— When Patrick Mahomes leads the Kansas City offense on the field Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High against the Denver Broncos, he’ll become the first rookie quarterback drafted by the Chiefs to start a game since 1987. Mahomes received a full week to prepare for his start following a season-long internship behind Alex Smith. Doug Hudson had all of two days preparation before leading a ragtag-group of Chiefs with names few remember at the end of a bitter labor dispute that included players riding in pickup trucks and waving shotguns to frighten would-be strike breakers.
“They called me and flew me in two days before the game against Denver,” Hudson recalled about his start against the Broncos on Oct. 18 in Week 6 of the 1987 season. “I’m 20-whatever year old, young guy, kid out of a small school and it’s like, ‘Doug, this is the playbook, this is the game plan and you’re starting.’”
Hudson’s journey to Kansas City began at Nicholls State, then a member of the NCAA’s Division I-AA. The Colonels ran a horizontal and vertical stretch passing game that offensive coordinator Joe Clark learned from Lindy Infante, who later coached the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts.
“We ran, believe it or not, 30 years ago, a spread offense,” Hudson said. “We threw the ball every down.”
Nicholls State won a school-record 10 games in Hudson’s senior season, falling in the national quarterfinals and ranking a school-best No. 12 in the season’s final poll. The high-flying offense caught the attention of Homer Smith, the former UCLA offensive coordinator and newly minted offensive coordinator for the Chiefs. The Chiefs selected Hudson in the seventh round of the 1987 draft from Nicholls State.
HUDSON HITS TRAINING CAMP
Hudson showed up for training camp at William Jewell College in Liberty along with veteran quarterbacks Bill Kenney, Todd Blackledge and Frank Seurer. Another rookie quarterback joined Hudson in camp. Matt Stevens, who played for Smith at UCLA, followed his coach to Kansas City as an undrafted free agent.
“(Smith) wanted to bring me in for an arm for practice and also because I knew the offense, maybe I could help out in terms of terminology and stuff like that,” Stevens said. “I was mostly a gun for hire.”
Hudson said Smith’s offensive language baffled him at first.
“When I went to training camp, Homer’s offensive terminology was quite different,” Hudson said, likening Smith’s language. “He categorized everything based on – I don’t want to say military terms – but the way he described it was quite different than any other offensive system, so it was a complete different language, which was interesting. He was a brilliant man.”
Smith brought an analytical and philosophical approach to offensive scheming. He held a bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton and MBA from Stanford as well as a master’s in theological studies from Harvard. He wrote several books include Football Coach’s Complete Offensive Playbook and The Complete Handbook of Clock Management.
“Homer looks at me and says, ‘Doug, please put ballistics on the prolate spheroid and triangulate with the receiver,’” Hudson said. “And I looked at Bill Kenney and I thought, ‘Bill, I went to Nicholls State, I don’t have a Webster’s with me, man. What’s he talking about?’
“He said, ‘Doug, just throw a spiral and hit the receiver.’”
The Chiefs started the 1987 campaign with high expectations despite a tumultuous offseason. The team made the playoffs in 1986 for the first time in 15 years. But unrest among the players and coaches led to a quick revolt in January following their playoff loss to the New York Jets.
Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Frank Gansz resigned on Jan. 7 in order to pursue an offensive coordinator position. The club’s management met with leaders among the players, who bristled under head coach John Mackovic’s style and were upset over the departure of Gansz. One day after Gansz resigned, the team fired Mackovic. Two days later Gansz returned as head coach.
Kansas City started the season with a home win over the Chargers before falling on the road at the Seattle Seahawks. NFL players voted following Week 2 to go on strike. Clubs spent the next week building teams of replacement players, with Hudson and Stevens heading in different directions.
THE NFL STRIKE OF 1987
Hudson made the roster out of training camp and went on strike with the rest of players. Stevens made it to the final cut down before receiving his release, and he headed home to Los Angeles.
“I’m sitting in the stands for a Raiders game two weeks later going, ‘Oh, my, God, there’s a strike. What if I’m going to get called back?” Stevens said. “And I did.”
Stevens said he received assurance that there wouldn’t be any trouble crossing picket lines and none of the regular Chiefs players would have a problem with him playing replacement games.
“I get there and there’s guys in pickup trucks with shotguns,” Stevens said. “I almost turned around and went home.”
A police escort led the replacement players from their hotel to the stadium before the team’s first practice together.
“We get on the bus and they take us through a couple of back roads and we stop,” Stevens said. “We’re there for a second and there’s a police officer with a radio. He’s in the back with me. There’s all this chatter and everything, and all of sudden you here, ‘Go, go, go, go. And we’re like, ‘What?’”
