The Kansas City Chiefs converse happily about their latest football draft and how it should strengthen the team. A linebacker such as Percy Snow certainly could bolster the defense. But until the Chiefs unearth and establish a first-class quarterback, their chances of making a strong title bid will remain shaky at best.
Good as the Chief defense may be, KC still needs an offense that doesn't rely so much on the rushes of Christian Okoye, who has a penchant for injury and may not always be available. The club needs better pitching and catching.
The catching isn't world-class, but it's good enough to ease the pressure on the rushing if a quarterback is found to get the ball to receivers.
They don't talk about quarterbacking a lot, pointing to a number of guys who ``could do it.'' But as basketball coach Adolph Rupp often snorted, ``Potential means he ain't done it.'' And Steve Pelluer, Steve DeBerg, Ron Jaworski and Mike Elkins ``ain't done it.''
KC nixed the chance to land QB Jim McMahon after he was cut loose by the San Diego Chargers, but it wisely decided it already had enough retreads without wasting a lot more money.
Somebody gained in a trade would face a foreign system; even Joe Montana might not click right away.
AND RIGHT AWAY is what Kansas City needs to be concerned about to make the NFL playoffs in 1990 . . . four September games which could make or break the season.
The Chiefs open at home Sept. 9 against a potent Minnesota team. Then KC goes to Denver Sept. 17. The Broncos were humiliated by San Francisco in the Super Bowl, but they got there, which is a lot better than the Chiefs did. Denver still has John Elway to work his miracles.
Sept. 23 finds Kansas City at Green Bay, and even though these combatants seem to be on a par, the game is up north and the Packers think they'll be stronger. They also have a quarterback. Sept. 30 finds the Cleveland Browns, a bona fide title contender, coming to Kansas City.
The Chiefs need to get through September at least 2-2, but they could wind up as bad as 1-3 or 0-4. We all know what slow starts in recent years have led to . . . playing catchup down the stretch and having to rely on good luck and the kindness of strangers in other cities.
That's not the best way to have a playoff season.
HOPES WERE high that warhorses DeBerg and Jaworski would collectively or individually do the job for the Chiefs last season. Bill Kenney, the longtime ``almost but not quite'' pilot who posted big statistics but couldn't win enough, was traded, and DeBerg and Jaworski had a few good moments.
But for the most part, they were just good enough to help the team play hard, come close, lose. DeBerg looked like the messiah for a short time, then fell into a deadly interception syndrome.
Add inadequate quarterbacking to the fact Nick Lowery didn't bounce back from his holdout quickly enough, and again the Chiefs missed the playoffs.
Steve Pelluer of Washington is called promising, and figured in at least one Chief win after coming from Dallas. Maybe more familiarity with the Marty Schottenheimer setup will help him lead the club out of the swamp. But he also may be just good enough to offer good backup support but not capable of being an NFL-level Numero Uno.
Remember players like Todd Blackledge and Mike Livingston, who always loomed as ``gonna be's'' but weren't when they were thrust into the pressure cooker full-time?
MIKE ELKINS of Wake Forest wasn't used a lot last year and supposedly had made solid progress. But he's only a second-year man in a league where it usually takes three or four seasons (Bart Starr needed five at Green Bay) to become a good quarterback, let alone a great one. There are those who say his throwing is still erratic.
You'd think that with prospects like DeBerg, Jaworski, Pelluer and Elkins, Kansas City would be assured of one or two men to create an offense of which the linebacker-oriented defense could be proud. But it's gotta be just one.
The late Paul Christman from Missouri, who quarterbacked the Chicago Cardinals to the 1947 NFL title, was one of the first good color commentators on television. He visited here prior to calling a Kansas game on video and made a point (I'd never thought about) during a dinner session. It's stood the test of time.
``Any pro team that tries to win big without a single, dominant quarterback is doomed. There must be one able, durable and steady guy in charge. He needn't always be brilliant, but he must be there. I think history shows you almost never do it with two or more guys.''
Kansas City ambivalently has four; it desperately needs one.