KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Coach John Mackovic of the Kansas City Chiefs plans to wait until shortly before kickoff to select the quarterback who will start against the undefeated Rams today.
It could be Bill Kenney, the seven-year veteran who says he is sore all over--the consequences of being sacked 10 times in the last two games--or his backup, Todd Blackledge, or maybe even George Brett, who once was a backup quarterback for El Segundo High School. He's in town and free until this evening.
When the worlds of football and baseball collide, as they will in the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex today, anything could happen. Tom Lasorda might show up to inform Mackovic that Eric Dickerson is in a slump. Don't walk him.
The football game will draw about 65,000 to Arrowhead Stadium 7 1/2 hours before the second game of the World Series between the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals in 40,635-seat Royals Stadium on the other side of the parking lot.
There is a good chance of rain that could wash out the baseball and turn Arrowhead's artificial turf into something resembling an ice rink, neutralizing the Rams' edge in speed over the Chiefs (3-3).
In that event, the Rams probably would use a lot of off-tackle runs and high-percentage pass routes--which is what they've been doing, anyway, arousing more critical commentary than an undefeated team is accustomed to. Heck, the Rams haven't even beaten the point spread the last two weeks, and today's game is rated even.
Coach John Robinson said: "People are saying, 'Well, you aren't really this good (6-0),' and we're a little irritated about that. There are reasons why this team is winning games, things that go unnoticed in the wake of things that are more measurable."
The defense certainly hasn't gone unnoticed. It has allowed an NFC low of 89 points and made the big plays that won the last two games: a goal-line stand against Minnesota, and LeRoy Irvin's scoring interception at Tampa.
But the special teams also are playing well. Henry Ellard leads the league's punt returners with an average of 19.4 yards, five yards more than the next man; rookie punter Dale Hatcher is second only to the Raiders' Ray Guy at killing the ball inside the 20-yard line, 16 to 14, and the Rams lead the league in allowing only 5.4 yards per punt return.
But with the offensive line injured and ailing, the offense has been a whole lot less than dynamic. Quarterback Dieter Brock has completed 73% of his passes in the last three games--source of that statistic: Coach John Robinson--but something is missing: the bomb.
Also, in those same three games, Dickerson is averaging 2.7 yards a rush, about half as well as he did in his first two seasons, and his longest run has been 13 yards.
Robinson said: "We're struggling through some times when we don't have a full contingent. We have to be patient and work on the parts until they all fit together. (That may happen) when we get our offensive line back together."
Right guard Dennis Harrah, who has a torn thigh muscle, will remain on injured reserve through next Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers at Anaheim, and left tackle Bill Bain, beset by a number of problems, will try to play in spots today.
That leaves Tony Slaton, virtually a rookie, at right guard. Robinson said, however, that Slaton was to blame for only one of Brock's seven sacks at Tampa. For breakdowns leading to the others, one must look to all those Pro Bowl players manning the other positions, including center Doug Smith, who has been weakened by a virus for several weeks.
It's probably a good day for the troubled Chiefs to catch the Rams, with their offense sputtering and a week before their division showdown with the 49ers.
Mackovic told reporters this week: "Who's not taking (the Rams) seriously? It must be you guys. Your expectations are that they should be 6 and 0 and unscored upon."
It's true that Mackovic's problems are more severe. After successive losses to the Raiders and San Diego Chargers, he tried to turn things around by:
--Scheduling a rare, 1 1/2-hour practice last Monday, with wind sprints at the end.
--Eliminating the free lunch normally provided during the week.
--Instituting an earlier curfew the nights before games.
What it means, said Ram cornerback Gary Green, who used to play for the Chiefs, is that Mackovic is blaming the players.
The Chiefs are 2-0 in Arrowhead, which Green can't explain. "When I was there, we lost at home just the way we lost on the road."