Stevens said the bus stormed off, racing through the parking lots at the Truman Sports Complex. Six or seven pickup trucks pursed the bus through the parking lot with horns honking and players waving shotguns.
“Our bus driver just played chicken and went right through them,” Stevens said.
The bus roared through the tunnel leading into the stadium and employees slammed the gate shut after the bus made it inside.
“The players grabbed the gate and they were hanging on to it,” Stevens said. “By then they were letting everyone off the bus, and I was the last one off the bus. They picked up the gate and they saw me and were like, ‘Stevens, we hate you.’ And I’m like, oh my God, you want me to go practice now.”
While Hudson holds the distinction of being the last Chiefs quarterback drafted by the team to start for the club, he wasn’t the only rookie quarterback to start for the team that season. Stevens started the first two replacement games for the Chiefs at quarterback in weeks 4 and 5.
The replacement Chiefs lost their first game, falling 35-17 to the Los Angeles Raiders with just 10,708 fans in attendance at the cavernous Memorial Coliseum with a capacity of 92,516. The 106-degree temperature on Oct. 4 didn’t help matters much either.
“That was different,” Stevens said.
The fluid rosters seemed to change by the day as well.
“It was like The Replacements movie, it was weird,” Stevens said. “Guys got hurt and one day you meet a guy and next guy, who are you? It was really strange.”
A road trip to Miami the following week proved even worse. The Chiefs fell 42-0 at the first game ever played at Joe Robbie Stadium before a crowd of 25,867. Stevens suffered a grade 2 shoulder separation in the game and his backup Alex Espinoza succumbed to a concussion late in the contest.
Gansz hoped Stevens could play against Denver, but the club remained unsure late in the week.
“Matt’s a throwback to the old days,” Gansz told reporters ahead of the Broncos game. “If he can play, he’ll be there.”
DOUG HUDSON RETURNS
On Oct. 15, 1987, the 24-day players’ strike came to an end. Teams would play games three days later, which was too little time reassemble team rosters in time for the Week 6 games. Replacement players would get a third a final week on the field.
That’s when the Chiefs came calling to Hudson, who had gone back home to Louisiana during the strike. Even some of his striking teammates called Hudson to give him their blessing to return for the game. The Chiefs now stood 1-3 on the season, and another loss with replacement players would be a devastating blow to the team’s hopes for the season. Even still, Hudson found himself conflicted.
“Dino Hackett and those guys, they were making a big deal out of the scab players and giving them a hard time,” Hudson. “I was a kid, I was like, ‘Hey, man, I want a play. I want to be a part of this thing.’ They want me to come back and play, heck, I’ll go do it.”
That’s when Hudson arrived in Kansas City to find a playbook and a game plan waiting for him.
“I did a crash course and I knew Homer’s offense,” Hudson said. “There’s the intellectual part and then there’s the physical part, you’ve got to kind of connect them. I think I had one day of practice and then I started.”
The Chiefs won the toss and elected to receive. Hudson led his offense on to the field, handing off to running back Chris Smith for a 2-yard gain. Hudson couldn’t find anyone open on second down and threw the ball away. The Broncos then brought him down for a 10-yard sack on third down, forcing a punt.
“It was kind of a bummer,” Hudson said. “I think we ran the first series, we ran like a layered route, nobody was open, I threw an incomplete pass.”
Punter Kelly Goodburn delivered a 44-yard punt, but Swanson delivered a 19-yard returned setting up the Broncos with a short field and the Kansas City 39-yard line.
On third-and-10 from the Chiefs’ 22-yard-line, quarterback Ken Karcher hit tight end Bobby Micho over the middle for a 21-yard gain. The ball came loose at the end of the play and Thomas recovered the loose ball. The officials, however, ruled the pass complete giving Denver the ball at the 1-yard-line.
The NFL introduced instantly replay review during the 1986 season as a one-year experiment. Owners voted to renew replay for the 1987 season by a 21-7 margin, the minimum required for passage. The system the league used between 1986-1991 led to just 12.6 percent of review plays being overturned. That played a role in the league eventually scrapping the system before reintroducing replay for the 1999 season.
Only 11.6 percent of replays in 1987 led to a reversal, and this turned out to be one of those reversals. The replay officials determined Micho fumbled the ball and Thomas recovered, giving Kansas City the ball on their own 1-yard-line, and setting up Hudson for the fateful moment of his career.
Smith carried on first down for a 2-yard gain. Hudson lined up behind 36-year-old journeyman center Glenn Hyde for the snap and second-and-8 from the 3-yard-line.
“He looked like Ozzy Osbourne,” Hudson remembered of his center.
