The New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs were once AFL brothers who helped usher in modern football but now represent polar opposites.
An impossible-to-miss patch residing over the left chest reminds everybody of the modern football story. The Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL organization that remains so closely tied to the AFL for a number of reasons, wears this patch with pride and honor.
The AFC championship trophy, named after the organization’s founder, Lamar Hunt, reminds everybody that the Chiefs are the AFL in so many ways. So are the New York Jets, the Chiefs’ long-time AFL brothers.
It’s tough to find two NFL organizations that so closely resemble the other once upon a time.
The Jets, led by a fearless Joe Namath, started the modern-football party with their stunning Super Bowl 3 victory over the seemingly unbeatable Baltimore Colts. Until that point, the AFL was a novel, sort-of-silly version of American Football. Nobody took any of the high-flying AFL teams seriously and the Super Bowl was a laughable idea to most.
What we see today—the powerhouse National Football League that leads the country in every professional sports power category—was cemented by the Chiefs a year later. Hank Stram’s Chiefs knocked off the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, and suddenly, the modern-football era was born.
The NFL-AFL merger immediately shaped the new NFL and no two organizations did more to mold that than the Jets and Chiefs. Unfortunately, for one franchise, after an extremely similar 47 years of football, the two could not contrast any more than they currently do.
Chiefs’ history isn’t all roses and sunny days. After making the AFL playoffs four times, including three AFL championships and that historic Super Bowl victory, the Chiefs managed to qualify for the tournament just two times over the next 20 years (1971, 1986).
Winning the division in 1971, they fell in the divisional round to the Miami Dolphins, the team that would ultimately go on to lose Super Bowl 6 to the Dallas Cowboys. The team snapped a 15-year playoff drought in 1986 only to fall to the Jets in the wild card round.
Then, Marty Schottenheimer came to town and lifted the franchise to perennial contenders. The club qualified for the playoffs seven times in eight years from 1990 to 1997. Joe Montana‘s late-career presence helped them reach the AFC championship game in 1993—marking the only time the organization reached that point over the span of 48 years (1970 to 2017).
For everything involved in the Jets’ painful history, New York appeared in four AFC title games over the same span. The two AFL giants that did more to shape the most powerful professional sports league in America experienced nothing but pain since the merger.
Then Andy Reid and the 2017 NFL draft happened.
Reid took the helm in 2013 only to produce rousing success. He coached the Chiefs into the playoffs with an 11-5 record that first year and has done so every season since (save for the 2014 campaign when they finished 9-7). Alex Smith enjoyed a continuation of his rebirth after losing his job to Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco while Reid continued to stay ahead of the offensive curve.
The moment the Jets selected Jamal Adams was the instant these two AFC brothers broke away from each other.
Drafted 10th overall in the 2017 draft, Mahomes sat behind Smith for a season. It didn’t seem like a bad idea in the least. The Utah product threw for 26 touchdowns (to five interceptions) and 4,042 yards. He was a Pro Bowler for the third time under Reid in Kansas City.
Credit Reid and the Chiefs organization for not only making the move to draft Mahomes with Smith employed but to also make the most consequential quarterback change in recent memory following the 2017 campaign. The moment Mahomes took over in 2018, the Chiefs took off.
Twelve wins for the Chiefs, a division title and absurd stats from the league MVP propelled the team to the AFC championship game where they would ultimately lose a nightmare game to Tom Brady‘s New England Patriots. If not for a Dee Ford offsides, Reid’s Chiefs probably get to the big game.
Meanwhile, the Jets, who had already drafted who they thought was a franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold, ventured into that offseason with tremendous hope. Todd Bowles wasn’t going to be around any longer, but Mike Maccagnan should have been in the same boat. A disastrous decade of drafts put the Jets behind the eight-ball and they needed the right guy at the top.
Long story short: Christopher Johnson failed to fire Maccagnan in a timely manner, Adam Gase was hired, another poor draft is put forth, and the Chiefs go on to win the Super Bowl. Oh yeah, the man who was chosen four picks prior to the best player in the NFL, Adams, now resides in the Great Northwest.
Of course, Kansas City finally got over the hump last season.
Brothers no more—at least from a success-driven perspective. Brothers no more from a pain-driven fan perspective.
With Brady down south, there isn’t a head coach-quarterback combo that can touch Reid-Mahomes. It’s the secret sauce that officially separated the once-disappointing AFL franchise from its brothers.
Until Reid took over, the Chiefs experienced playoff action just 16 times (1960-2012). The Jets qualified for the playoffs 14 times. The Chiefs played in just two AFL championships or AFC title games. The Jets played in four.
From 1970 until 2012, Kansas City and New York (the Jet areas) could be labeled “heartbreak city” during football season. The pain experienced by both fanbases seemed incredibly cruel considering the actions both teams took to help deliver the game football fans see today.
Brothers no more, mainly thanks to one organization hiring the right guy to lead the team and executing a gutsy quarterback move when it wasn’t apparent to do so. Eventually, and seemingly, the Jets did it get it right with Joe Douglas, but it took an awfully long time.
For far too long, both fanbases experienced nothing but heartache. Now, this Sunday, only one will.
The New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs will forever remain linked. But when thinking about real-time success and overall wit, each couldn’t contrast with the other more severely five decades after they changed the face of football forever.