Vermeil hasn’t lost a step in K.C.
Philadelphia ? It worked here, a generation ago.
It worked again, four seasons ago, in St. Louis.
And now, in Kansas City, it is working yet again.
Unbridled emotion, raw as an open wound. Scalding tears and those grizzly-embrace hugs. That fierce clasping and squeezing of the back of your neck and that soul-searing stare that pierces your eyeballs and makes you want to walk through Hades in a gasoline suit for the man.
Game balls presented as though they were ingots of gold, and mutely accepted by large men as though they were receiving Holy Communion.
The coach reaches into his chest and flings his heart out there on the locker room floor and wants to know who’s willing to do the same, and pretty soon even those who think it sappy and cornpone are surprised to find their own flopping about down there with the others.
Dick Vermeil hasn’t lost a step, baby.
Sixty-six, going on 26. A Gray Panther. Or, maybe, the Silver Fox. Making grandfathers proud of every liver spot.
Able to relate, educate, elevate, motivate, accelerate, generate, duplicate, placate.
The Kansas City Chiefs have begun the season 3-0. Just as the Eagles did in 1980. Just as the Rams did in 1999.
Dick Vermeil could become the first coach to take three different teams to the Super Bowl.
This is the sort of frenzied loyalty the man inspires: There is out there on the Internet a Web site — “www.PetitionOnline.com — on which it is possible to vote on subjects such as prosecution of war criminals, global affairs, military airfares, and … and … a pledge for Dick Vermeil to remain as head coach of the Chiefs beyond his current contract. At last check, 878 had signed the petition.
They don’t just want him for now, they want him forever.
The petition, which reads like a hyperventilating love poem, cites, among other attributes of the coach, his “sagacity.” Who was the last NFL coach to be connected to “sagacity?” That would be a long and fruitless search.
Besides his oratorical skills and his perpetually open emotional floodgates, Vermeil is employing much the same offensive approach that worked in his previous stops — that is, find as many ways as possible to get the ball into the hands of a back who may not be very big but plays like it, willing to take shattering hits and yet keeps coming back for more.
It was Wilbert Montgomery in Philadelphia, gloriously reckless, subjecting those of us chronicling the Birds to what became known as the Wilbert Watch as we waited and waited and waited for the medics and trainers to put him back together after a game.
In St. Louis, it was Marshall Faulk, compact and remarkably sturdy, a game-breaker as runner or receiver.
In K.C., it is Priest Holmes, worth his weight in precious gems to the Fantasy League players — 24 touchdowns and 2,287 rushing-receiving yards last year.
Vermeil scripted the perfect ending for himself, walking away from the Rams right after taking them from worst to first. Into the sunset and out to his farm outside Philly. And then he went and risked it all by coming back, unable to resist Carl Peterson, the Chiefs’ president and Vermeil’s pal for almost forever.
He admitted he thought he might have made a mistake, coming back yet again.
But now he is creeping up on history. Cue the Kleenex.