One of the benefits of California living is golf in February, so
while most of the country was shivering, Elvis Grbac, Steve Bono
and Joe Montana were teeing up at the Stanford University links.
The trio had reached the back nine when the conversation rolled
around to the Chiefs, who in the past had signed former 49ers
Montana and Bono to play quarterback and who were now courting
Grbac, Steve Young's backup in San Francisco for the past three
"They had all good things to say," recalls Grbac. "They told me
the organization was similar to the 49ers. They said the guys
there want to win."
By the end of the round, Grbac was high on Kansas City, and
within a month he had signed a five-year contract with the team.
"The opportunity to be a starter was the driving factor," Grbac
At 27, he'll be the youngest regular Chiefs quarterback since
Marty Schottenheimer took over as coach in 1989; no quarterback
younger than 32 has started more than three games for K.C. since
Todd Blackledge and Bill Kenney in 1986. Age isn't the issue
with Grbac, though--it's experience. He has started just nine
games since the 49ers drafted him in the eighth round out of
Michigan in 1993. "The only thing that separates Elvis from
being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL is playing time,"
says Kansas City offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. "He has the
tools, both mentally and physically. He's got the emotional
makeup of a leader. He just needs to play."
The Chiefs need him to do exactly that. Kansas City's current
run of eight consecutive winning seasons is second only to San
Francisco's 14, but the Chiefs haven't reached the Super Bowl
since the days of Hank Stram and Len Dawson. Last season K.C.
finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time in six
years. The offense absorbed most of the blame: Four times the
Chiefs failed to crack double digits in a game, and in their
seven losses the offense scored just six touchdowns.
The Chiefs used all six of their draft picks on offense. They
expect immediate help from 6'4" tight end Tony Gonzalez of
California, the 13th pick overall. Three Chiefs tight ends
caught a total of 41 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns
last year; Gonzalez should better those numbers on his own.
The receiving corps got a big boost with the signing of free
agents Brett Perriman, who caught 202 passes over the past two
seasons with the Lions, and Andre Rison, who is looking to
return to Pro Bowl form with his fifth team in the past four
years. Injuries plagued wideouts Lake Dawson (knee) and Tamarick
Vanover (shoulder and rib) last year, but both are expected to
be at full strength.
The new featured back will be Greg Hill. The Chiefs' No. 1 draft
pick in 1994 has been told he'll get 90% of the running plays
this season, and he's ready. "They say I'm going to be the guy,"
the 25-year-old Hill says. "That's what I've been waiting to
hear for the last four years." Marcus Allen will serve as the
backup Kansas City intended him to be when he signed in 1993.
(Instead, he has led the team in rushing each of the past four
The changes on offense, though, pale in comparison with the
transformation on the other side of the ball: The defense will
have six new starters. The Chiefs chose not to re-sign several
key veterans--most notably defensive end Neil Smith. "I am as
frustrated as I've ever been in my career because of what
happened to us on defense last year," Schottenheimer says. "We
Sounds like a job for the Falcon, which is what Derrick Thomas's
new linebacker-lineman position has been dubbed. "It's a
verbiage thing for us, just to let Derrick know he's different,"
defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham says. Thomas, a veteran
of eight straight Pro Bowls, will generally set up in a
linebacker spot but rush the passer most of the time. He thinks
another 20-sack season, like the one he had in 1990, is within
his reach. "That will justify the leeway I was given with the
position," says Thomas, 30. And, perhaps, justify the
seven-year, $27 million contract he signed in March. Thomas
isn't wild about having to take the field without his friend
Smith, though. "It's like being Linus and having to go out there
without my blanket," he says.
