DENVER — The most excruciating, miserable, disappointing, infuriating and depressing season of most any professional sports team in recent memory is over. Finally. No more weekly suffering for a fan base that didn't deserve this and here comes the reward for all the pain.
Or, at least, here comes Chiefs owner Clark Hunt's chance to reward the pain.
The Chiefs completed the least competitive season in their franchise's proud history Sunday, an appropriately limp 38-3 loss to the Broncos that should be the last game before coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli have their key cards shut off.
This must be the end, rock bottom, the worst game from the league's worst team serving as the final push toward massive change that no sane person could argue against.
“Evidently I didn't do enough to help this team this year,” Crennel said.
This is an indefensible mess. Crennel is the coach of a team with five Pro Bowlers and two wins. Pioli is the GM who brought in just one of those Pro Bowlers, who somehow turned a 2-14 team he inherited into a worse 2-14 team in four years.
All that's left is for a sit-down with Hunt, Crennel, Pioli and human resources. The Chiefs have a lower approval rating than the flu, and if that's a bad joke, then, well, good.
That's what the Chiefs have become.
Even now, with it all over but the sewage cleaning, Hunt isn't giving indications about what he'll do. There are enough conflicting reports by credible journalists to suggest nobody really knows. You could say that keeping a secret — at least the secrets Pioli wants kept — is the one thing the Chiefs have done well this year.
Well, here's all the indication we should need: The Chiefs are historically inept, have regressed in four years and are despised by many of their fans.
Crennel seems to know what's coming, saying that if the criteria are wins and losses — and what other criteria are there for the coach of an NFL team expected to compete for the playoffs? — then “there's not much defense” of him keeping his job.
Pioli didn't talk to reporters after the game, but if he's not fired, he's the new Matt Millen.
Actually, if they're both not fired, the Chiefs are the new Lions.
They broke an 83-year-old NFL record by not holding a lead in regulation until the ninth game. They broke a 68-year record for most rushing yards in a loss. They just lost their ninth game by more than two touchdowns, a level of ineptitude unmatched since the 1981 Colts — back when they played in Baltimore. They once went until late in the third quarter without a first down. They turned the ball over six times in one game and lost six others with one or zero turnovers.
They fumbled snaps at the goal line, threw passes off face masks, claimed to have lost their spirits after missed field goals before halftime (twice), drove their most passionate fans to organized protests, celebrated touchdowns that didn't count (twice), were insulted by fans at goodwill photo ops and trash-talked their opponents to the ugly end.
Many longtime fans came to hate this team, and the Chiefs played as if the feeling was mutual.
With Crennel presumably out, bringing Pioli back means letting him hire a third head coach in five seasons — a talent pool diminished because nobody wants to come work for a GM who drove his first coach to paranoia and who might soon be on his way out.
Bringing Pioli back means letting him make the franchise's first No. 1 overall pick since the AFL-NFL merger. It means ignoring his inability and then reluctance to acquire a good quarterback, four draft classes that have so far produced two impact players, and colossal personnel mistakes like Stanford Routt.
Hunt says he values stability over everything, and Pioli has so far overseen some of the most tumultuous years in franchise history. The Chiefs have had nine different coordinators in four years, and Pioli fired a head coach less than a year removed from a division title.
As bad as the Chiefs were when Pioli took over, they are now somehow worse.
The most significant development is that Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Flowers and Branden Albert — some of the Chiefs' best players before Pioli arrived, and some of their best players now — are four years older.
After years of trying to make the total greater than the parts' sum, the Chiefs are the most underachieving team in the NFL.
So, worst season of your life?
“Oh, of course,” says Eric Winston, a seven-year veteran.
“No question about it,” says Ryan Lilja, an eight-year pro.
Season tickets are up for renewal, and more important, so are the care and support of many longtime fans. It's hard to come up with a case to bring back the current leadership that has any semblance of logic.
Hunt grew up with this franchise, literally, as part of his family. The narrative of him as a miserly owner who doesn't care about football is wildly out of touch but will stick to him like tar until he announces change. This is now his moment and, considering the palpable anger of fans back in Kansas City, the most important series of decisions he'll have made with the team.
Your move, Clark.
Distributed by MCT Information Services