The Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns are about to square off Sunday afternoon in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, and there’s no shortage of chatter about Kareem Hunt’s return to Kansas City.
The running back started his career with a bang as he won Rookie of the Year in 2017 and in the process looked like a young Emmitt Smith. His career in Kansas City abruptly ended in November of 2018 when the team released him after video surfaced of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel.
After a few more legal and personal stumbles since he signed with Cleveland, Hunt has landed on his feet. And on his Instagram Live following the Browns’ wild-card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, eight words he said about the looming playoff matchup against his former team gained traction online.
“Next week personal,” Hunt said, referring to the Chiefs. “Next week personal. Let’s go.”
It shouldn’t be a “revenge game.” It’s certainly not for the Chiefs, who won a Super Bowl without him last season.
Hunt was a liked teammate, someone who remains embraced by many who are still in K.C., ranging from the coaching staff to the front office and locker room. In the two years since his release, multiple Chiefs have said publicly that they still keep in touch with Hunt and wish him the best, including offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Hunt’s former position coach.
“Kareem is a beautiful kid, he has a beautiful spirit about himself, and I know that you guys really don’t get to see that side of him,” Bieniemy told reporters Thursday. “He’s a fun-loving family guy and he’s one of those kids that you just can’t help but want great things to happen for him.
“And obviously, he’s been missed. But more than anything I’m proud of the growth process that he’s gone through, I’m proud to see where he is, I’m proud to see him still pursuing his goals and all the accomplishments that he has made. I mean, hell, he’s like one of our own.”
So no, the reason Hunt is no longer a Chief isn’t because the team didn’t believe in him, didn’t think he could play or didn’t want to pay him, which is often the primary motivation for a true revenge game. It’s because they believed he was not truthful with them about what happened that night in a hotel hallway. And when the TMZ video of the incident that got him released came out, the Chiefs had their proof, feeling they had no choice but to cut him.
Hunt’s worst enemy in Kansas City was himself. He escorted himself out of town, not the other way around.
His return to Kansas City neatly ticks a number of boxes for a “Troll-Faux Revenge Game” scenario we’ve seen in the past. These happen when a great player who writes his own ticket out of town approaches his first game against his old team with an indignation that doesn’t match reality, but he uses it as motivation all the same. Deion Sanders’ 1994 return to Atlanta and Brett Favre’s 2009 return to Green Bay are examples.
In Sanders’ case, he made a big deal about Atlanta being “my house,” taunting the sideline during one of the swaggiest pick sixes of all time and getting into a fist-fight with Andre Rison. Sanders had left Atlanta of his own free will months earlier, all because he was tired of losing.
In Favre’s case, he turned 40 in 2009, as much as a gunslinger as ever but no longer as sharp. By then, his half decade-long collection of “WTF” interceptions, in addition to his perpetual “will he or won’t he” retirement dance, led to the Packers’ decision to hand the reins to his long-time understudy, Aaron Rodgers. Following a one-year stint with the New York Jets, Favre promptly lit the Packers up in Week 4, completing 77 percent of his passes for three touchdowns in a win.
Like Hunt’s situation, there was no real revenge to be gained because all of them basically did it to themselves.
Hunt also qualifies as a bit of a football tragedy, a reminder of what should have been. In 2018, the Chiefs’ offense was so potent that they were (rightfully) drawing comparisons to the 1999 “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams.
Meanwhile the Chiefs’ young, star-studded quintet of Hunt, Patrick Mahomes, receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins and tight end Travis Kelce earned comparisons to the early-’90s Cowboys’ quintet of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper and Jay Novacek. And that’s not hyperbole. Over the past two decades, only two teams — the 2020 Packers and 2007 Patriots — have ended the season with a higher percentage of drives ending with touchdowns than that group, with many of them still having their best football ahead of them.
This is the sad part: the Chiefs are still chasing the efficiency and outright fun of that 2018 outfit, which was only an average defense away from beating Tom Brady in the AFC championship game that season and possibly winning the Super Bowl a year earlier than many thought they could, 1992 Cowboys-style.
That’s why the Chiefs drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round in last year’s draft, a player they still have high hopes for. But they wouldn’t have needed to had Hunt kept his nose clean. Think about how much fun the past few years would have been had they kept that group intact.
So yeah, I doubt Hunt believes this upcoming game is “personal” vendetta for him, because he knows his own actions contributed to his release more than anything else. Sunday’s showdown doesn’t even qualify as a true revenge game. But a “troll-faux revenge game?” Yeah, it checks the boxes for that.
Those games, while not as magical as real revenge games, can still be pretty darned memorable, as Sanders and Favre proved. The Chiefs just need to make sure they do all they can to make sure Hunt’s own version of this story doesn’t end the way those guys’ did.
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