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Run it back: Why the Chiefs are on the verge of Super Bowl history

Kansas City is one win from becoming only the second team to win back-to-back Super Bowls this century.
Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs can join a rare group of repeat Super Bowl champions by beating the Bucs in Super Bowl 55.
Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs can join a rare group of repeat Super Bowl champions by beating the Bucs in Super Bowl 55. [ STEVE LUCIANO | AP ]
Published Feb. 6

The Kansas City Chiefs’ path to Super Bowl 55 started in the offseason with a three-word goal: Run it back.

Superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes tweeted it a few weeks after their 31-20 win over San Francisco last February and again in April.

The team made it the center of their Week 1 hype video.

“Then the season starts,” receiver Sammy Watkins said. “Oh, shucks, this is really happening. We’re really doing it again.”

They haven’t gotten there yet, of course. Tom Brady and the Bucs still have a shot to stop Kansas City at Raymond James Stadium.

But if Watkins and the Chiefs can get their run-it-back campaign across the finish line to become the ninth back-to-back champion in Super Bowl history, it will be a historic, if not dynastic, accomplishment. Winning one Super Bowl is hard enough.

Winning two in a row is exponentially harder.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is surrounded by media after Kansas City won Super Bowl 54 over the 49ers.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is surrounded by media after Kansas City won Super Bowl 54 over the 49ers. [ MORRY GASH | Associated Press (2020) ]

“People always say, ‘Boy, its so difficult to go back to back,’” said NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, who won Super Bowl 35 in Tampa as the Ravens’ coach. “No, it’s hard to go to a Super Bowl. Period.”

In a league built on parity and one-score games, you need lucky bounces. You either need to avoid injuries or have elite depth to withstand them. It helps if the schedule breaks your way, too.

Then you need it all to happen again.

The challenge has grown since the Packers won the first two Super Bowls in 1967-68. Back then, teams could keep their lineups intact for years. It’s much harder with the salary cap and modern free agency. That helps explain why only one Super Bowl winner has repeated this century: Brady’s Patriots (Super Bowls 38 and 39).

Related: Meet the Chiefs’ other future NFL head coach, former Buc Mike Kafka

“When you go to a Super Bowl and you go into the playoffs a lot, it’s hard to keep that team together,” said CBS analyst Bill Cowher, who coached the Steelers to the title at Super Bowl 40. “The values of the players go up because they’re on winning teams, they’re in good systems.”

And if (when) champions lose some of those talented players, they’re often stuck trying to replace them with end-of-the-round draft picks.

Super Bowl winners are also hurt by the rising value of their coaching staffs; seven active NFL head coaches earned their promotion within one cycle of winning the Super Bowl as an assistant.

But here the Chiefs are, one win from another Lombardi Trophy.

Chiefs assistant Eric Bieniemy hasn't gotten a head coaching job yet ... which helps Kansas City's continuity.
Chiefs assistant Eric Bieniemy hasn't gotten a head coaching job yet ... which helps Kansas City's continuity. [ CHARLIE RIEDEL | AP ]

The organization has largely avoided attrition. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy — to the surprise of many in the league —hasn’t landed a head coaching job. Only three starters in last year’s Super Bowl are gone (and two of them were COVID-19-related opt outs).

Related: Why isn’t Chiefs assistant Eric Bieniemy an NFL head coach yet?

Instead of sweating defections, the Chiefs have been fortifying themselves. They snagged leading rusher Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the last pick of the first round and have squeezed six starts out of fourth rounder L’Jarius Sneed.

Most importantly, they signed Mahomes to a 10-year, half-a-billion-dollar extension. Mahomes, believe it or not, left money on the table … to allow the Chiefs to sign Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones to a four-year extension.

The personnel moves are a testament to what veteran coach Andy Reid calls a “very well-run organization.” General manager Brett Veach found a way to crunch the salary-cap figures and protect one of the best rosters in the league while maintaining a tight-knit locker room. Watkins said he’ll consider taking less money in free agency this offseason to stay in Kansas City.

Related: Super Bowl 55: How Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans compare to 2014 draft class

“They’re an unselfish bunch that like to play, and they like to play together,” Reid said. “I think that’s one of our strengths as a football team, so it’s a great culture. It starts with Clark Hunt at the top there as our owner, and it just kind of filters on down.”

Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins has enjoyed his time in Kansas City and his team's quest for another title.
Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins has enjoyed his time in Kansas City and his team's quest for another title. [ NICK WASS | Associated Press ]

So, too, does the other pivotal intangible in the Chiefs’ quest for a repeat: They’ve approached this title run with the same intensity as the first one.

“Instead of soaking in all the glory of winning the Super Bowl last year, we went back to work and went to work every single day to make ourselves better and to prepare ourselves for every single situation that could arise,” Mahomes said. “And it’s put us in this game.”

Related: How Brendan Daly rose from winless Pasco assistant to four-time Super Bowl champion

Only four quarters away from completing their three-word goal.

Run it back.

Times staff writer Mari Faiello contributed to this report.

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