This morning in Denver, Colo., a groggy fanbase will wake up knowing that the road to the top of the AFC West will not, at least for the foreseeable future, be going through the Mile High City.
That road has officially diverted east to Kansas City.
That’s not often been the case, as the Broncos have been – by and large – the team to beat for most of the years since John Elway came to town. Or even since 1977 for that matter. That’s not to say the Broncos have always won, but they’ve always been either winning, or pretty darn close to it.
After three straight years of posting a losing record, however, it’s impossible for anyone who cares for, or follows closely, the Denver Broncos, not to notice a change from the norm. The Broncos are still one of the proudest franchises in all of sports, but lately, the results haven’t necessarily mirrored that designation. It’s fair to wonder if this an issue of simple Xs and Os, or if the trend is bigger than that.
As Broncos fans watched Super Bowl 54 – closely or casually – the easy conclusion is that the Chiefs have something that every team in the NFL wants and needs. In other words, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to watch a pass or two and conclude: “We need one of those.”
Meaning, of course, Patrick Mahomes.
Sure, the Broncos haven’t had anything like Mahomes since Peyton Manning. And back when the Sheriff was laying down the law in the AFC West (and AFC, and NFL actually), the Chiefs and their fans were sitting around saying, “We need one of those,” meaning, Peyton Manning. Now that the roles have reversed, it’s an obvious comparison, it’s an obvious ingredient to winning any sort of title in the NFL.
While that’s true, and while the Broncos may have found their franchise in Drew Lock – who may or may not one day be on par with Mahomes – it’s not the only ingredient. In fact, it may not be the ingredient that matters most.
Following the game – well ahead of Terry Bradshaw’s chat with MVP, “that Patrick Holmes Guy” – it was Clark Hunt who had his hands on the Lombardi Trophy.
And nobody got his name wrong.
Clark Hunt is CEO of the Chiefs and the son of the great Lamar Hunt, the founder and former owner of the Chiefs (by way of the Dallas Texans). By all accounts, Lamar was one of the most important and influential owners the NFL. Following the death of his father in 2006, Clark Hunt and his siblings (Lamar and Norma had four children) inherited ownership of the Chiefs. As the team’s CEO and public face of the ownership group, Clark represents the Chiefs at all owners meetings and handles the day-to-day operations of the team. And he was the first to have his hands on that trophy.
Following the Chiefs Super Bowl win, his words were gracious and concise, and he was quick to hand over the Lombardi to head coach Andy Reid, who was quick to credit his quarterback, Mahomes.
From Denver, this all feels so similar. Great owner hands trophy to great coach and great quarterback.
There’s no doubt, it’s tough for anyone other than a great quarterback to drive the team down the field for the go-ahead touchdown – just like Mahomes did on Sunday night, just as Elway did, just as Manning did.
But what’s more difficult than finding that great quarterback is finding an owner or ownership group that somehow uses its resources to put all the pieces in place. Coach. Quarterback. Supporting cast.
Clark Hunt did that in. Scratch that – has been doing that. Winning a Super Bowl isn’t so easy, you know. Pat Bowl always did that, too.
But now that Bowlen is gone – and realistically, even before his death this past June – the Broncos have been lacking that singular visionary. Pat Bowlen had that. Clark Hunt, while representing three other siblings, also has it.
But do the Broncos have that now?
We know the answer. And whether the circumstances that led Clark to be the face of the Chiefs and the voice and vote that represents the rest of the Hunt Family, were legal, lucky or whatever, the fact is, the Chiefs unified front is what it takes. As important as a great quarterback might be, more than likely, it all starts and ends with an owner or ownership group that shares a unified goal of winning.
Drew Lock may very well be the answer in Denver. But until all of those above him – and that means everyone – are all on the same page, the road to winning the AFC West will continue to run through Kansas City.
Ownership matters. That was obvious in Miami last night.