Perhaps nothing better illustrates the chasm between where the New England Patriots have so routinely ventured and where the Chiefs and their fans so desperately want to go as the contrast between perspectives on the Lamar Hunt Trophy, awarded annually to the AFC champions.
The last two seasons after the Patriots secured the hardware named after the revered Chiefs founder and AFL driving force (among so many other things), coach Bill Belichick treated it like a nuisance to be handed off as quickly as possible.
Last year, he glanced at it and got rid of it in seconds, which may have been less disdain then he displayed the year before.
But, hey, when you’ve been to eight Super Bowls now and won five of them, what’s the big deal? Nothing personal.
Meanwhile, this is entirely personal for the Chiefs, a Holy Grail of sorts in so many ways.
Because they haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 1970, when they appeared for the second time in the first four such games widely understood to owe its name to Hunt after seeing one of his children playing with a “Super Ball” toy.
Because, according to Chiefs historian Bob Moore, the trophy thus named in 1984 had never so much as been inside Arrowhead Stadium until Wednesday.
Because former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil considers “the only regret I have in my career was (that) I wasn’t able to hand the Lamar Hunt trophy to Lamar Hunt,” and former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson has expressed much the same lament.
Because Lamar Hunt himself never received it but bestowed it on a few occasions — such as when he presented it to longtime friend Bud Adams in the 1999 season when his Tennessee Titans won the conference title.
“It means a lot coming from you, Lamar,” Adams, who like Hunt was instrumental in creating the AFL, told Hunt that day.
Just like it would mean a lot coming from him, in a manner of speaking, now. An incalculable amount, really, to this franchise and city and these fans to have and to hold and to cherish.
“I dream about that every year,” said Clark Hunt, the Chiefs chairman whose leadership resume would be greatly enhanced by winning the trophy bearing his father’s name, but who on Saturday promptly added, “If we win that trophy, though, it’s not for me. It’s not for our family. To some degree, it’s for the team and the coaching staff. But it’s really for our fans.”
So when Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston stood at a podium on Wednesday and was asked about the trophy alongside, his gaze riveted upon it while he spoke said as much or more than his words.
“We’ve never had this opportunity,” Houston said.
Houston has been with the Chiefs since 2011, but he could have joined them in 1994 and said the same thing. The last and only time the Chiefs played for the Lamar Hunt Trophy was in the 1993 postseason, when instead of the doubtless crestfallen Hunt, NFL president Neal Austrian presented the trophy to Bills owner Ralph Wilson after a 30-13 win by the Bills in Buffalo.
It’s all part of a history that quarterback Patrick Mahomes, at 23 years old not yet born the last time the Chiefs reached this stage, appreciates and understands remarkably well.
“We haven’t gotten that trophy before … So for us to bring it back home, in a sense, would be truly an honor for me and this team to bring to not only Clark but this whole community,” he said.
Noting that the Chiefs’ player development staff makes it a point to teach team history, including by touring the Chiefs Hall of Honor at Arrowhead, Mahomes even expounded on Lamar Hunt’s influence on the game in a career that earned him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Hunt, who died in 2006, “made the AFL pretty much from scratch and had this vision and made what is now the AFC (which upon merging with the NFL) made this beautiful league,” Mahomes said. “It truly is special to have somebody like that who has created your franchise. And you want to do whatever you can to kind of bring honor to him and that family.”
So now the trophy is in residence in the house that Lamar Hunt built, both in terms of moving the franchise here from Dallas in 1963 and his influence on the building of the iconic stadium that opened in 1972.
And the sense that it’s finally where it belongs now underscores all that’s at stake on Sunday in the most momentous NFL game ever to be played in this stadium.
The symbol that might be ho-hum for Belichick and the Patriots is all-consuming to people here who would treasure keeping it here — from the Hunt family to fans who have waited all their lives for this moment and the players themselves.
It would be, ever-understated Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “a neat deal.”
Vahe Gregorian is a columnist for The Kansas City Star (TNS)