ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The man with the most invested in the success or failure of the Kansas City Chiefs stood beside a practice field at Missouri Western State University and lamented 4 miserable inches.
That's how far offside former pass rusher Dee Ford was in the AFC title game, when Charvarius Ward intercepted Tom Brady with 54 seconds left and Kansas City clinging to the lead.
The yellow flag on the Arrowhead Stadium turf gave New England another shot, and this time Brady made the most of it. He marched the Patriots the rest of the way to a go-ahead score. When the Chiefs forced overtime with a field goal, Brady answered with a winning touchdown.
Four inches. The distance between the Super Bowl and the end of the season.
"Obviously being as close as we were to the Super Bowl last year, coming up 4 inches short, it allows us to come into the season with a lot of belief," said Clark Hunt, the chairman and most visible face of the Chiefs' ownership family, who stopped through for a workout last weekend.
"I think the players know they have something special," Hunt said. "The players are usually the ones that know what kind of team they have. And I think all those guys are really excited."
Not to mention fueled by that playoff disappointment.
The memories of that cold January evening drove quarterback Patrick Mahomes into the film room for hours on end, churning through game after game. It sent the league MVP onto the sweltering high school practice fields, where he would throw to wide receivers on his summer days off.
"We were super close," Mahomes said. "We fell just short."
The defeat, with the Chiefs' first trip to the Super Bowl in nearly 50 years within their grasp, drove linebacker Reggie Ragland to shed weight and arrive to camp in the best shape of his life.
It lingered in the mind of tight end Travis Kelce as he rehabbed offseason ankle surgery, and it pushed offensive lineman Andrew Wylie, who still stewed about it when he arrive at Missouri Western.
"Everyone obviously was there for that game, and saw that game, and it was a nail-biter," Wylie said, shaking his head. "Just coming back this year with that same level of tenacity."
The Chiefs have spent the offseason and now training camp walking a fine line.
They want to use that crushing defeat as fuel to complete the extra rep, spend the extra hour in the playbook, push them the extra inch – or 4 inches, as it were – on the practice field. But they also want to keep it from hijacking their thoughts, steering their focus from the task at hand: go one step farther than a year ago, and bring the Lamar Hunt Trophy back to Kansas City.
"I think it's great for our football team to have that opportunity, to see the intensity that it takes to play at that level," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We had some young guys, and you can sit and tell them that every step you take in the playoffs is more intense than the last step, but until you've lived it, it's a hard thing to get yourself around."
Reid has lived it quite a few times during his coaching career.
While he was coaching in Philadelphia, he matched a record by taking the Eagles to four straight NFC championship games. He lost the first three – to the Rams, Buccaneers and Panthers – before Donovan McNabb & Co. finally reached the Super Bowl following the 2004 season.
The Eagles wound up losing to Patriots in the Super Bowl. And they'd lose another NFC title game four years later, leaving Reid a combined 1-5 in conference championship games.
"It was a great learning tool," Reid said of last season's near miss, "but now you're starting over. We've got a lot of new people on the football team, new schemes, and then you're taking it one day at a time here in building this thing."
Notes: WR Tyreek Hill (bruised quad) was back at practice Friday. ... WR Mecole Hardman left early with an illness. ... Cam Erving continued to work at RT while Mitchell Schwartz rests his ailing back. ... CB Bashaud Breeland briefly went to the medical tent but returned to the practice field.