Never before had he so craved solitude, and so it was that one
afternoon last February, Donnie Edwards found himself sitting
alone on a bridge in Stockholm, bundled against the bitter cold.
Traveling with a college friend through Sweden and Norway--a trip
originally intended to sate the cerebral linebacker's love of
Viking lore--Edwards now wanted little to do with people, and
nothing to do with history. Which, given the excruciating month
he had endured, was understandable.
Just three days before, Edwards had buried his good friend and
teammate Derrick Thomas, who died of cardiac arrest two weeks
after a Jan. 23 car crash that left him paralyzed (and killed
Thomas's friend Mike Tellis). While the events struck Kansas City
with gale force, few were hit harder than Edwards. At UCLA he
often spoke of Thomas as his idol, and he had spent his first
four years in the NFL shadowing the nine-time Pro Bowl
linebacker. Now, his teacher and friend gone, Edwards was nearly
inconsolable. "I needed to get some perspective back," he says,
"to get clear on life."
Coach Gunther Cunningham, for one, is glad Edwards took that
trip. "Losing Derrick was so tough on Donnie, I wasn't sure how
he would recover," Cunningham says. "I remember he didn't want to
go into the tent [where Thomas's casket lay in state in Arrowhead
Stadium shortly before the funeral]. But my wife and I held his
hands, and once Donnie went in, he didn't want to leave. That was
big for him. He was already a great player--name me a better
all-around linebacker. He just had to mourn Derrick in his own
way, and it's made him stronger."
Edwards now stands as Kansas City's future, its new defensive
standard-bearer. He has certainly earned such status, with two
consecutive seasons of 120-plus tackles as a starter, culminating
in a breakthrough 1999 season in which he was the Chiefs' best
defender. In his first year at outside linebacker, the undersized
(6'2", 228 pounds) but exceptionally fast and hard-hitting
Edwards had 123 tackles and five interceptions, and scored two
defensive touchdowns. He was rarely asked to rush the passer,
however, and finished with just three sacks; because of this, he
believes, he was snubbed by Pro Bowl voters. "It's the story of
my life," Edwards says. "I've never had a true position, because
of my size and speed. But I've always wanted to be a complete
linebacker, to do everything well. When I didn't make the Pro
Bowl, I let it affect me. I wallowed. It tore me up."
The stunning end to the Chiefs' season (needing a win at home
over the Raiders to make the playoffs, Kansas City squandered a
17-point lead and lost 41-38 in overtime) compounded Edwards's
disappointment, which turned to utter despair after Thomas's
tragedy. But overseas, Edwards says, "things started to clear.
When I got home, I realized I'd begun to put everything away. I
was able to breathe again. So what if I didn't make the Pro Bowl?
Things like that couldn't matter so much anymore. I'd found
Such serenity reigned at training camp in River Falls, Wis.,
where end Duane Clemons, who last year had nine sacks for the
Vikings, and linebacker Lew Bush, a run-stopping force from the
Chargers, were trying to compensate for Thomas's absence.
"There's a lot of good feeling on this defense," Clemons says.
"We're sort of a mercenary unit, but we've come together well,
and that all stems from Gun."
Indeed, Cunningham is a different coach in his second year--looser
and more willing to experiment. Case in point: On offense, he
will team rookie wideout Sylvester Morris with Derrick Alexander
and Kevin Lockett in several three-receiver sets. While a
banged-up line is a concern, Cunningham's belief in his team is
steadfast. "Derrick's death has made me look at everything
differently," he says. "I wanted this team to channel all of the
chaos in a positive way."
At the end of an evening workout in the second week of camp--after
the defense had stuffed the offense nine of 12 times in the goal
line drill that traditionally ends practice--an emotional
Cunningham gathered the team in the practice field's south end
zone. As a hush fell over the few thousand fans looking on,
Cunningham told his players how the drill's result reminded him
of a similar performance in that same end zone in 1995, one that
starred an unstoppable Derrick Thomas and that Cunningham
believes jump-started the Chiefs' 13-3 regular season that year.
While painfully recounting his speech later that evening,
Cunningham bridged his team's past and future once again. "It was
tough for me, but I told them, 'I know we'll have a great year,
because Derrick would expect nothing less from us,'" said
Cunningham, his eyes moist and his jaw trembling. "And when I
looked around--looked at the faces of guys like Donnie Edwards--I
could see they knew it, too."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID STLUKA HARD HIT The death of Thomas was especially jolting to Edwards (59), who credits his close friend for his own rise to stardom.
COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG
SEPT. 3 INDIANAPOLIS
10 at Tennessee
17 SAN DIEGO
24 at Denver
OCT. 2 SEATTLE (Mon.)
8 Open date
22 ST. LOUIS
29 at Seattle
NOV. 5 at Oakland
12 at San Francisco
26 at San Diego
DEC. 4 at New England (Mon.)
24 at Atlanta
1999 Record 9-7 (tied for 1st in AFC West)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 4/22/12; defense 11/16/14
2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 8
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .535
Games against playoff teams: 6
PLAYER TO WATCH
Forgive Mike Cloud if he doesn't share the disappointment of
Chiefs' fans at the team's failure to trade for disgruntled
Bengals running back Corey Dillon. After a standout training
camp, Cloud, an unheralded second-round draft pick out of Boston
College a year ago, will likely begin the season as the starting
halfback. Given the team's past reliance on a committee of
runners, Cloud should be proud--especially after rushing for just
128 yards on 35 carries as a little-used rookie last season. In
camp, though, the 5'10", 206-pound Cloud flashed his deceptive
power and speed often enough to wow the coaching staff. Says
coach Gunther Cunningham, "He's quick, he earns every yard he
gains, and he's fearless."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS
Coach: Gunther Cunningham
Second season with Chiefs (9-7 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Elvis Grbac 28 499 att. 294 comp. 58.9% 3,389 yds.
22 TDs 15 int. 81.7 rtg.
RB Mike Cloud 119 35 att. 128 yds. 3.7 avg. 3 rec.
25 yds. 8.3 avg. 0 TDs
RB Donnell Bennett 151 161 att. 627 yds. 3.9 avg. 10 rec.
41 yds. 4.1 avg. 8 TDs
FB Tony Richardson 195 84 att. 387 yds. 4.6 avg. 24 rec.
141 yds. 5.9 avg. 1 TD
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Sylvester Morris (R) 77 63 rec. 1,139 yds. 13 TDs
WR Derrick Alexander 116 54 rec. 832 yds. 2 TDs
WR Kevin Lockett 177 34 rec. 426 yds. 2 TDs
TE Tony Gonzalez 21 76 rec. 849 yds. 11 TDs
K Pete Stoyanovich 225 45/45 XPs 21/28 FGs 108 pts.
PR Dante Hall (R) 321 11 ret. 12.2 avg. 0 TDs
KR Larry Parker 311 1 ret. 24.0 avg. 0 TDs
LT John Tait 6'6" 316 lbs. 12 games 3 starts
LG Dave Szott 6'4" 289 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
C Tim Grunhard 6'2" 314 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Will Shields 6'3" 321 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Victor Riley 6'5" 341 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Eric Hicks 37 tackles 4 sacks
LT Chester McGlockton 42 tackles 1/2 sacks
RT Dan Williams 29 tackles 5 sacks
RE Duane Clemons 36 tackles 9 sacks
OLB Lew Bush 44 tackles 1 sack
MLB Marvcus Patton 105 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB Donnie Edwards 123 tackles 5 int.
CB James Hasty 85 tackles 7 int.
SS Larry Atkins 0 tackles 0 int.
FS Jerome Woods 79 tackles 1 int.
CB Cris Dishman 72 tackles 5 int.
P Todd Sauerbrun 85 punts 40.9 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Chiefs
"This team relies on its defense to make plays and create
turnovers. James Hasty and Cris Dishman had 12 of the team's 25
interceptions last year, but is it possible that two 35-year-olds
can repeat that type of production? Whoever wins the third
cornerback job is key, because at least one of the starters will
probably end up getting hurt.... Lew Bush can play Derrick
Thomas's role on two of the downs, but who will impact the pass
rush on third down? Duane Clemons is coming off his best year,
but five of his nine sacks for the Vikings came on turf, and now
he's playing on grass.... Everyone wants the Chiefs to find
another running back, but last year they finished fourth in the
league in rushing yards per game [130.1].... Their special teams
are shaky. Pete Stoyanovich had one of his worst seasons last
year, missing half his kicks from 40 yards. Losing Tamarick
Vanover hurts their punt-return game, which was good; their
kickoff-return game was lousy. Todd Sauerbrun should help their
punting and give them deeper kickoffs."