As the Chiefs prepare to head to San Diego to wrap up the regular season, we look at the same fixture from 30 years ago. The Chiefs made the trip to southern California in November 1986, with a healthy 5-3 record, and with a nail-biting 1-point win over the same opponents only two weeks before (42-41, off the back of a pair of Lloyd Burruss pick sixes).
Another close game was expected, but things got off to a bad start for KC. Pinned close to their own goal line, a snap went wrong and headed out of the back of the end zone for a safety to open the scoring.
Journeyman QB Tom Flick was making his first start for the Chargers, and looked nervous, but the Chiefs defence was not able to either pressure him or shut down the San Diego running game. The Chargers scored in the second quarter from a Flick pass, and then again from a short range rush, and with the score at half time 16-0, it looked like the game had got away from the Chiefs.
Whatever head coach John Mackovic said to the team at the interval must have been good! The defence started to bring much needed pressure on the inexperienced quarterback, and by racking up 4 interceptions, managed to totally shut down the San Diego offence. Kansas City finally made it onto the scoreboard when running back Jeff Smith hauled in a pass. Smith had a nice couple of seasons at KC, scoring 9 times, before moving on to Tampa Bay.
The pass to Smith was made by Bill Kenney. Kenney spent all of his 9 year NFL career with the Chiefs, starting 78 games. His golden year was 1983, when he passed for 4,348 yards, at the time the most in a single season for the franchise – and was selected for his only Pro Bowl. (The 4,348 yards is still in second place all these years later). In this 1986 season he was sharing QB duties with the much-hyped Todd Blackledge and had a winning record across the 8 games he started.
Early in the fourth quarter, Kenney hit the target again, completing a 5 yard pass to wide receiver Emile Harry. Harry had been drafted by the Falcons in 1985, but moved to Kansas City after never making a start in Atlanta. This was the first of his 9 touchdowns for the team over a six year spell. He had over 2,000 receiving yards over that time and was a useful spare receiver behind Stephone Paige.
With all the momentum behind them, KC went downfield again, and scored yet again with a short Mike Pruitt run to take the lead for the first time in the game, 21 to 16. However, hopes were dashed when San Diego managed to finally put a drive together, and QB Tom Flick rushed home from the 1 yard line – the only touchdown he scored in his career.
The Chiefs were behind again, with time running out. But a steady drive got the team into Chargers territory, and then into field goal range. Nick Lowery made no mistake, and hit the ball home from 37 yards to settle the game as a 24-23 win for Kansas City. The win, the team’s third in a row, gave them a 6-3 record and set them on the way to finally making the post-season after over a decade in the wilderness.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
Fans at the Robert F. Kennedy memorial stadium in Washington DC saw a shoot-out swing one way then the other. The Redskins took a 10 point lead early, but spurred on by a huge day from QB Tommy Kramer, the visiting Minnesota Vikings looked safe at 38-26 in the final quarter. But then Jay Schroeder led a touchdown drive to tie up the game, and another to win it 44-38 in overtime.
Elsewhere in the world:
In the same week as this game, the M25 London Orbital motorway opened – and also Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United. Both of these events would bring misery to millions over the coming years!