knocked out of the Baltimore game with a head injury, a smattering of fans cheered, sparking a national controversy.

His team was 1-10 and had made just one playoff appearance since the 2006 season, the same year his legendary father, Lamar, died of cancer.

According to former Chiefs chairman Jack Steadman, who's known Clark Hunt since he was a baby, the younger Hunt was pondering change before that first day of December. But now things were much more complicated. The people he would need to replace -- Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel -- had been in the parking lot that morning and witnessed Belcher kneel down, make a sign of the cross and fire a bullet from his .40-caliber handgun into his head.

There was no way to tell what Hunt would do next. His daddy was a kind and humble Texan who had the same general manager for 20 years and kept his home number listed in the Dallas phone book. Clark, a boyish-looking 48-year-old owner with a full head of thick brown hair, was a mystery. Hunt waited until the 2-14 season mercifully ended then moved quickly to snatch up Reid before he hired a general manager.

And in an apparent nod to the massive control Pioli yielded, Hunt altered the management structure, making Reid, Dorsey and Chiefs president Mark Donovan direct reports to him. The changes have helped the Chiefs perform one of the biggest turnarounds in recent NFL history, with the nucleus of last year's team. Hunt's poise during the chaos of 2012 defined his leadership, Steadman said. He is no longer known as just Lamar Hunt's son.

"It took him a couple of years to get comfortable," Steadman said. "But he has really grown into the job. We've had low times before, but that was just terrible. It had a terrible impact on the team. We needed to recover in the city. There had to be major change, and fortunately, Clark was able to handle that, and he did it in a beautiful way."

After Sunday's last-minute loss to the Chargers, Hunt worked his way through the locker room to talk to players, just like his father did. He left quietly. His brown hair had a tint of gray.


It isn't that simple, is it? A change in leadership, a new quarterback who doesn't wow you on the stat sheet but doesn't make mistakes? Ask people at Arrowhead Stadium about the biggest difference between this team and 2012 and they'll immediately say it's Reid, a coach who took the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC Championship Games, a man the players love.

But this team is also inexorably close because it had to be after Dec. 1.

"People you struggle with, people you go through hard times with," said Chiefs offensive tackle Donald Stephenson, "it's human nature to be closer with those people."

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