17 Years Ago, Kansas City Had This Feeling

As the football world and fans of the Vikings, Saints, Colts and Jets await the NFL's conference championship games with optimism, Chiefs fans are left wondering where that feeling has gone in the past 17 years.

It was 17 years ago this week that the Chiefs were coming off their 28-20 victory over the Houston Oilers in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. That victory on January 16, 1994 remains the franchise's last playoff victory. After narrowly escaping the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime in the wild-card round, the Chiefs' victory over the Oilers marked the first time the team had won consecutive playoff games since winning Super Bowl IV. There was no doubt in the minds of Chiefs fans that nothing would stop their team from punching a ticket to Atlanta for Super Bowl XXVIII.

In the 1993-94 playoffs, the Chiefs and Oilers were facing each other for the second time in four months. In their Week 2 matchup during the regular season, the Oilers shut out the Chiefs, 30-0. The Oilers boasted both the fourth-ranked offense and defense in the NFL that season, but also had a brittle 37-year old quarterback in Warren Moon.

Throughout the second half of the season, Moon was hobbled by a cracked rib, but that didn't stop the Oilers from cruising to the AFC Central division title. Entering their playoff game against the Chiefs, the Oilers had won their previous 11 games after beginning the year with a 1-4 record.

A 12-4 record would not help the Oilers escape the fears of the playoffs. The previous season, the team let a 35-3 lead in the divisional round slip away to the Buffalo Bills. The Bills' comeback was the biggest in NFL postseason history. By the 1993 season, the experienced Oilers were a Super Bowl-or-bust team.

On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs were at their postseason peak after the 1993 regular season. They won their first AFC West division title since 1971 and had the rest of the NFL buzzing about the rejuvenated Joe Montana and Marcus Allen. Both were primed to cap off their careers with one last hoist of the Lombardi Trophy. On defense, the Chiefs ranked fifth in takeaways, helping the team hold on to five of 11 victories by slim margins. Neil Smith headlined the unit with his NFL-best 15 sacks.

Two comeback victories in the playoffs against Pittsburgh and Houston had excitement in Kansas City hitting a new level. There was an aura of confidence, a sense that nothing would go wrong. But the Chiefs' dream of playing in Super Bowl XXVIII was crushed on a frigid day in Buffalo. In the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs faced off against the reigning conference champion Buffalo Bills. It was Buffalo's fourth consecutive championship game appearance and Kansas City's first since the league merger.

The game was a nightmare for the Chiefs. Montana left the game in the third quarter with a concussion, unable to execute another comeback victory. Thurman Thomas trampled over the Chiefs' defense for 208 total yards and three touchdowns. A 30-13 loss ended Kansas City's season and the team was left to wonder when they would finally get another shot at a championship.

Seventeen years later, the Chiefs are still wondering. As the years have passed, the iconic players from that AFC Championship game have been inducted into the Hall of Fame: Montana, Thomas, Allen, Bruce Smith, and Derrick Thomas. In the meantime, both teams have struggled to find that next chance at the Super Bowl.

As another NFL season nears its climax—just as it was in January 1994—the Chiefs and their fans are left out in the cold once again. But 17 years ago, the feeling that's rampant right now in Minnesota, New Orleans, New York, and Indianapolis was present in Kansas City.

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