The Stunning History of Kansas City Chiefs Quarterbacks
February 21, 20198 min read
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the most storied franchises in football history. Getting their start as the Dallas Texans in 1960, they were one of the inaugural teams of the American Football League.
Like any long-running football franchise, the Chiefs have seen their share of quarterbacks, some of them legendary, and some of them abject failures.
Interested in learning about the many Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks? Let’s delve into the history of the most important position on the field for this notable franchise.
Kansas City Chiefs Quarterbacks Through the Years
The Chiefs starting quarterbacks run the gamut from mediocre to other-worldly. Let's review the history and successes (and failures) of each.
The first quarterback for the Chiefs franchise, Cotton Davidson was never officially a Kansas City Chief, but a Dallas Texan. While never a great quarterback for the Texans (or anyone else), he was sufficient enough to lead them to 8-6 and 6-8 records in their first two seasons.
Unfortunately for Davidson, he was more of a placeholder for bigger things to come. He lasted only two seasons with the Chiefs franchise.
If you're a Chiefs fan, you have to know Len Dawson. No quarterback is more important to the history of the Chiefs than he is.
Drafted 5th overall in the 1957 NFL Draft, Dawson struggled through 5 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns before finally being picked up by the Dallas Texans in 1962. It would turn out to be the perfect match.
The next year, the Texans would move to Kansas City, change their name to the Chiefs, and Dawson, along with legendary coach Hank Stram, would begin their reign of excellence. A mobile and accurate quarterback, Dawson fit Stram's offense to a tee.
With the Chiefs, Dawson totaled 3 AFL Championships as well as a Super Bowl victory. To this day, his stretch with the Chiefs has been the most dominant of all quarterbacks in franchise history. This is why he's a Chiefs Hall of Famer, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and one of the most respected quarterbacks of all time.
The Chiefs were a bit of a disaster in the mid and late 70s, and Mike Livingston was their quarterback for a good many of those games. While he had his good moments, he was primarily a flop.
His career statistics add up to 56 touchdowns and 83 interceptions in the 75 games he started for the Chiefs.
Drafted by the Chiefs in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft, Steve Fuller was never given much of a chance. He took over for Mike Livingston in his rookie season, posting just 6 touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
Things didn't get much better after his rookie season, and he ended up starting only 4 years in Kansas City. From there he was shuffled to Chicago, where he played three very unsuccessful seasons before retiring, though he was apart of the historic 1985 team, as a backup.
Bill Kenney was an average to above average quarterback for the Chiefs, making 77 starts for them from 1980 to 1988. Sporting a pretty decent touchdown to interception ratio for the time, he actually had a huge season in 1983 when he passed for 4,348 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Though Kenney is certainly not a Chiefs legend, there were certainly worse quarterbacks to play for the team. Considering he was a 12th round draft pick, he really had a fairly decent career.
Outside of football, he once served as a Missouri state senator, staying in office for an 8-year run.
Entering the NFL Draft in 1983, Todd Blackledge was a fairly big deal. In fact, he was such a big deal that the Chiefs decided to pick him ahead of Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.
Unfortunately, he never came close to the expectations. While Marino went on to revolutionize the quarterback position and become one of the most prolific passers of all-time, and Kelly went on to play in 4 straight Super Bowls, Todd Blackledge played 5 dismal seasons for the Chiefs, totaling just 24 starts.
He finished his career as a backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers, having accumulated just 5,286 yards passing in 7 seasons.
Following a few mediocre years of Kenney and Blackledge, the Chiefs picked up Steve DeBerg, a league veteran who had started for three other teams. DeBerg had not exactly set the world on fire up to that point, but he had proven an ability to be a serviceable starter in the NFL.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, DeBerg gave them his best years, even posting a 3,444 passing yard, 23-touchdown, 4-interception season in 1990. At the very least, the team got better with him as the quarterback.
Dave Krieg started 21 games in Kansas City, posting a record of 13-8 as a starter. While he wasn't a statistical marvel, he kept the Chiefs above water for a while, teaming up with Joe Montana to help lead the team to the playoffs in both of his years in Kansas City.
Overall, Krieg had a solid, but unremarkable NFL career, playing a total of 19 seasons. While he played some decent football for the Chiefs, he is mostly known for his time with the Seattle Seahawks.
Unfortunately, Montana did his best work with the San Francisco 49ers and not the Kansas City Chiefs. This isn't to say that he was horrible for the Chiefs. In fact, he was pretty solid.
In his 2 years in Kansas City, Montana started 25 games and won 17 of them, making the playoffs both years. Unfortunately, due to chronic injury and advanced age, he no longer possessed the magic that he possessed in San Francisco, and the Chiefs were unable to reach the Super Bowl with him at the helm.
Following Joe Montana from the 49ers to the Chiefs was Steve Bono, a career backup who had shown flashes of good play relieving Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco. Bono spent his first year in Kansas City as a backup to Joe Montana. However, once Montana retired, Bono was given the keys to the offense.
