KANSAS CITY — Shortly before the L.A. Rams shut out the Chiefs Sunday, Kansas City quarterback Todd Blackledge sat on the bench and received encouragement from the friendly fans seated behind him.
"Hey Todd, yo Todd," began one fan. "Why didn't you take your last year of eligibility?"
Blackledge stared at his cleats.
"Excuse me, Todd?" said another.
The voice was kinder and more sympathetic. Blackledge tilted his head, the better to hear.
"Todd Blackledge, you're an embarrassment to the city of Kansas City," said the man.
For Blackledge, Sunday was one of those days, one that six interceptions did little to improve.
Not surprisingly, the Chiefs lost; this time, 16-0. Kansas City now has lost four of its last five games and finds itself with the following possessions:
--A morale problem.
--One quarterback, Blackledge, who set a team single-game interception record and was two shy of tying a National Football League mark.
--One quarterback, Bill Kenney, who has a bruised left knee, an injured right ankle, a wrenched back and a set of sore ribs.
--A running game that doesn't run.
The Chiefs are searching for the answer to everyone's favorite question: How to win.
Coach John Mackovic did his part last week. He did away with the three free lunches the Chiefs regularly receive. A hungry team is a ornery team. Or something like that.
The Chiefs also arrived at their workout facilities last Monday and discovered a 1 1/2-hour organized practice waiting for them. Mondays usually are reserved for playful jogs around the field or brief encounters with weight machines. This time, there were training camp wind sprints and grumbles.
Meanwhile, as Kenney nursed his many injuries, Blackledge prepared for his first start since the 11th game of the 1984 season.
Blackledge was part of the Class of 1983, that impressive collection of quarterbacks that included John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien. He left Penn State with a year's eligibility remaining and, after Elway, was the second quarterback selected that year. The game against the Rams would help prove his worth.
"I felt well prepared," Blackledge said. "I felt I had a good week of practice and knew what to expect. Then I came out and had the worst athletic experience I've ever had."
Former Chief quarterback Len Dawson, now a Kansas City sportscaster, stopped by Blackledge's locker to offer his condolences. "I told him, 'Hey, you just broke one of my records.' "
Dawson shared the previous Kansas City interception record before Blackledge started cocking his arm Sunday.
"I made the correct reads and then I'd put the receivers in tough positions," Blackledge said. "I put all the defenders in a better position to catch the ball."
Blackledge was asked if heard his well-wishers in the stands.
"I heard it," he said. "If you can't handle that, you won't last very long in this league."
The questioner persisted. "Did they affect your confidence?"
"The game did enough of that for me," he said.
Blackledge wasn't the sole reason for the Kansas City loss. He had help. The Chiefs' running attack disappeared early in the second half. And Mackovic refused to return Kenney to the starting lineup.
"I didn't feel Bill was physically able to play," he said.
"I could have played," Kenney said. "He knew I was ready to play. I don't know how effective I'd be."
Mackovic stood by his decision. But he also spent much of his postgame analysis questioning his recent coaching performances.
"We are a team that is struggling now," he said. "I have to take the burden of the responsibility for that. Whether this team is playing well or not, ultimately falls on my shoulders. If there is anything, I don't believe I've done a good enough job."
Countered Kenney: "I disagree. We've got people who aren't doing their jobs. I do not put the responsibility on Coach Mackovic's shoulders because we've been doing this thing for five weeks offensively."
Against San Diego last Sunday, 25- and 50-yard gains were nullified by offside penalties. Later, said Kenney, three touchdown passes were dropped. Kenney added an interception.
A week earlier, against the Raiders, "our protection completely broke down," he said.
Kansas City beat Seattle, but a Sunday earlier, it lost to Miami. "Self destruction," Kenney said.
A morale problem has been mentioned.
"I can't say that," wide receiver Anthony Hancock said. "This will go in print. I can tell you what it is. But that's confidential. I know exactly what it is. I don't think we really tested them. All the interceptions they got, they got on situations where we just went down there and were bombing them. Those five interceptions that were thrown, those were like crib interceptions."
Hancock was told there were six interceptions.
"Six? I didn't know there were six?" he said.
Said teammate Stephone Paige: "Six, huh? I quit counting."
Kenney was less hesitant to acknowledge the internal difficulties.
"I'm sure there is a morale problem," he said. "I think there is, mainly because you've got some players who are going to have a lot of problems about a lot of his things. He's the boss. You do what he says. If you're out there working in a machine shop and your boss tells you something to do and you don't do it, you get your butt canned. You get fired; you're out of there."
'Ihad a good week of practice and knew what to expect. Then I came out and had the Worst athletic experience I've ever had. Todd Blackledge