Grbac is upbeat. "This team can be as good as it wants to be,"
he says. "We've got the talent to do the job." Perhaps football
in late January will prove to be a benefit of Kansas City
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER After waiting four seasons, Hill is gunning to do most of the running. [Greg Hill in game]
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 9-7 (second in AFC West)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 125.6 (4) 180.6 (26) 306.2 (22)
DEFENSE 104.1 (13) 221.1 (22) 325.3 (18)
A Nose for the Ball
Cornerback James Hasty is the only active NFL player with at
least 20 career interceptions and 20 career recoveries of
opponents' fumbles. But he doesn't just fall on those loose
footballs; he also ranks third in league history in
Active Players with at Least 12 Interceptions and 12 Recoveries
Of Opponents' Fumbles
Player, 1996 team Int. Recov.
James Hasty, Chiefs 27 20
Kevin Ross, Chargers 38 15
Clay Matthews, Falcons 16 14
Eugene Robinson, Packers 48 14
Albert Lewis, Raiders 40 13
Darryl Talley, Vikings 12 13
Cris Dishman, Oilers 31 12
NFL Career Leaders In Fumble-Return Yards
Player, Career Recov. Yds.
Chuck Howley, 1958-73 17 191
Larry Wilson, 1960-73 12 173
James Hasty, 1988-present 20 172
Toby Wright, 1994-present 2 171
Paul Krause, 1964-79 17 169
Billy Thompson, 1969-81 15 169
Lem Barney, 1967-77 9 168
PLAYER TO WATCH
Based on the play of Jerome Woods during April minicamp, the
Chiefs chose not to re-sign veteran free safety Mark Collins. At
24, Woods, a 1996 first-round draft pick out of Memphis, is
faster than the 33-year-old Collins, reflecting K.C.'s shift to
a speed defense. Of Woods, coach Marty Schottenheimer says,
"There will be some things he won't do as well as Mark
might--but there will be plays he makes that Mark wouldn't have
PROJECTED LINEUP With 1996 Statistics
Head Coach: Marty Schottenheimer
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Elvis Grbac[A] 91[*] 197 att. 122 comp. 61.9% 1,236 yds.
8 TDs 10 int. 72.2 rtg.
RB Greg Hill 99[*] 135 att. 645 yds. 4.8 avg. 3 rec.
60 yds. 20.0 avg. 5 TDs
FB Kimble Anders 214[*] 54 att. 201 yds. 3.7 avg. 60 rec.
529 yds. 8.8 avg. 4 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Brett Perriman[A] 101[*] 94 rec. 1,021 yds. 5 TDs
WR Lake Dawson 197[*] 5 rec. 83 yds. 1 TD
WR Andre Rison[A] 239[*] 47 rec. 593 yds. 3 TDs
TE Tony Gonzalez (R)[A] 122[*] 53 rec. 768 yds. 5 TDs
PK Pete Stoyanovich 263[*] 34/34 XPs 17/24 FGs 85 pts.
KR Tamarick Vanover 133[*] 33 ret. 25.9 avg. 1 TD
PR Tamarick Vanover 133[*] 17 ret. 6.8 avg. 0 TDs
LT Jeff Criswell 6'7" 294 lbs. 15 games 5 starts
LG Dave Szott 6'4" 290 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Tim Grunhard 6'2" 299 lbs. 0 games 0 starts
RG Will Shields 6'3" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Trezelle Jenkins 6'7" 323 lbs. 6 games 0 starts
LE John Browning 21 tackles 2 sacks
NT Brentson Buckner[A] 36 tackles 3 sacks
RE Vaughn Booker 35 tackles 1 sack
OLB Derrick Thomas 55 tackles 13 sacks
ILB Terry Wooden[A] 57 tackles 1 int.
ILB Donnie Edwards 11 tackles 1 int.
OLB Anthony Davis 71 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
CB Dale Carter 51 tackles 3 int.
SS Reggie Tongue 4 tackles 0 int.
FS Jerome Woods 6 tackles 0 int.
CB James Hasty 43 tackles 0 int.
P Louie Aguilar 88 punts 41.7 avg.
[A] New Acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)
[*] *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 165)