Bono had a solid season for the Chiefs in 1995, throwing for 3,121 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. However, in 1996, he regressed, throwing for just 2,572 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
He would go on to be a backup for a few teams before retiring in 1999.
From 1997 to 2000, the Chiefs quarterbacking duties were shared primarily by two men, one of whom was Elvis Grbac, and the other of whom was Rich Gannon. A definite late-bloomer, Gannon started just 19 games for the Chiefs in 4 seasons. At best, he was average, displaying minimal playmaking ability.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Gannon's best football was yet to come. It wasn't until he was picked up by the Raiders in 1999, at 34 years old, that he finally started to take off. Gannon was a 4-time Pro Bowler for the Raiders, winning a league MVP award in 2002.
Elvis Grbac had both good and bad times in Kansas City. Due to injury, he was often forced to sit out games, allowing Rich Gannon to gain momentum and often start in his place. However, once Gannon left, Grbac's play excelled, posting great statistical seasons in both 1999 and 2000.
In fact, in 2000, he passed for 4,169 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. During that same season, he passed for 504 yards in a single game, setting the Chiefs single-game passing yards record.
Following his 2000 season, Grbac was a hot commodity. He left the Chiefs, signing a big contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately, he played poorly during the 2001 season, choosing to retire upon its end.
Trent Green had an opportunity to be the starting quarterback for one of the greatest offenses of all time, the "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams of the early 2000s. Unfortunately, he was hurt early in the 2000 season and lost his job to eventual Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.
However, that wasn't the end of Green's career. Not even close. He received another chance to be a starting quarterback the next season with the Chiefs, and he took advantage of it.
While his first season with Kansas City was a little shaky, he would go on to play in two Pro Bowls during his 6-year tenure with the team.
Damon Huard's tenure with the Chiefs wasn't terrible, but it wasn't exactly great either. He and the team had their stretches of success, but overall were a disappointment. His record as the Chiefs starter was 10-11.
Statistically speaking, Huard wasn't much to write home about. He took care of the ball fairly well but was never capable of putting up big yardage or touchdown numbers. Ultimately, he was just a placeholder quarterback.
There's really no other way to say it: Brodie Croyle was a bad quarterback. In fact, he's arguably the worst starting quarterback to ever play for the Chiefs. In the 10 games that Brodie Croyle started for Kansas City, Kansas City lost all 10.
Over his 5-year career, he managed just 1,669 yards passing, 8 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. The Chiefs as a whole were pretty awful during the Croyle years, but they were even worse when he was playing quarterback.
For the majority of his football career, Matt Cassel was a backup quarterback. He was a backup all 4 of his years at the University of Southern California, and he was a backup to Tom Brady for three years in New England.
This would all change in 2008 when Tom Brady would tear his ACL in the first game of the season. At that point, Matt Cassel was given a chance to shine, and, while he wasn't out of this world, he was pretty good.
The following season, with Brady back at full strength, the Patriots would trade Cassel to the Chiefs, where he would go on to be the principal starter for the next 4 seasons.
While he was pretty good in his first 2 seasons as a Chief (he made the Pro Bowl in 2010), his second 2 seasons were a disappointment, marked by injury and inconsistent play.
When Alex Smith came to the Chiefs in 2013, it was hard to tell what they were getting. A former 1st overall pick, Smith had shown waves of excellence as a San Francisco 49er, but he had, for the most part, been no better than average.
Fortunately for the Chiefs (and for Smith), they were a good fit. Though he never shook his reputation as a conservative game manager, Smith improved his game every year with the team, culminating in a 4,042 passing yard, 26 touchdown season in 2017.
With Smith under center, the Chiefs were rock steady, but were never quite good enough to win the big game. Ultimately, his lack of big-play ability would do him in, and the Chiefs would trade him to the Redskins.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chiefs traded up to the 10th spot to select a raw, but uber-talented quarterback out of Texas Tech University by the name of Patrick Mahomes. Though Mahomes has started only one full season for the Chiefs, it turned out to be one of the statistically greatest quarterbacking seasons in the history of the NFL.
Blessed with ‘an arm from the gods’ and possessing the mindset of a Major League shortstop, Mahomes chucked and side armed his way to 5,097 passing yards, 50 passing touchdowns, and a completion percentage of 66.0%. The result of this? He won the NFL MVP Award in his first full season.
Mahomes' talent did not just shine individually. He and his teammates fell just short of the Super Bowl, losing in overtime in the AFC Championship game to the mighty New England Patriots despite a series of awe-inspiring offensive drives.
While there's a chance that NFL defensive coordinators figure out how to tame Patrick Mahomes, his almost-alien level of talent is going to make it very difficult. As it stands, he has a very legitimate shot of going down as an all-time great NFL quarterback.
Buy Kansas City Chiefs Sports Memorabilia
Now that you've learned a thing or two about Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks, you might be interested in buying some Chiefs memorabilia. If so, you're in the right place. Power Sports Memorabilia has plenty.
Not only do we offer signed jerseys and signed helmets, but signed footballs, signed photos, and signed cards as well.