Marty Schottenheimer had brought winning football back to Kansas City. After close to two decades of irrelevance, the Chiefs promptly posted winning seasons in each of Schottenheimer’s first four years from 1989-92. What they had not been able to do was advance past the divisional round of the playoffs. The 1993 Kansas City Chiefs made some big veteran acquisitions and made a run to the AFC Championship Game.
And when we say “big veteran acquisitions” we mean really big. Like getting Joe Montana in to play quarterback. After winning four Super Bowls in the 1980s with the San Francisco 49ers, Montana had missed the better part of 1991 and 1992 with back problems. He lost his job in San Francisco to Steve Young. Montana wanted to prove he could still play. He needed a team that was competitive, but still needed help at quarterback. The Chiefs fit the description.
If Montana wasn’t enough, Kansas City went out and bagged another Hall of Fame veteran and in this case they raided one of their key rivals. Marcus Allen, the great running back for the Los Angeles Raiders, was having a bad falling out with the front office. The 33-year-old signed on with Kansas City.
Both Montana and Allen showed they still had gas in the tank. At the age of 37, Montana’s health could still be on-again, off-again and he was only able to start eleven games. But his 61 percent completion rate and 7.2 yards-per-attempt were in the top half of the league and he avoided mistakes. That, along with his reputation and the feel-good quality of his story, got Joe a ticket to the Pro Bowl.
Allen rushed for 764 yards and also caught 34 balls. He shared backfield duties with Kimble Anders and Todd McNair, both of whom were also good pass-catchers and beneficiaries of Montana’s mastery of the precision short game.
The offensive line wasn’t as potent as some of the units Schottenheimer would coach throughout his career, but 31-year-old left tackle John Alt was still a Pro Bowler. And the Chiefs added a rookie at guard in Will Shields, who began a Hall of Fame career in 1993.
If Montana wanted to stretch the field, he had the receivers to do it with. Willie Davis caught 52 balls and averaged better than seventeen yards a catch. J.J. Birden’s 51 catches produced over 14 yards a pop.
Ultimately though, Montana was at his best when he was spreading the ball around to everyone. It was rare for one receiver to have a singularly great game in 1993, but everyone was a steady part of the offense. And that offense ended up 8th in the NFL for points scored.
The defense, often outstanding during Schottenheimer’s tenure here, was only above average in ’93, ranking 11th in points allowed. There were still some great individual performers who could change games though. Neil Smith was one of the league’s best defensive ends and recorded 15 sacks. Derrick Thomas, a future Hall of Fame outside linebacker had another Pro Bowl season. Albert Lewis, the 33-year-old veteran at corner, intercepted six passes and Charles Mincy picked off five more.
Montana’s quest to prove he could still play began in Tampa Bay on the Sunday before Labor Day. The Bucs were a lousy team and Montana picked them apart. After spotting Tampa an early field goal, Montana went 14/21 for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The final was 27-3. But the first warning sign about Joe’s health appeared—veteran backup Dave Krieg had to finish the game and would start the following week in Houston.
About that Week 2 trip to Houston—the Oilers were much like the Chiefs in this era–a playoff perennial that couldn’t get past the divisional round. And the road game in the Astrodome was an utter disaster. Krieg threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. KC lost three fumbles, was penalized eleven times and only ran for 46 yards. Other than that, the game was a total delight. They lost 30-zip.
John Elway was Marty’s consistent nemesis, both in the 1980s in Cleveland and here in Kansas City. The Broncos came in for Monday Night Football. Montana was back in the lineup, but the ultimate hero wasn’t one of the two legendary quarterbacks on the field. It was Chiefs’ kicker Nick Lowery. He nailed five field goals, including kicks from 41, 44 and 52 yards out. Kansas City won 15-7.
The Chiefs went into a bye week with some work to do. Even though they had beaten Denver, it was another penalty-ridden performance with eleven flags. Play had to be cleaned up before the Los Angeles Raiders came into town to open October.
