KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Lamar Hunt lobbied the NFL for 37 years to put a Thanksgiving game in Kansas City, but had to listen to his Chiefs beat Denver on Thursday night over the phone in his hospital bed.
“Lamar, I hope you’re feeling better,” an emotional Trent Green said moments after the Chiefs wrapped up a 19-10 victory in a key AFC West showdown.
“This win,” the Chiefs’ quarterback said, “is for you.”
The 74-year-old Hunt, who has missed only a handful of games since founding the franchise, was admitted to a Dallas-area hospital on Wednesday, bitterly disappointed he would not see Kansas City’s inaugurating the NFL’s new Thanksgiving tripleheader.
“He’s doing much better,” said his son, Clark Hunt, the chairman of the Chiefs. “He had a lung issue and needed to go to the hospital and let them take a look at it.”
Having the Chiefs dedicate the game to him was certain to be a great tonic, the younger Hunt said.
“This game has been important to him really going back to the AFL days. He’s worked since the merger to try to get the game back here.”
Like most NFL fans, Hunt was unable to view the game. His hospital is not hooked into the NFL Network, which broadcast the game to about 40 million of the country’s 111 million television homes. So his daughter held the phone near her television while he listened on the other end.
“He told me to call him at halftime,” Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. “He said, `I’m hearing it good, I’m hearing it good.’ I told him, `Well, we’re doing good.’ This night is his night as far as I’m concerned.”
NFL rushing leader Larry Johnson gouged Denver’s fifth-ranked run defense for 157 yards and Lawrence Tynes kicked four field goals for the Chiefs (7-4), who charged into a second-place tie with the Broncos (7-4) in the AFC West.
Johnson, raising his league-leading rushing total to 1,202 yards, consistently burned the Broncos with 8- and 10-yard gains, using his usual assortment of power moves and start-and-stop elusiveness. The Broncos came in giving up a shade better than 90 yards per game on the ground.
“I felt real good,” Johnson said. “Overall, it’s just your energy. You know that the whole nation is going to be watching you. It’s the only game at night and it feels like a Monday night football game.”
Johnson scored the Chiefs’ only touchdown on a 1-yard vault late in the second quarter following a crucial mistake by the Broncos’ Ebenezer Ekuban, who was called for roughing the passer on a failed third-and-4 play from the 9.
“There were a lot of crucial situations when we didn’t step up and make the plays when we should,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said. “One thing we’ve got to realize is we’ve got a lot of football left to play.”
Tynes hit from 24, 34, 29 and 21 yards for the Chiefs, who have put themselves in a strong playoff position by shaking off a host of injuries and winning five of their last six.
Making the night even more festive was an in-house standing-room-only crowd of 80,866, the largest since 1972, the year the Chiefs opened the facility that many call the loudest outdoor stadium in the league.
“Our fans were awesome,” Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen said. “We took energy from them all night.”
The Broncos did not even snap the ball in Kansas City territory until after Jake Plummer hit Javon Walker with a 21-yard pass to the 47 with 1:30 left in the half. Nine plays later, Jason Elam kicked a 31-yard field goal that made it 10-3 at halftime.
Plummer dropped to 0-6 in six starts in Kansas City and had his second pass intercepted when tight end Stephen Alexander tipped the ball into the hands of cornerback Ty Law, leading to KC’s first field goal. He was 25-for-39 for 216 yards and no doubt speculation will pick up steam over whether rookie Jay Cutler is about to be promoted.
“We’ll see what happens there,” safety John Lynch said. “That is the other side of the ball. We’ve got to look at our side.”
With Pro Bowl players Brian Waters back at guard Tony Gonzalez back at tight end, KC’s offense was back to nearly full strength for the first time since Sept. 10. Green, who made his return seven days earlier after a 10-week absence with a concussion, was 13-for-22 for 161 yards and his first interception in two games.
The Broncos, in contrast, were more crippled than they’d been all year. Safety Nick Ferguson was lost for the season this week with a knee injury and Tatum Bell, their leading rusher, was sidelined by turf toe. Earlier, defensive end Courtney Brown and star offensive tackle Matt Lepsis were also lost for the season.
Surtain returned the ball to the Denver 17, but the Broncos wound up with a first down on their own 40 and Plummer immediately connected with David Kircus for a 36-yard gain, Denver’s biggest of the night.
A few minutes later, Plummer’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Alexander made it 13-10.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was in town for the game and said the league had not discussed how the third leg of the Thanksgiving tripleheader would be rotated. Clark Hunt said the Chiefs would try to get it next year. … The Broncos have lost two straight for the first time since late in the 2004 season.