December 21 1997: Kansas City Chiefs 25 – New Orleans Saints 13
Starting in the late 1980s, a series of good – and sometimes great – Chiefs teams, had finished with a winning record in 8 consecutive seasons. By the time we welcomed Mike Ditka’s Saints to Arrowhead at the end of the 1997 season, a ninth winning year was already secured, as was a trip to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons. It was a cold December day, with a breeze making it feel colder still, and expectations were high for a win that would get the team a bye through wild card weekend.
A cagey start to the game saw a Pete Stoyanovich field goal as the only score in the first quarter – Stoyanovich then kicked another early in the second quarter to double the Chiefs’ advantage. The kicker had moved to KC after a brilliant seven years in Miami, where he had been a pro bowler once, had led the league in field goals made twice, and had scored the longest ever post season field goal, a 58-yarder which still holds the record to this day. While in Miami, Stoyanovich had grabbed a minor appearance in the film Ace Ventura, Pet Detective!
His 5 year spell in Kansas City was probably even better – both his field goal and extra point percentages improved (163 of 164 extra points made while a Chief).
Following Stoyanovich’s field goal, the next Saints possession was a quick three and out. New Orleans punted to the Chiefs’ 18 yard line where the ball was fielded by star returner Tamarick Vanover who took it back 82 yards for his only punt return score of the season (he had also scored a kick off return, 94 yards against the Bills, earlier in the season). A missed attempt at 2 points sent the teams in at the break with Kansas City leading 12 – 0.
A scrappy third quarter saw the teams exchange punts until finally the Saints strung together a drive which saw them get on the scoreboard with a pass to Keith Poole. It took until the final quarter for the home fans’ nerves to be finally settled – after pinning the Saints back close to their own line and forcing a punt, Vanover then returned the punt back into the danger zone. From there it took only three plays to set up a short Marcus Allen run for a touchdown to re-establish a double digit lead.
This was the 158th, and final, touchdown of Allen’s illustrious NFL career. The Heisman trophy winner was the LA Raiders’ first round draft pick in 1982 and immediately established himself, being named a first team All-Pro in his rookie season. After several successful years, Allen had a major falling out with erratic Raiders owner Al Davis, and moved to Arrowhead as a 33 year old. He
promptly had a 15 touchdown season and was named comeback player of the year – he also led the team in rushing yards in that season as well as the following three.
Retiring with a Superbowl ring, a league MVP award and a Superbowl MVP award to go with his Heisman trophy, Allen would then be elected to both the College football Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame.
The Chiefs scored a further touchdown in their next drive with a short Rich Gannon pass to tight end Ted Popson. Earlier in that drive, Gannon had also completed a pass to another tight end, promising rookie Tony Gonzalez, who would go on to be a pretty decent player…
A late New Orleans score – a second touchdown pass of the day to Poole, didn’t take the shine off what had been a comfortable end to a successful regular season.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
The Arizona Cardinals came back from the dead – 12 points down mid-way through the 4th quarter, until two Jake Plummer touchdown passes grabbed a narrow win over the Falcons. Meanwhile, the Vikings won a shoot-out as Randall Cunningham connected with Cris Carter three times to help Minnesota to a 39 – 28 win over a Jim Harbaugh-led Colts team.
Elsewhere in the world:
The film Titanic premiered this month – becoming the highest grossing movie of all time. Almost 20 years on it is still second, behind only Avatar.