Montana came out quickly against the Raiders and threw a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes. Kansas City played clean football and churned out a 24-9 win, although Montana again could not finish. Krieg would start the following week, a home date with lowly Cincinnati. Kansas City barely escaped, needing a late field goal from Lowery to get a 17-15 victory in a game they were favored by two touchdowns.
San Diego had won the AFC West a year earlier and then bounced Kansas City from the playoffs. The Chargers would fall back to 8-8 this year, but the mid-October trip west was still a big one. Montana was back and he threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Allen in the first quarter. The offense then bogged down until the fourth quarter when, trailing 14-10, Allen ran in for another score. The Chiefs got out of town with a 17-14 win.
1993 was the one season the NFL experimented with the concept of a double bye. It was not a popular move with fans, networks or the players and was discarded. But for now, the Chiefs had to take another week off before they went to Miami.
The Dolphins were a consistent contender in the early 1990s, either in the playoffs or on the fringe. Their own great quarterback, Dan Marino, was out for this game, but backup Scott Mitchell proved more than capable. The Chiefs secondary was lit up for 344 passing yards, they fell behind early and lost 30-10.
Another Monday Night home game with another future Hall of Fame quarterback was next. Although unlike Elway, Marino and Montana, the eventual greatness of Green Bay’s Brett Favre was only a possibility in 1993, not yet established. The KC defense was ready for him. Thomas sacked Favre twice, the Chiefs picked him off three times and Kansas City won 23-16.
The AFC West was shaping up into a three-team race between the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos. The Chargers would linger, but never quite get over the hump. If Denver was the team that gave Kansas City fits, then the Chiefs were the team that constantly tormented the Raiders.
KC went to the LA Coliseum where the Raiders then played their home games. Krieg was in the lineup. After the Chiefs dug themselves an early 14-0 hole, Krieg went to work. He threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Anders. In the third quarter, Krieg went deep to Davis for a 66-yard touchdown strike. Krieg threw one more TD in the fourth quarter. Allen, anxious to take revenge in his old stomping grounds, ran for 85 yards. Kansas City completed a season sweep of the Silver-N-Black with a 31-20 win.
Chicago had a mediocre team in 1993 and when all is said and done, the events of November 21 at Arrowhead are the “what might have been” moment for the ’93 Chiefs. After Allen ran for two early touchdowns, the offense bogged down. Krieg was sacked five times and Kansas City was upset 19-17. In an AFC where the race for everything—the division, the byes, the #1 seed—were all jam-packed, everything added up and this was a game KC should have won.
It made Buffalo’s visit the following Sunday afternoon even more critical. The Bills were the gold standard in the AFC, having gone to three straight Super Bowls and in contention again this year. Montana returned to face future Hall of Fame counterpart Jim Kelly in a 4 PM start that would be shown to most of the country.
After the Bills took a 7-0 lead, Montana found Allen on a 18-yard touchdown pass that tied up the game. The Kansas City defense took over. They held Buffalo’s running game, led by the explosive Thurman Thomas, to 43 yards. They intercepted Kelly three times. And they cruised to a 23-7 win.
We were headed into December and Kansas City’s record stood at 8-3. They were up one game on the Broncos and two on the Raiders for the AFC West. In the joust for what were then two first-round byes for three division champs, the Chiefs also narrowly led. The Oilers led the old AFC Central with a 7-4 mark. The Bills, atop the AFC East, were also 8-3, but KC now had the tiebreaker. If the playoffs could have started today, Kansas City would have held the 1-seed.
Montana was outstanding the following week in Seattle, going 20/30 for 239 yards and no mistakes. Thomas returned a fumble 86 yards for a touchdown and the Chiefs cruised to a 31-16 win. Denver lost. So did Buffalo. Kansas City’s playoff fortunes looked even brighter.
But a road trip to Elway’s lair in the Rocky Mountains was next. Montana again played well, going 17/30 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Birden caught five balls for 95 yards. KC led 14-3 early on. But no lead was safe against either of these quarterbacks. Elway chipped the lead down to 21-17 by the fourth quarter and then rallied Denver to win 27-21.
