Chiefs em­brac­ing loose locker room cul­ture for Su­per Bowl

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By DAVE SKRETTA

MIAMI — If you’re plan­ning to walk through the mid­dle of the Kansas City Chiefs locker room be­tween lunch and their usual af­ter­noon prac­tice, you might want to grab some­one’s shoul­der pads and hel­met and brace for im­pact.

There’s a good chance you’ll find your­self in the mid­dle of a pickup bas­ket­ball game in­volv­ing 300-pound line­men.

It’s a scene that plays out daily dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, big bod­ies bang­ing into each other as de­fen­sive tack­les Chris Jones and Khalen Saun­ders try to post up un­der the hoop — hung just over the door­way lead­ing into the show­ers. Usu­ally, team­mates will gather around them, play­ing the dual role of vo­cal fans and even more vo­cal ref­er­ees.

“When you check in, it’s non­stop com­pe­ti­tion,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce ex­plained this week. “Guys are al­ways try­ing to play some type of game or com­pete in some type of way to get the up­per hand on some­body else.”

The pickup games il­lus­trate a few points about the Chiefs team pre­par­ing to play in its first Su­per Bowl in 50 years: They have a fierce com­pet­i­tive streak that per­me­ates the en­tire ros­ter, whether it’s on the field or off; they gen­uinely like be­ing around each other, even when they could leave dur­ing the lunch hour; and per­haps most of all, they have a loosey-goosey na­ture de­spite the pres­sure-cooker busi­ness and high-stakes na­ture of pro­fes­sional foot­ball.

That last point could serve them well as they deal with a week of me­dia en­gage­ments, count­less par­ties and dis­trac­tions, and ul­ti­mately the strain that comes with prep­ping for their big game against the San Fran­cisco 49ers on Sun­day.

“The unique thing about this group is that they don’t com­plain about any­thing,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “When they need to cut it loose and have fun, they cut it loose. But when they’re at prac­tice, they’re all busi­ness.” It wasn’t al­ways that way. Less than a decade ago, un­der the failed tenures of gen­eral man­ager Scott Pi­oli and coach Todd Ha­ley, the feel­ing in the locker room on a ran­dom Wed­nes­day dur­ing the sea­son was down­right op­pres­sive. Smiles were few, laugh­ter even more rare, and the stress and tension that the Chiefs seemed to carry with them was al­most pal­pa­ble.

Romeo Cren­nel tried to lighten the mood a bit dur­ing his only sea­son in charge, but it’s hard to be light­hearted in the midst of a 2-14 sea­son marked by as much off-the­field tur­moil as there were is­sues be­tween the lines.

It wasn’t un­til Reid showed up from Philadelph­ia that things changed. He gave his play­ers broad free­dom to ex­press them­selves, whether that meant the way they dressed or how they acted or even where they spent their free time. All Reid asked was that they stay out of trou­ble, set a good ex­am­ple and take care of busi­ness when it was time to get se­ri­ous.

“There’s a cer­tain way we han­dle op­por­tu­ni­ties like this where we’re in front of the me­dia,” Kelce said dur­ing the team’s pre-prac­tice avail­abil­ity Tues­day, “but he wants you to be your­self and that’s the best thing you can do in his po­si­tion is let you be your­self, how you’re most com­fort­able.”

Kelce is one of the big­gest char­ac­ters on the team — re­mem­ber his re­al­ity TV show, “Catch­ing Kelce?” He of­ten wears out­landish out­fits and his fash­ion sense is, to put it mildly, unique. But Kelce also ex­em­pli­fies the al­most un­canny way the Chiefs can flip a switch from silly to se­ri­ous, as ev­i­denced by his four con­sec­u­tive 1,000-yard re­ceiv­ing sea­sons.

The Chiefs showed their ap­pre­ci­a­tion for their coach — and the way he treats them — when they donned his trade­mark Hawai­ian-style shirt for the trip to Miami. Other teams might de­plane the week be­fore the Su­per Bowl wear­ing suits and an all-busi­ness at­ti­tude, but the Chiefs bounced across the tar­mac as if they were headed to Dis­ney World.

“Coach is an awe­some dude to play for. He is 100 per­cent in this whole thing with us,” Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher said. “A big part of why we’re here is we want to suc­ceed for him. He puts in so much work ev­ery day in mak­ing us suc­cess­ful, and mak­ing sure we do good. The least we can do is give him our all.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

HAV­ING FUN Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) smiles dur­ing a news con­fer­ence for NFL Su­per Bowl 54 on Tues­day in Aven­tura, Florida.

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