Kansas City, Mo. — Professionally speaking, love really has been lovelier for Willie Roaf the second time around.
New Orleans was wonderful for the mammoth offensive tackle. He was in the Pro Bowl every year. People hailed him as one of the greatest ever at his position.
Then his world crashed around him in 2001, starting with some personal disappointments and culminating with a knee injury so severe and so disabling that many thought it might end his career.
Now in his second year in Kansas City, he's back in the Pro Bowl, back in the playoffs and just about as good as new.
"I look at it this way: I found my first love in New Orleans, and it didn't work out," he said. "And I found the love of my life in Kansas City."
The Chiefs certainly love how everything has worked out. With Roaf providing an almost impregnable fortress of protection on quarterback Trent Green's blind side, the Chiefs have led the NFL in scoring two straight years. Priest Holmes this year set an NFL record with 27 touchdowns.
And with the defense hitched up a couple of notches from the year before, the Chiefs are 13-3 and playing host to Indianapolis in a second-round playoff game Sunday.
"Man, after what I went through, these have been the best two years I've had in football, period. My life has just been a total turnaround," Roaf said.
"It's been great for me to come in and play football, but just to be happy with the situation and the people I'm playing with."
The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder may have the key matchup against the Colts.
The 33-year-old veteran with the aching knee will be going nose-to-nose with 26-year-old defensive end Dwight Freeney, who has 24 sacks in his two years as a pro.
If the younger, quicker Freeney gets past the bigger, more experienced Roaf, Green and the Chiefs could be headed for another playoff disappointment.
"He's got a great motor," Roaf said. "It's going to be a good battle, a good test for me. He's a young player, up and coming. He's one of those guys who can turn the game around by himself. I've got my work cut out for me."
Freeney, 6-1, 270, gives away quite a bit of tonnage to the hulking Roaf, as well as a decade's worth of savvy.
This one will be a classic battle between a high-spirited young thoroughbred -- a colt, if you will -- and a wily veteran who's seen much and traveled far and earned for himself a place among the wise men.
A chief, so to speak.
"Freeney relies on his speed and his hands and his leverage. He's given a lot of guys a lot of problems this year," Roaf said.
Beating a tackle of Roaf's prestige would be quite a notch on any young lineman's pistol.
"I know he's a young guy coming in trying to make a name for himself. It's going to be my experience, to a certain point, against his youthfulness," Roaf said. "He's a smart player already. But it's going to be a contest. I've got a lot of respect for him."
Colts coach Tony Dungy compares Freeney with the late Derrick Thomas, the Chiefs' great pass-rusher of the '90s. Dungy was a defensive coach with Kansas City during Thomas' first three seasons.
"When people ask me who Dwight reminds me of, (Thomas) is the first name that comes to my mind," Dungy said.
"He's got a very explosive first step, he's a guy who really enjoys rushing the passer. They're very similar. Derrick was a little taller, but they have the same style."
Roaf, who still has difficulty walking after a long, hard practice, admits that age and surgery may have cost him a step or two.
But he's smarter than he used to be, too.
"You pick your spots," he said. "I know when to pick my spots, when I'm going to need that burst to make that block or to do certain things. I know every play I can't physically dominate a guy or pound my body like I used to.
"I used to play like that. You just have to learn when to attack a guy, when to keep something in the tank."