Kansas City still led both of their AFC West rivals by a game and if they could beat San Diego, it would give the Chiefs command of any tiebreaker situation. The Chargers were desperately trying to keep their wild-card hopes alive and jumped on KC for a 17-0 lead. Now it was Montana’s turn to orchestrate a comeback of his own.
Montana threw touchdown passes to Davis and Birden before having to again leave with nagging injuries. Krieg came on and finished the job, extending the lead out to 28-17. KC then held off one last rally from the Bolts and won 28-24.
The Chiefs were 10-4 with both the Raiders and Broncos at 9-5. Beyond the AFC West, the Oilers and Bills were both 10-4. Kansas City, Buffalo and Houston had all played each other and all split. In a three-way tie, the Chiefs were likely to come down as the 2-seed based on conference record. That would at least earn a week off and valuable rest for Montana.
On the day after Christmas, Kansas City watched in the afternoon as both Denver and Los Angeles lost. The Chiefs took the field in prime-time up in Minnesota knowing that the AFC West was clinched. But Buffalo and Houston had held serve, so the byes and homefield were still very much on the line.
The Vikings were on the playoff fringe and had to have this game. They outrushed the Chiefs 205-37. Montana played and was off his game, throwing a couple interceptions. Kansas City was blown out of the Metrodome, 30-10.
Kansas City’s finale was at home against Seattle (an AFC West team prior to the realignment of 2002). Montana was sharp and went 18/28 for 210 yards with no mistakes. The Chiefs jumped out to a 24-3 lead, saw it whittled to 27-24 and then added a lockup touchdown to win 34-24.
They needed help if they were going to avoid playing next week, but didn’t get it. Buffalo won in the same early afternoon time slot. The Bills were the 1-seed, the Oilers were #2 and the Chiefs settled in at the 3-spot. They would play the sixth-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, while the Broncos and Raiders played a third game in the 4-5 bracket spot.
Wild-card weekend opened on early Saturday afternoon in Arrowhead. And, as has happened far too many times to the good people of Kansas City over the years, it went downhill. The Chiefs trailed 17-7 at halftime and were still down 24-17 in the fourth quarter.
But this year they had Joe Montana. He led KC down to the Pittsburgh seven-yard line in the closing seconds. On fourth-and-goal, Montana found Tim Barnett for the tying touchdown. The Chiefs won in overtime. Montana finished the game 28/43 for 276 yards and the KC defense held a good Steeler running game to under 100 yards.
The 27-24 win got Kansas City another date in Houston. The Oilers were the hottest team in the NFL, having won eleven straight games to close the season. Between this and the disastrous results from Kansas City’s Week 2 visit here, the Chiefs came in a seven-point underdog and trailed 10-0 into the third quarter.
At that point one of the most memorable stretches of play in franchise history began. Montana threw a touchdown pass to cut the lead to 10-7. After an Oiler field goal, Montana hit Birden with an 11-yard touchdown pass. Montana went 18 yards to Davis. KC led 21-13. The two-point conversion was not an option in the NFL until 1996, so this was a two-score lead.
Houston’s great quarterback, Warren Moon, led a TD drive to cut the lead to 21-20. No problem. The KC veterans had an answer. Montana led a drive down to the Oiler 21-yard line. Allen finished it with a touchdown run. The score was 28-20 and there it stood. Kansas City was going to the AFC Championship Game.
That meant a trip to Buffalo. And this is where Kansas City runs out of steam. If we trace the season back to the Chicago loss of November—the one defeat on the schedule that there was really no excuse for—we see that it cost the Chiefs the 1-seed. Even just getting to the 2-seed and getting Montana a week off would have been exceptionally valuable. But it was obvious in this AFC Championship that both KC and their great quarterback were running on empty.
Montana was knocked out. Kansas City played from behind the entire afternoon. Even though they were within 20-13 in the third quarter, it never had the feel of a game they might win. The Chiefs were outrushed 229-52 and lost 30-13.
A special season was in the books. Montana proved he could still play. Kansas City proved they could advance in the playoffs. The downside? This would be the only time during Schottenheimer’s excellent tenure with the Chiefs that he made it this deep into the postseason.