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On the Subject of Honoring Roaf
Posted By ChiefsWarpath.com On December 15, 2008 @ 8:13 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled
Today at Arrowhead the Kansas City Chiefs will honor the greatest left tackle in the history of the sport: William Layton Roaf. A guaranteed first ballot Hall Of Famer and already an inductee into the New Orleans Saints’ Hall Of Fame, Roaf is deserving of the same honor in Kansas City. Sadly, not every Chiefs fan feels that way. Many harbor resentment about the timing and manner in which he left the team, retiring unexpectedly midsummer–post-draft–in 2006. Today I am writing to argue why every Chiefs fan should let go of that resentment and cherish the fact that, just as with Joe Montana in the decade before, one of the game’s legends chose to conclude his career here.
Many will immediately take issue with the fact that I use the word ‘chose’. Willie was traded for, of course, so technically he had very little say in the matter. At the same time, he could have gone Jake Plummer on Carl Peterson and retired rather than relocate from the Big Easy to the Big Empty. At 30 years old, with nine seasons under his belt, seven Pro Bowl appearances, and a broken body, would anybody have begrudged him? In reality the expectations for him in Kansas City weren’t particularly high. Retrospect reveals that about as much was expected of him as was expected of that other stellar New Orleans offensive tackle that made his way here more recently: Kyle Turley. Nobody would have thought much had Roaf come here as a gamble and rode out a year or two on the bench or even IR, leaving John Tait and Marcus Spears to start as they had the year before.
Instead Willie was a pleasant surprise, and near instantly a fan favorite. Two years ago Minnesota fans quickly took to DT Pat Williams as DT Kevin Williams’ natural counterpart, dubbing the fearsome duo the Williams Twins. Likewise, Kansas City had Willie and Will (Roaf and RG Will Shields). They were the two most visible components of an offensive line that was arguably the best in league history, one where three of the five were perennial Pro Bowlers and a fourth should have been. They took Trent Green from a talented but questionable journeyman who had as much downside as upside and, by giving him 5+ seconds of undisrupted pocket time on most plays, turned him into a perennial Pro Bowler himself.
And it was Trent that made the loss of Willie so tough on Kansas City fans. Trent was average at best in Washington with Brad Badger at LT. In St. Louis he was much improved with Orlando Pace as his anchor. In Kansas City he was special, and moreover he was the first long term solution at quarterback since Len Dawson 25+ years prior. It took less than one full regular season game without Roaf for Green to go down, and while he made a recovery from a horrific concussion sustained on a play where a line without Roaf and without RT John Tait broke down, there is no denying he was never again the same player. Roaf’s departure signaled the end of an era and a rapid descent into offensive hell. Three seasons later that offense is just beginning to knock on the gates of purgatory. The word is still out as to whether or not that knock will be answered.
So it’s understandable that Roaf is still not every Chiefs fan’s favorite person. But it’s not on him. I don’t deny that it royally sucks when a key player at any position–let alone the most important position on the team–departs suddenly and does so after the draft. But let’s be honest and fair. The writing was on the wall. At the conclusion of the 2005 season Willie Roaf was thirty-four years old, soon to be thirty-five. Thirty-five is the end of the road for just about any player, but particularly so for one with an injury history like Willie’s. He played less and less in every preseason (remember scrub OT Willie Jones nearly getting Trent killed on one play during the Hall Of Fame Game, then one play later being carted off the field with a broken neck?). Roaf’s body was broken. Had he played another season, there should have been little expectation that he would have concluded it still healthy and almost no reasonable expectation that he would have returned in 2007.
And the fact remains that Dick Vermeil and Carl Peterson had done little to replace him. I’m not about to launch into a full diatribe explaining why Vermeil’s inability to draft left the cupboard bare blah blah blah, but spending four late round picks in five years on offensive tackles when both of your starters are in their 30s and have significant injury histories is a surefire way to guide your team to a rapid descent water landing without a lifejacket in sight. The responsibility for the ensuing debacle doesn’t lie with Roaf. It lies with an entire front office that failed to consider that Jordan Black, Kevin Sampson, Will Svitek, and Jeremy Parquet weren’t long term answers or even short term answers…. just wrong answers.
In short, the timing sucked, but in football there are no bailouts. Unsuccessful business models (i.e. a team without a viable second choice at LT) are allowed to fail, and fail they did.
The secondary argument against lauding Roaf is that he was only here four seasons, and at heart he’s really a New Orleans Saint, not a Kansas City Chief. That’s true. Roaf has already announced that he will enter the Hall Of Fame as a Saint, not a Chief. He is doing this in part because no Saint has yet been enshrined, but mostly because he started and played the bulk of his career there. Yet we don’t hold that against Marcus Allen, do we? Allen was here only one year more than Roaf and made only a single Pro Bowl appearance in the red and gold. Moreover, he retired a Raider. He did so despite his long standing conflict with Raiders owner Al ‘Batshit’ Davis, who forced coaches to list Allen as 4th or 5th on the depth chart at the beginning of every season. Still, we cherish Allen for his brief stop here, wherein he participated in some stellar and some not so stellar running back tandems. Roaf was here nearly as long and, quite frankly, accomplished more; ergo, he deserves the same.
So this Sunday, cast your aspersions aside and celebrate a man who was a big part of our last great offense. While you’re at it, celebrate some of his friends; Will Shields, Jason Dunn, Mike Maslowski, Shawn Barber, Eddie Kennison, and Marc Boerigter are all scheduled to be on the sideline with him. Aside from Barber, that cast should serve as a veritable who’s who of players whose contributions we miss the most. While you’re downing your third beer and cursing the fact that we don’t have two more offensive linemen, two more wide receivers, and a real middle linebacker, just look to the left of the bench. All of our last greats–half of whom the current front office spurned–will be there, watching a catastrophe that’s only five years removed from their 13 win near-masterpiece. Long live Willie Roaf, the Kansas City Chief.
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