Kansas City, Mo. Season opener. On a Monday night. Against a division rival. And all of this during the grand unveiling of a stadium that’s been brought into the 21st century by a $375 million facelift.
As Kansas City’s opener tonight against the San Diego Chargers drew near, usually cool veterans were feeling like nervous rookies.
“You don’t get many of these in your career,” Chiefs wide receiver Chris Chambers said.
The makeover, mostly financed by Jackson County taxpayers, reduced Arrowhead Stadium’s seating capacity by about 3,000 seats. But the place that long has had a reputation of being one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL still will be packed with about 76,000 fans. The season-opening party for many will have started in the afternoon when the Kansas City Royals host the Oakland Athletics in nearby Kauffman Stadium.
“Opening weekend is always intense,” linebacker Andy Studebaker said. “But you put it on Monday night, and in a new stadium, and make it a division game — it just keeps notching up and up and up with everything you add.”
The 9:15 p.m. CDT kickoff will be the latest in Arrowhead history and the latest in the career of just about every player involved.
Gamblers looking for an edge might consider that the Chargers, gunning for their fifth straight AFC West title, will be on California time. Their bodies at the start of the game will think it’s 7:15. But will the sky-high Chiefs be able hold their mental edge all day and all evening waiting for the kickoff they’ve been anticipating since April?
Not to worry, Chiefs fans. Todd Haley is on it.
“I call them all every night at 9:15 and I tell them all, ’We would be kicking off right now! What are you doing?”’ joked the second-year head coach.
But he knows it’s not really a joke.
“This will be new for me from that standpoint because it is late,” he said. “I think we have a little plan for that. It is something that I think you have to think about. Whether it is through coaching but we will do everything we can to have these guys as ready as they can be to play.”
One man who’s not worried is Chiefs linebacker Demorrio Williams.
“The fans will be loud. Your teammates will be ready to go,” he said. “We’ll just try to pace ourselves and not get too excited too early.”
The Chiefs will be happy not to have running back LaDainian Tomlinson to deal with. During his long career in San Diego, Tomlinson had some of his best games against Kansas City. But the Chargers still have quarterback Philip Rivers, who’s thrown five touchdowns passes and not been intercepted in his last two games against the Chiefs.
Rivers knows how loud Arrowhead can be even on a normal game day.
“It’s definitely a tough place to play,” he said. “You think opening weekend, Monday night on the road and in a division. Then you throw in Arrowhead — it will be as tough an atmosphere as you can be in. It being the first game of the year, I’m sure it will be as cranked up as it’s ever been.”
Making their debut for the Chiefs will be running back Thomas Jones, who had a career-best 1,402 yards rushing last year with the New York Jets, and new coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis.
“We know it’s going to be loud,” said Chargers coach Norv Turner. “It’s a great place to play. It’s one of the loudest stadiums in the league.”
He’s noticed a difference in philosophy that Crennel has brought to a defense that last year ranked 30th in the 32-team league.
“They don’t take as many chances as they did,” Turner said. “They took chances before and that created big plays. They’re very sound. They can blitz you, they can play coverage. They’re very unpredictable.”
Haley is counting on an energy-producing atmosphere for the start of his second season in Kansas City.
“I have been involved in a bunch of Monday night games and I have a bunch of coaches that have been and a few of these players,” he said. “That is when you use some of your resources and your instinct on what the best way is to have your team ready to go. I feel like we have a very good plan but it doesn’t mean that we can’t adjust. I feel good about how we have it set up through the week.”