It’s a rough year for Kansas City sports.
The Royals launched “Our Time” then promptly lost 12 games in a row in April. The Chiefs won their division in 2010, had a disappointing, but not disastrous 2011 season at 7-9, but so far in 2012, they haven’t led for one single second of the NFL season. Two months. No leads.
In examining the issues, it’s easy to blame the Royals problems on a small market, but in the NFL salary caps prevent large markets from buying up every prime free agent, so what’s the Chiefs excuse this year?
Both franchises have a reputation of tough teams who were among the best in their league for extended periods of time. Each franchise has an iconic player – Len Dawson for the Chiefs, George Brett for the Royals – who’s stuck around to represent the team. Both teams have won one World Championship.
The Royals haven’t been to the playoffs since that championship. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1994.
The two are separated by a few hundred feet of asphalt at Truman Sports Complex, but they’re connected by even more. It’s almost eerie, perhaps the thing curses are made of. In 2006, the Royals replaced their general manager with Dayton Moore, considered by many as the biggest hire available and one with significant buzz coming out of an Atlanta system that made the playoffs every year. In 2009, the Chiefs hired Scott Pioli to be the GM, fresh off a stint in New England that earned him significant buzz as the new hotshot GM.
Both have been disappointments to their fanbase. The Royals are considered one of the more tight-lipped organizations in baseball; the Chiefs ran into Kent Babb’s “Arrowhead Anxiety” story, which included tales of seeming paranoia and micromanagement. Their player acquisition and evaluation priorities have been questioned constantly. Both team owners are repeatedly accused of being cheap and cutting corners financially to such frustration that ads have been taken out in the Kansas City Star or banners purchased to be flown over the stadium calling for the owners to sell their respective teams.
Their luck even seems to run against them. In 2006, the Royals had their first ever first overall selection in the MLB draft. In 2005, the number one overall pick was Justin Upton (although the Royals got Alex Gordon right after him). In 2007, it was David Price. In 2006, there wasn’t a clear cut number one overall pick, and the Royals chose Luke Hochevar, who’s been a frustrating bust for much of his time in Kansas City. In 2010, there were three can’t-miss prospects in the draft: Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon and Manny Machado. The Royals had the fourth selection and missed out on all three.
Last season, the Chiefs did well enough to not be anywhere near where they needed to be in the draft to get a potential franchise QB (which is the toughest player to find, similar to a pitching ace in the mold of Tampa’s Price). There was a “Suck for Luck” campaign, hoping for the team to tank so badly that they could draft Andrew Luck. Even finishing second to last would have allowed them to get Robert Griffin. Now, as they stand at 1-7 and easily the worst team in the NFL right now, there’s no clear cut QB that most agree is a franchise caliber player.
It begs the question of which team will wake up first. The Chiefs appear to be near the breaking point. Head coach Romeo Crennel’s seat couldn’t be hotter if it were coated in thermite. Pioli’s run may be close to over as well. They seem to be getting worse.
The Royals, at least, are seemingly getting better.
The development of baseball players takes longer. Players play longer in their careers, the season isn’t as intensely physically demanding as the NFL. Players don’t come out of high school ready to play professional football, so players enter the league older, more physically mature and after a couple years of college football. Many of the Royals players are in their early 20s but have had a few years in professional ball behind them, but there’s still refinement to do. That process seems to be starting to pay off, even if 2012 didn’t feel like it.
Regardless, both teams are frustrating while they’re losing, which is a shame for one of the more underrated sports cities around. Fans are knowledgeable, passionate and loyal. To be repaid with such dismal teams is a cruel, fateful joke.
Here’s to the Chiefs finding their franchise quarterback and here’s to the Royals developing their ace. They can’t come soon enough.