Haley uses Pittsburgh highlight reel to steel the Chiefs
The Kansas City Star

When things looked darkest for the Chiefs this season, coach Todd Haley found a light in an unlikely place. He dug a movie out of the vault of NFL Films.

The Chiefs, remember, had been outscored 89-10 in their first two games, the most-lopsided two losses to start a season in franchise history. But not the worst start in NFL history.

The 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers opened with a 51-0 loss at home to Cleveland and a 41-10 loss at Cincinnati.

The Steelers then bounced back from the desultory start, beating Minnesota for their first win and eventually finishing 9-7 and earning a wild-card playoff berth.

So after the Chiefs lost the season opener 41-7 to Buffalo, Haley asked team video director Pat Brazil to see whether he could procure the Steelers’ 1989 highlight video from NFL Films. Haley didn’t show it to the team after one game because he never imagined week two would be even worse. But it was, a 48-3 loss at Detroit.

Time to cue the video. On the Wednesday before the Chiefs began preparations for a week-three trip to San Diego, they watched the 17-minute, 1989 Steelers season highlights video, complete with NFL Films’ symphonic musical score and golden-throat narration of Pittsburgh’s march to the playoffs.

“I thought it was such a great picture of how low and as much despair as you could feel, and you could see it on the tape,” said Haley, who was at college in Florida at the time but remembered those games because his father, Dick, was the Steelers’ director of player personnel.

“You were hearing some of the same things that we had heard. And to see how it ends, with the pure joy of guys … grown men jumping up and down who were able to turn a really bad, bad start into a great season.”

Those Steelers went on to win a first-round playoff game at Houston 26-23 before losing a second-round game 24-23 to a patented John Elway, fourth-quarter comeback at Denver.

Something clicked after the Chiefs watched that video. They were competitive in a 20-17 loss at San Diego. That was followed by the current three-game winning streak with victories over Minnesota, Indianapolis and Oakland to get to 3-3 and set up a battle for first place Monday night at home against the Chargers.

“It’s one thing talking about it,” Haley said, “but the visual of seeing it …”

Haley also found some other common threads from the ’89 Steelers’ start to the 2011 Chiefs.

The Steelers started minus-10 in turnovers, he said, and ended up plus-11, which ranked fourth in the NFL. The Chiefs were minus-seven after two games but are now just minus-1 and in the middle of the pack.

Also, the ’89 Steelers ranked 28th in offense and 19th on defense; the Chiefs are 26th on offense; 19th on defense.

“The Steelers were very average or below,” Haley said of the rankings, “but by not turning the ball over and by sticking together as a team … You do anything to try and show guys there’s a reason we were losing. It wasn’t that we were bad or we weren’t a good team. We were doing things that get you beat and you want to show the guys because it started like this, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to end like that.

“The end of this story hasn’t been written, though people may try to get you to believe it has.”

The players received the message loud and clear.

“That was a good analogy for what we were going through at the time,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Even though they’re totally different teams, it was a testament to just keep working. Sometimes it looks like it’s bad, everybody is not on your side, but if you believe in your teammates and people around you, you can get some things done.”

While the video might have provided some inspiration, center Casey Wiegmann said the team was still coping with the losses of tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles to knee injuries during the first two weeks. It wasn’t so much their absences from the lineup that affected the team as much as it was a blow to the players’ psyche.

“When those things happen during the course of the game, it kind of shocks you, and they happened early in the games, too,” Wiegmann said. “Granted, we made a lot of mistakes in those games …”

But Wiegmann, a 15-year veteran, saw something else in this team that helped it get out of the 0-3 hole and has it primed for a three-game home stand against San Diego, Miami and Denver. The team still practiced hard and played hard.

“You have a lot of young guys on this team who are still hungry, and it’s good to see it’s still important to them to win, and they’re not here just to collect a paycheck,” he said. “Being at home, in front of our fans, is going to be good. Hopefully they come out and support us. They’ve had a few boo birds out there, and you hate to see that.”

Not all of those fans are convinced the Chiefs are for real. Indianapolis and Minnesota are a combined 1-13. The Raiders were missing their starting quarterback and league-leading rusher at running back. So the Chiefs can make a huge statement on national television against San Diego.

“It’s hard to win in the NFL,” Wiegmann said. “It doesn’t matter if you play a team that hasn’t won a game, it’s the NFL, everybody gets paid, everyone has a salary cap, everybody has good players. When we were 0-2 and getting blown out, nobody felt this roster was any good either.

“This is the NFL, anybody can turn anything around. You just have to get on a hot streak.”

The key moment, Johnson said, was beating Minnesota.

“Once you win the first one, that’s all we were focused on,” Johnson said. “We were 0-3, so just win one … and then we could get going. “

Imagine the movie this can turn out to be.