INSIDE SLANT: Vermeil Confident in 2003

Dick Vermeil didn't mince words when addressing the expectations placed on his Chiefs in his third -- and possibly final -- year as Kansas City's head coach. "We can win it all," Vermeil told a large gathering of fans at the Chiefs annual Kickoff Luncheon. "Now, we have no guarantee that we'll even go to the playoffs. But I know where we are because I've been there before. I've done it before. I know the environment. I can smell it here. I feel it."

The scent of success grew even sweeter Wednesday when Priest Holmes received the contract extension and the estimated $10 million bonus he wanted that removed the only possible cloud of distention from Kansas City's otherwise bright horizon.

But now the Chiefs have no such distractions as they prepare for Sunday's season opener with San Diego, a division opponent they've beaten six straight times at Arrowhead.

In making Holmes wealthy and happy, the Chiefs now have their prized offensive weapon -- a player who single-handedly accounted for 38 percent of their 6,000 total yards last year -- free to concentrate on retaining his position as the NFL's most productive running back of the past two seasons, to say nothing of keeping the Chiefs atop the league in scoring.

"I could see he's had a lot on his mind lately," Vermeil said. "I could see it in training camp, I could see it on the practice field. You could see that Priest wasn't quite Priest. The accumulation of everything -- concerns about the hip, concern about rehab and conditioning and stamina plus concern about the contract -- that's a lot weighing on your mind.

"But in the last week or so, I've seen him generate the energy and tempo he's shown in his two years here. And I think that was because he saw that the organization was sincere about going something other than negotiating."

With the Holmes contract matter behind them -- remember, he'd hinted in June that he might not play in the opener if he didn't receive an extension and a substantial bonus -- Vermeil is feeling as good about this year's Chiefs as he did about his 1980 Eagles before they went to the Super Bowl.

He feel better even than he did before his 1999 St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl, but that's only because they were coming off seasons of 5-11 and 4-12.

In Kansas City, however, armed with a offense that returns intact after leading the league in scoring last year, Vermeil feels comfortable dealing with the expectation that a return to the playoffs for the first time since 1997, and an extended stay there, are realistic.

"We have a mountain to climb," Vermeil told the faithful at the Kickoff Luncheon. "Maybe it's not as tough as Mount Everest, but I've been to the mountain before and I've heard stories about climbing Mount Everest and the one thing I know: you don't get any helicopter to drop you off on top.

"You climb and you climb. You go through adversity, you sweat, you share emotion, you share effort, you share work, you share gut-wrenching experiences, and you share defeat. But if you've got what it takes, and with a little luck, you can end up on the top. And we've been climbing for three years."

At the same time, Vermeil also knows his team could take a big fall if it doesn't open with a victory at home over a division rival in San Diego.

Talk about a meaningful opener. A division game against Marty Schottenheimer, a coach who knows how to prepare a team for a tough opener at Arrowhead. A game against a team that rallied to beat the Chiefs with 28 second-half points last year in San Diego, then rallied with 16 unanswered points in Kansas City before falling 24-22.

"Playoff teams and championship teams do certain things," Vermeil said. "They win within their division. They win at home. They beat other 8-8 teams or winning teams, or at least break even. We have those opportunities this week."

SERIES HISTORY: 97th meeting. Chiefs lead 45-40-1 and have won six straight home games with the Chargers, with an 11-2 record at Arrowhead since 1990, Marty Schottenheimer's second season as KC's coach. Top Stories