Through The Years: The Quarterbacks of the Kansas City Chiefs

The Dallas Texans came onto the professional football scene as charter members of the old American Football Conference in 1960. After two seasons of middle of the road type records, the Texans would compile an 11-3 record in 1963 and win the AFL Championship. The very next season, the Dallas Texans would begin play as the Kansas City Chiefs. From those early days in the AFL to their present day position as one of the more storied franchises of the NFL, not to mention having a reputation for having some of the most die hard football fans any where, the Chiefs have definitely made their mark on professional football. An interesting way to look at the team’s history is to examine the quarterbacks of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 1960s
Cotton Davidson was the original starting quarterback for the Dallas Texans when they took the field as part of the AFL in 1960. Davidson had been a first round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1954, but had not lived up to his promise and only saw any real action at the position of punter while with the team. As a matter of fact, while playing the position of quarterback with the Texans, he would also serve as the team’s punter, and would even kick a few extra points too. After a little over two seasons with the team, Davidson would move on to become one of the early quarterbacks of the Oakland Raiders. In the third season of the team’s existence, they would welcome a new starting quarterback into the fold. Len Dawson had been drafted in the first round of the 1957 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers and after spending three seasons as the backup to future hall of famer Bobby Layne, he moved on to Cleveland where he would also see significant time as the second string quarterback. He was brought into lead the Texans in 1962 and immediately paid dividends as the team would win the AFL Championship that season. On an individual level, Dawson would lead the AFL in completion percentage, touchdowns, yards per passing attempt, and quarterback rating that year. The next season saw the Texans become the Kansas City Chiefs and though the team struggled, Dawson would again lead the league in touchdown passes. In fact, Len Dawson led the AFL in touchdown passes in four of his first five seasons in the league (1962, 63, 65, and 66). Dawson would quarterback the team through the rest of the decade, culminating with the Chiefs winning the 1969 Super Bowl. That final season of the 1960s would see quarterback Mike Livingston see significant playing time and actually compile a better win-loss record than Dawson.

The 1970s
The new decade would start out looking largely the same for the Chiefs with reliable Len Dawson starting at the position of quarterback. Though he wouldn’t achieve the same success after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, Dawson was still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. The 1973 season saw Dawson and Livingston splitting time at the position of starting quarterback and this would continue through for three years until the retirement of Dawson following the 1975 season. In his first four seasons as the backup to Len Dawson, Mike Livingston had gone 9-0 in games he was called on to start, including 6-0 in the 1969 Super Bowl season. Now it was 1976 and the position of starting quarterback was all his. Success would not stay with Livingston as he compiled win-loss records of 5-9, 1-10, and 4-10 as the starting quarterback for the Chiefs in the late 1970s. 1979, his last season in the league would show Livingston going 1-3 as a starter, with the team essentially turned over to rookie quarterback Steve Fuller.

The 1980s
1980 would see Steve Fuller go 6-7 in his second and final year as the primary starter for the Chiefs. The starting quarterback position would be turned over to young Bill Kenney in 1981 and by 1982 Fuller would have moved on to the Chicago Bears. Kenney was the primary starting quarterback of the Chiefs through the rest of the 1980s, although for a time in the middle of the decade he shared the duties with Todd Blackledge. Other quarterbacks who started games for the Chiefs in the 1980s included Matt Stevens, Frank Seurer, and Steve DeBerg. 1988 would see Kenney go 0-5 as the starter and the team would essentially be turned over to DeBerg as Bill Kenney would retire following at season’s end. 1989 would see the Chiefs head coaching duties turned over to Marty Schottenheimer and although both Steve Pelluer and Ron Jaworski would start games at quarterback, DeBerg would remain the primary quarterback with ten starts that season.

The 1990s
The new decade would begin with Steve DeBerg at the helm for the first two seasons before moving on to Tampa Bay and having longtime Seattle Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg come in as the starting quarterback in 1992. Krieg would have a successful season that year, leading the team to a 10-6 record and leading the NFL in the category of most yards gained per pass completion (13.5). The Chiefs would lose in the Wildcard round of the playoffs that year and the writing would be on the wall for Dave Krieg as the team would trade for future hall of famer Joe Montana in the off season. In Montana’s first season with the team he would take them all the way to the AFC Championship game where they would lose to Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills by a score of 30-13. The 1994 season would see Montana lead the Chiefs back to the playoffs, this time losing in the Wildcard round to the Miami Dolphins. Montana would retire after the season and Steve Bono would take over the quarterbacking duties. Bono had been originally drafted in 1985 by the Minnesota Vikings, but in his first nine seasons in the league with the Vikings, Steelers, 49ers and Chiefs he had only started eleven games. The 1995 Chiefs were all his and he took the team to a 13-3 record, including being 10-1 at one time. The Chiefs would again lose in the first round of the playoffs and the following year the team would miss the postseason with Bono going 8-5 as their starter. Bono would move on to spend time backing up in Green Bay, St. Louis, and Carolina to finish out the decade while the Chiefs quarterback position would be turned over to Elvis Grbac and Rich Gannon. The combination of Grbac and Gannon would get Kansas City back to the playoffs in 1997, although it was another disappointing first round loss, this time to the Denver Broncos. During that season Grbac would go 8-2 as the starter while Gannon would go 5-1 in games that he started. 1998 would see Gannon go 5-5 as the starter while Grbac went 2-4 and the Chiefs would miss the playoffs. 1999 would see Rich Gannon leave the team to head to the Oakland Raiders where he would experience a good deal of success. With the starting quarterback job all his, Elvis Grbac would lead the team to a 9-7 record and Kansas City would finish out the 1990s by once again missing the playoffs.

The 2000s
The new millennium would start out with Elvis Grbac as the starting quarterback for the Chiefs once again, and he would lead the team to a record of 7-8 in games that he started. Hall of famer Warren Moon would also see time at the starting quarterback position for Kansas City in the year 2000, going 0-1. 2001 would see new head coach Dick Vermeil bring in a new starting quarterback, Trent Green. After a rough first couple of years with the team, Green would lead the Chiefs to a 13-3 record in 2003 though they would once again lose in the first round of the playoffs. 2005 would be Vermeil’s last season coaching the Chiefs and he and Green would lead the team to a very respectable 10-6 record though they would still miss the playoffs. The 2006 season would see Trent Green start half of the Chiefs games, going 4-4, while Damon Huard started the other half, going 5-3. This would be Trent Green’s last season in Kansas City as he moved on to the Miami Dolphins during the off season. The 2007 Chiefs were a disappointment with Huard going 4-6 as the starter and rookie Brodie Croyle going 0-6.

The Kansas City Chiefs have experienced many ups and downs throughout their history, and will most assuredly be back on top one day soon. The stability of the Chiefs quarterback position during their first decade of professional football resulted in them being one of the better teams at the time. During the next three decades, the team would spend many seasons without having a primary starting quarterback who would consistently start every game of the season year after year. This instability at the quarterback position is what most people attribute the Chiefs’ more difficult seasons to. The Chiefs are definitely one of the more fascinating teams in the National Football League and following their quarterback lineage in the future will be very interesting indeed.

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