Yes, it’s true. I will miss Peterson, who made his final public remarks Tuesday inside the Chiefs Indoor Practice Facility. The gathering included Norma Hunt, her sons Clark and Dan, and a host of Peterson’s friends, associates and staff members, all present to pay final tribute to their outgoing leader.
Peterson leaves the Chiefs after two final rocky seasons that saw the team he assembled only manage a disappointing 6-26 record. Normally that gets you fired regardless of your tenure, but Peterson stood the test of time and Tuesday, honestly displayed a side not many have seen.
As I listened, I was struck by what he’s actually accomplished the last two decades in Kansas City. When he arrived in our city in the winter of 1988, the stadium was empty, apathy was at an all time high and a once proud football franchise was playing second fiddle to baseball.
Some will argue that Kansas City has always been a baseball town, but until Peterson came to town that’s exactly what it was. As the Royals faded in the 90s the Chiefs emerged, and that was due to the Peterson, who breathed life into the franchise.
He asked for and received ultimate power from founder Lamar Hunt, who had no choice but to give it to him at the time. As Hunt’s reward, Peterson hired Marty Schottenheimer away from the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers, who were convinced Schottenheimer was theirs until Peterson made a better pitch.
Four months later, Peterson drafted a speedy, sack-happy linebacker from Alabama, the late Derrick Thomas. In Peterson’s first year on the job he cleaned house internally, even firing Chiefs super-legend Otis Taylor as a team scout. He took apart the organization from the top and rebuilt it from the bottom up. Not an easy task.
Peterson took some heat for his early moves but the organization responded and in a few years, football was back in Kansas City. The first home sellout came during Week 1 in 1991, against Atlanta, and that lifted the local blackouts that had plagued Kansas City for almost 20 years.
The franchise took a turn on a Monday Night game against Buffalo later that season and Peterson was regarded as a fixer. The Chiefs began to win games, got into the playoffs and eventually the AFC Championship game against that same Buffalo team with an aging quarterback by the name of Joe Montana.
But after tough losses in the playoffs at home (Colts & Broncos), when the Chiefs had the top seed twice, the question was raised if Peterson could close the deal and really build a team that could play well in all three phases of the game and make it to the Super Bowl.
After 10 years, Schottenheimer left, and Gunther Cunningham took over for two seasons before yielding to Peterson’s old friend, Dick Vermeil. Being the chameleon that he is, Peterson had to adapt to his old Philadelphia Eagles friend and the Chiefs’ philosophy moved away from the defensive teams that had branded the franchise to becoming the best show on grass, offensively.
The change worked, the Chiefs sold more tickets, and had superstars on offense at almost every position but the defense was abominable. It cost the franchise another chance at the Super Bowl, as a playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts began KC’s spin backwards into mediocrity.
Peterson kept Vermeil on for two more seasons instead of tearing down the team and beginning an infusion of youth that could have offset the age that was creeping into the franchise.
When Herm Edwards came into the organization, he saw the age, but Peterson felt the Chiefs had to be competitive. Somehow the Chiefs managed to make the playoffs in Edwards first year.
For some fans, the final two years will be all that people remember about Peterson. For those who do, they are short-changing his tenure.
No matter what you think of Peterson, for 20 years on local television, talk radio and eventually the internet, the word “Carl” would instantly bring up the topic of the Kansas City Chiefs.
It was part of the brilliant marketing that Peterson designed all by himself - the way he talked to the media, addressed the fans, wore black leather jackets, and walked around town as “the King.” You knew he was all that and more.
Peterson was a showman, and no matter where you saw him in public - at Arrowhead Stadium or perhaps a favorite restaurant at the Country Club Plaza - you walked away and immediately began thinking about the Chiefs.
There was not another man in Kansas City who sustained that kind of brand recognition these last 20 years. Peterson made the Chiefs a household name and made them the premier sports franchise in this city.
For many of his 20 years, the Chiefs were also a franchise that was the envy of other NFL owners. When Peterson was hired in 1988, the team had a value of $125 million. In 2010 that figure will sit at an estimated $1.3 billion.
But eventually the circus closes on everyone, and this town’s most brilliant marketer has decided to ride off into the sunset, where he vows to re-emerge within the game of pro football, or perhaps elsewhere in business.
I for one thank Carl Peterson for a great many things. He brought my Chiefs team back to prominence. To me it’s never been about winning and losing, but rather the atmosphere on game days. It was standing - not sitting - in your seats for 60 minutes of football and screaming at the top of your lungs until you could not utter a single syllable before Tuesday.
It was watching Chiefs games at local pubs with my buddies when the team was on the road and attending playoff games in Kansas City, something I had not done since I was young boy, at Municipal Stadium.
To Peterson, godspeed in your next adventure and though you will likely never duplicate what you accomplished in Kansas City, someday a new generation of Chiefs fans will learn about your accomplishments. Someday your name will - and should - appear on the Chiefs Ring of Honor.
Chiefs fans might not want to admit it, but they owe Peterson a debt of gratitude for rebuilding the franchise and also stepping down when it was the right thing to do.
A new regime will follow, but they’ll have some pretty big shoes to fill.