September 8 2002: Kansas City Chiefs 40 – Cleveland Brown 39
After a disappointing 6-10 record in 2001, Dick Vermeil’s Chiefs kicked off the 2002 season with hopes of a major improvement.
The team had a great attacking line-up, with quality at quarterback (Trent Green), running back (Priest Holmes), full back (Tony Richardson), wide receiver (Eddie Kennison) and tight end (Tony Gonzalez). We travelled to Cleveland for an opening day encounter with the Browns, with a fair degree of optimism.
Although the Browns opened the scoring (a Phil Dawson field goal after an early turnover), KC grabbed the first touchdown after Trent Green led a confident 74 yard drive – he completed all four of his pass attempts, the last of those finding Tony Gonzalez in the end zone. But the Chiefs defence struggled to contain the Browns. In fact they would struggle all year: after making a bold move on draft day to trade up for star defensive tackle Ryan Sims, the former Tar Heel would prove to be a real disappointment in a generally flat defence.
The Browns managed two long passing touchdowns in the second quarter, as well as setting up another Dawson field goal. In response, Priest Holmes punched home a short rushing score, after a long completion to Eddie Kennison had put the Chiefs close to the goal line. The hosts led 20-14 at the break.
Cleveland quickly stretched their lead in the third quarter with another Kelly Holcomb scoring pass. With a solid lead, the Browns did their best to slow the game down. The teams traded field goals, but with only 10 minutes remaining, the Chiefs were looking at an opening day defeat, trailing 30-17. This was the moment when Priest Holmes put the team on his back and dragged us back into the game…
A 26-yard rush down the left side closed the deficit. On the Browns’ next drive, Kelly Holcomb was sacked and coughed up the ball on his own 15 yard line – one play, and one 15 yard rush later, Holmes had his third score of the day, and had put Kansas City 31-30 ahead.
The Chiefs paper-thin defence couldn’t hang on though, and allowed Cleveland to hit back with a quick 5-play drive topped with a 44 yard touchdown pass by Holcomb. Back came the Chiefs offence! Kennison, Gonzalez and Holmes moved the ball in big chunk plays, and Holmes scored for the fourth time to make it 37-36 with three minutes on the clock. Priest Holmes was in his prime at this time – 2002 was the middle of a wonderful three year span: 2001, 2002 and 2003 saw him gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage each year, make All-Pro every year, and score over 60 touchdowns in total. He was the 2001 NFL rushing leader, at that time the only undrafted player to win that honour.
The Browns had the ball once more, and once more there was a sense of inevitability as they drove back downfield. After taking the clock down under half a minute, Phil Dawson scored another field goal – his 7th successful kick from 7 on the day, to give the home team the lead, 39-37.
Getting the ball back in their own half, the Chiefs had no time to lose. Trent Green managed to scramble up to half way, but as the clock was still ticking, he had to spike the next snap to leave the clock on two seconds. Only time for one play…
…and on that play, Green was tackled by the Browns’ Dwayne Rudd. As he fell to the ground, he managed to get off a lateral pass to tackle John Tait, who rumbled up field 20 yards before going out of bounds. Time expired, all over – except Rudd hadn’t seen the lateral. He thought he had sacked Trent Green, and had taken off his helmet to celebrate his play. This drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which meant that the clock was stopped at zero seconds with time for an extra snap. Worse still for Rudd, the penalty also moved the ball into field goal range. Up stepped Morten Andersen, who made no mistake. Chiefs win, 40-39 !
The exciting Chiefs side would score 40 points on three more occasions in this season, finishing as the NFL’s top scoring team. Interestingly, their offensive co-ordinator was Al Saunders, who has just been appointed as the Browns’ assistant head coach in their recent change-around. However, the defence was among the worst in the league, and we creaked along to an 8 and 8 record, and missed out again on the playoffs.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
Orchard Park, Buffalo, also saw a wild shoot-out, between Drew Bledsoe’s Bills, and the visiting New York Jets led by Vinny Testaverde.
The hosts led 10-0 early, only for the Jets to come back, helped by a Chad Morton 98 yard kickoff return TD, to lead 14-10. Buffalo regained the lead…and then the Jets… and then Buffalo again. A Testaverde pass late in the game put the Jets 31-24 up, only for Bledsoe to tie it up with a pass of his own in the last minute.
On the first play in overtime, Chad Morton took the kickoff back 96 yards for his second monster return of the day to give the Jets a thrilling 37-31 victory.
Elsewhere in the world:
Reality TV heaven on British TV… veteran disc jockey Tony Blackburn wins the first ever series of “I’m a Celebrity… get me out of here!”
On the same day, “Popstars: The Rivals” debuts – the winning act would be Girls Aloud, one of the biggest success stories of the modern era of talent shows.