If nothing else, the Chiefs are consistent. They are winless against the Broncos since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver before the 2012 season, dropping all six regular-season games by a combined score of 170-90. So when the old AFC West foes face off on Thursday night, the Chiefs will be looking to build on their impressive Week 1 performance against the Texans and exact a little revenge against their division rivals.
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But before each conference had four divisions, there was just the East, Central and West. And just like now, the Broncos and Chiefs were bitter rivals (fun fact: back then, the Raiders and Chargers were also in the AFC West along with the Seahawks).
In 1997, the Chiefs went 13-3 with Elvis Grbac and Rich Gannon at quarterback and won the division. The Broncos, with 37-year-old John Elway, finished 12-4, which meant that they qualified for the postseason by way of a wild-card spot. Turns out, not a problem. Denver, which also had running back Terrell Davis (1,750 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns) and tight end Shannon Sharpe (1,107 receiving yards), won three straight playoff games -- including a 14-10 victory over the Chiefs in the AFC divisional matchup.
"We knew that if we didn't turn the ball over and gave [Kansas City] a short field, we liked our chances of winning," Sharpe said Wednesday in a phone interview with CBSSports.com's Nate Peterson. "That's what you have to guard against when you go in there. They had [linebacker Derrick Thomas] at the time, and they thrived on D.T. being able to come around the edge, get the strip sack, the crowd gets into a frenzy and then their offense would come on the field."
Two weeks later, the Broncos outlasted the Packers and Brett Favre in Super Bowl XXXII.
Both the Broncos and Chiefs headed into 1998 with high expectations but their first meeting wouldn't come until a Monday night in mid-November at Arrowhead Stadium. By then, the Broncos were 9-0 and rolling, and the Chiefs were a disappointing 4-5. But rivalries are rivalries no matter what, and this game -- Vegas had Denver as a four-point favorite -- was fast-tracked from garden-variety divisional squabble to "I can't believe what I'm watching" status.
The catalyst: Sharpe, the future Hall of Famer who also possessed a knack for Hall of Fame trash talking. And he knew exactly what buttons to push to make another future Hall of Famer, the late, great Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, lose his ever-loving mind.
On Nov. 16, 1998, it all came to a head. The Broncos jumped out to a 14-point lead thanks to a 38-yard Bubby Brister (!) touchdown scramble followed by a 41-yard run to the end zone by Davis.
By the time the Broncos began their final touchdown drive on their own 20, they had a commanding 23-7 lead. And that's when things got weird. In 11 plays -- 10 of which were Derek Loville runs -- the Chiefs were flagged five times for unsportsmanlike conduct. FIVE. Those penalties accounted for 75 of the 80 yards Denver traveled before Loville eventually scored the game's final touchdown.
Behold, the play-by-play proof:
So what in the name of Andy Reid's Hawaiian shirts prompted the Chiefs' defense -- and Thomas in particular -- into full-on meltdown mode?
Sharpe, of course. He and Thomas knew each other and Sharpe somehow knew Thomas' girlfriend's phone number. At least that's the urban legend. And before every snap on that final drive, Sharpe reportedly recited the phone number, one digit at a time, and well within earshot of Thomas. The Chiefs linebacker lost it.
On Wednesday, Sharpe gave his version of what happened:
"I can say whatever. He's not here to refute what I would say. He and I made peace with what transpired. We both could've handled the situation better," Sharpe told Peterson. "And, that was my fault, because I had hung out with Derrick, I had worked out with Derrick. I knew him. We had been to Pro Bowls together, we had worked out together and been at the same places and done things together. I have the utmost respect. He is the best true pass rusher that I ever faced. For that one moment, he and I allowed emotions to get the better of us."
But it was such a big deal at the time that Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt said that the defense's actions "had disgraced the organization as well as the community." Thomas was suspended for a game, and even issued an apology for his behavior:
"I allowed a situation to get out of hand. For that, I apologize to my teammates who were on the field with me. I jeopardized our ability to win a football game," Thomas said. "I sincerely apologize and say to them my actions of last evening will never occur again.
"I have to take this week and evaluate Derrick Thomas and come back and be the best that I can be for my team and for my teammates."
Many wondered why Thomas was not ejected after his second face mask infraction in a matter of minutes against Sharpe. Schottenheimer admitted he should have pulled Thomas off the field.
"To Shannon, who I've known for a long, long time, and we've had our ins and outs and run-ins, I apologize to him because those type of actions shouldn't occur in a football game," Thomas said. "To the youth of America that look up to Derrick Thomas, I apologize to you because that is not sportsmanlike conduct and you should not conduct yourself that way on the field."
After the game, Sharpe was matter of fact about his ability to irritate: "I have perfected the talent to make people upset. Trust me. I know what to say to get to anybody."
And after Thomas' suspension, Sharpe was just as ruthless: "Not many guys can trash-talk a guy into getting suspended by his own team," he said. "It was my finest moment."
Denver and Kansas City would meet again three weeks later, on Dec. 6, 1998. In the days leading up to the rematch, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan not only seemed unfazed by Sharpe's trash-talking but considered it an advantage.
"Once you start looking at people and try to take somebody out, you're not concentrating on your game," Shanahan said. "If somebody does that, it's better for us. If they're worried about Shannon, then they're not worried about their job."
The Broncos won 35-31 to improve to 13-0 before losing in back-to-back weeks. A four-game winning streak followed, along with their second Lombardi Trophy in as many years. Meanwhile, the Chiefs limped to 7-9, and after the season coach Marty Schottenheimer resigned. Kansas City wouldn't make another playoff appearance until the 2003 season.
Present-day Sharpe, 12 years removed from his last NFL game, has softened. He's thoughtful and reflective, that competitive edge dulled by retirement and maturity.
"We had a great conversation," Sharpe said of he and Thomas in the aftermath of that November 1998 free-for-all. "He and I both made peace. And he moved on and I moved on. I'm sad that he's no longer with us, but I feel good that I was able to say my part to him while he was still here."
And about that phone number -- did Sharpe really have it?
"Only two people know for certain," he told Peterson. "Derrick and myself. He's not here to confirm or deny. And I've never said one way or another."
Sharpe remains the go-to authority on trash talking, even when the Broncos are on the receiving end of a beatdown. Following Denver's dismantling by Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, Sharpe had no trouble with comments from Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright, who said that if Seattle played Denver 100 times, Seattle would win "probably 90."
"This is what I think: to the victor goes the spoils," Sharpe told the Gazette.com's Paul Klee five months after the Broncos' 43-8 loss. "If I win the Super Bowl, I get to say anything I want and you can't do anything to disprove it. There is nothing you can do. I proved we were the better team, and you can't do anything about it. That's what happens. If you don't want me to talk, shut me up. Keep me out of the end zone. Don't let me catch that pass. Don't let us score.
"That's how you shut us up."
You have your marching orders, Kansas City. Good luck and godspeed.