September 21 1997: Kansas City Chiefs 35 – Carolina Panthers 14
The 1997 Carolina Panthers opened their season with a loss, but then turned things around with two wins. The story was exactly the same for Marty Schottenheimer’s Chiefs, who had bounced back from an opening day loss in Denver with wins over the Raiders and Bills. So when the two sides met at 2-1 in Charlotte, a close game was expected.
The game had a cagey start – both sides failed to make much ground in their first three drives. KC’s fourth drive of the game was also stuck in midfield when out of the blue quarterback Elvis Grbac managed to find running back Kimble Anders with a pass, in enough room to dart home for the opening score. Grbac had been drafted in 1994 by the San Francisco 49ers, but after a few years without being able to make the starting job his own, he moved to Kansas City in 1997 – where he proved to be an instant hit, winning 8 out of 10 starts in his first season at Arrowhead. He set – and still holds – a string of passing records for the team, including the longest streak of games with a touchdown (15) and the most passing yards in a game (504).
After an injury to Grbac late in the season, backup QB Rich Gannon played the rest of the season to steer the Chiefs in to the playoffs. At this point, Grbac was fit to play again and there were some strong arguments about which quarterback should lead the team into the playoffs. In the end, Grbac was chosen and he played as the Chiefs went one-and-out against the Broncos. Gannon meanwhile moved to Oakland where he won a Superbowl ring with the Raiders. To add insult to injury, when Grbac hit his franchise record 504 passing yards, it was in a losing effort – going down to Gannon’s Raiders in a barnstorming game.
The Panthers got just about to field goal range, but missed a long effort, returning the ball to the Chiefs. Grbac moved the ball downfield quickly with two good passes in succession to Andre Rison, the second of which found him in the end zone to double the Chiefs’ lead. With only a couple of minutes left in the half, the Panthers managed to work the ball down to the other end and Fred Lane rushed home from short range, to make the half time score 14-7.
In the third quarter, the Chiefs managed to drive the ball deep into Carolina territory, only to see a possible scoring pass picked off at the 7 yard line. However, on the very next play, Panthers QB Kerry Collins was himself intercepted to put the Chiefs right back in charge. This time there was no mistake as three consecutive Marcus Allen rushes saw him home to stretch the KC lead. This was the only score of the quarter.
The fourth quarter started with a dominant Chiefs offence still camped for the most part at the Carolina end of the field. After a Marcus Allen rush was stopped, Grbac instead found fullback Tony Richardson for a short score. Richardson was only an occasional visitor to the end zone, scoring 24 times in an 11 year career at Arrowhead – but this was clearly a good spell for him as he had scored the winning touchdown in the victory over Buffalo just a week earlier.
From the kickoff, Carolina returned the ball back into the Chiefs half and tried to start another attack, but Kerry Collins was intercepted yet again, this time by cornerback “Mighty Mouse” Mark McMillian, who took it back over 60 yards for a Pick Six to give the Chiefs a 35-7 lead. McMillian was a journeyman who played for the 49ers, Eagles, Redskins and Saints – but this year was his finest. He made 8 interceptions over the season, taking three of them back for touchdowns. His score in San Diego later in the season was an even longer 87-yarder. The game was done – although there was enough time still for a late Panthers consolation to take their score into respectable double figures. Overall though, this was a very comfortable Chiefs victory on the way to a dominant 13 and 3 season.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
With two touchdowns and four field goals, Jim Harbaugh’s Indianapolis Colts raced into a 26-0 lead away in Buffalo by the middle of the third quarter. By the middle of the fourth quarter they still held a 29-16 lead, but crumbled down the stretch to let in three late touchdowns, and the Bills fans were sent home happy with a 37-35 win.
Elsewhere in the world:
In two referendums this month, the people of both Scotland and Wales voted to have their own national parliaments. This was all done to the sound of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind”, which was number 1 in the charts for weeks on end.