The Kansas City Chiefs hired Coach Marty Schottenheimer two years ago to renovate a deteriorating franchise.
The Chargers hired Dan Henning at the same time for the same purpose.
Dan Henning didn’t get a bucket full of cold water dumped on his head Sunday at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Marty Schottenheimer did.
The Chiefs are going to the playoffs. The Chargers are going to their time off. They’re going to Los Angeles to play the Raiders next Sunday in the regular-season finale. And then they’re going home for vacation.
Sunday’s game was an illustration of the progress two similar teams with similar goals have made over the course of two seasons. The Chiefs won, 24-21, to clinch an AFC wild-card berth and improve their record to 10-5. Last season the Chiefs were 8-7-1.
The Chargers are 6-9. A loss Sunday would give them their third consecutive 6-10 finish.
There are many parallels between these two teams.
The Chiefs have a big, strong bull of a running back named Christian Okoye. He didn’t play Sunday because he was injured.
The Chargers have a big, strong bull of a running back named Marion Butts. He didn’t play Sunday because he was injured.
The Chiefs used their first-round draft choice this year to acquire a linebacker: Percy Snow. He was the 13th overall selection.
The Chargers used their first-round draft choice this year to acquire a linebacker: Junior Seau. He was the fifth overall selection.
Yet despite the similarities, the Chiefs are on their way up and the Chargers aren’t sure which direction they’re headed.
“How do you measure us?” quarterback coach Ted Tollner said. “We think we are getting better as a football team, then again it always comes back to wins and losses.”
In that department, the Chargers fall short, though Schottenheimer considers them on par with his team.
“My thought would be that these are two very evenly matched teams,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference between them. They beat us twice last year and we got even this year. That’s about all.”
Does that mean, considering the different record, that the Chiefs have gone about their rebuilding task more efficiently than the Chargers?
“Not really,” Schottenheimer said. “I think they’re a good football team. I think that if you play them 10 times you’re probably going to go five and five.
“They’re developing a young quarterback; we’ve got a guy with a lot of experience.”
The Chiefs have Steve DeBerg, 36, who has quite a resume. He played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1978-80, the Denver Broncos from 1981-83, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1984-87 and has been with Kansas City since 1988.
The Chargers have Billy Joe Tolliver. He played for the Boyd High School Yellowjackets, Texas Tech and the Chargers.
DeBerg completed 19 of 27 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. Tolliver completed 18 of 27 for 165 yards and one touchdown. The difference? Tolliver killed two important drives with interceptions and DeBerg didn’t.
The Chargers are looking toward the future with Tolliver, and that is about all they can do. The Chiefs are going to the playoffs this year with a quarterback old enough to be their coach.
As for Tolliver, he has lots of critics these days. But Schottenheimer and DeBerg actually like what they see.
Said Schottenheimer: “Tolliver’s going to be a damn good player. He’ll take all this heat over two interceptions. I’m going to tell you something. The young man has the one quality you need to be successful as a quarterback in this league and that is he is a tough, competitive young man. And if you don’t have that in your system, I dont care how much ability you have, you’ll never be a winning quarterback.”
Said DeBerg: “I think that Billy Joe is going to be an outstanding quarterback. I really do. I admire the guy. He’s got a lot of courage and a lot of talent and he’s a very good leader. You know, nothing’s easy when you’re young. Somethings you’ve just got to kind of learn the hard way.”
That’s what the Chargers are doing this season.