To this day Hudson falls on his sword and doesn’t blame Hyde for what happened next.
“I don’t want to throw him under the bus,” Hudson said. “Quarterbacks always take responsibilities for fumbles. That’s the rule. No matter if it’s a good snap, bad snap, whatever, the quarterback takes responsibilities for fumbles.”
Hudson awaited the snap but never received the ball.
“I was under center and I think it was a zone play or something like that we were running,” Hudson said. “And the ball never hit my hands. I felt something on my calf and I turn around and chase the ball in the end zone. I just covered it, got hammered and I was done.”
Hudson recovered the loose ball and fell on it in the end zone. Linebacker Jim Ryan, one of the Broncos’ regular players to join the team for the final replacement players game, fell on Hudson for the tackle.
“That was my experience, the first game experience with the Kansas City Chiefs,” Hudson said.
It was also his last game experience for the Chiefs. Stevens entered the game in relief on the next drive. Stevens had told coaches on Saturday his arm improved enough that he could play if needed, and Gansz and Smith turned back to Stevens after Hudson’s rough start. Stevens finished the day 17-of-28 passing for 148 yards and an interception as the Broncos won 26-17.
Hudson spent to more seasons in the NFL, but never stepped on the field for a regular season game. His career totals read 0-of-1 passing with a fumble for safety.
Regular NFL players returned the following week but with little success for the Chiefs. The team lost most five more games for a nine-game losing streak, finishing the season 4-11.
Stevens stayed with the Chiefs after the strike before the team released him later in the season. While some replacement players reported hazing or shunning by teammates after the strike, Stevens said teammates treated him well after the strike. He credits defensive back Kevin Ross, who returned for the third replacement player game, for paying the way.
“I don’t know if Kevin Ross game me diplomatic immunity or what, but there was never any problems whatsoever,” Stevens said.
Stevens won over his teammates and fans with his play during the strike. His willingness to play hurt and try to win impressed Kenney.
“The veterans came back that following week and Bill Kenney said, ‘Hey, Matt, you got a little popular,” Stevens recalled, “’Tell you what, next time there’s a strike, just come to my house and I’ll pay you some money and you don’t play.’ I think he goes, ‘I’ll pay you a 100 grand and your don’t play.’”
LIFE AFTER THE STRIKE
Hudson finished out the 1987 season with the Chiefs, but the club parted ways with Smith after a single season as offensive coordinator. Former Green Bay Packers assistant George Sefcik succeeded Smith. The team traded away Blackledge to the Pittsburgh Steelers and acquired Steve DeBerg from Tampa Bay. The Chiefs added another quarterback in the draft, Danny McManus from Florida State.
“When that happened I fell out of favor,” Hudson said. “Then I was released in ’88, then I got picked up by Green Bay in ’89.
That united Hudson with Infante, the forefather of the offensive Hudson ran at Nicholls State.
“Had a really good camp with them, and then released the final cut of 1989 with the Green Bay Packers,” Hudson said. “So then I had to get a job. My son was born and I went to work. I’ve been in the medical field ever since.”
No one would blame Hudson for holding any bitterness at how his NFL career played out, but he looks back on those days positively.
“It was an interesting time. I’m grateful for it, I learned a lot. It prepped me for going into Green Bay, which I felt much better about to hang up the cleats.”
He also came to grips that how his only NFL game played out was not his fault but rather the result of circumstances.
“We were not good,” Hudson said. “We could have been more prepared.”
Hudson’s passion for football, however, found its way to his son. Matt Hudson won a state championship in high school and now serves as a volunteer assistant coach for St. Thomas High School in Houston.
“He likes the kids, likes working with them and loves the game,” Hudson said. “We talk about it, it’s fun to about mechanics, throwing mechanics and the game itself and different ideas and then to talk about all these players.”
The elder Hudson recently ordered a copy of Smith’s book on clock management and sent it to his son.
“He said, ‘Dad, this book’s unbelievable,” Hudson said. “Homer was brilliant. That’s what he was known for, his clock management.”
Hudson and Stevens remain good friends today. Both players get a chuckle at the idea of being answers to trivia questions that only die-hard Kansas City know in their hearts.
“I can’t believe it,” Stevens said. “That’s great. It’s pretty cool. But I would have liked to go back to Kansas City and they go, ‘Hey, you played during the strike and you were 3-0.”
Stevens continued his career in the Arena Football League, earning second-team all-league honors in 1988. He briefly worked in real estate after his retirement before the UCLA radio broadcast team as an analyst, a position he’s for 21 seasons.
Football also remains a part of Hudson’s life as well in at his home in Jackson, Tenn, in between Memphis and Nashville.
“We’re unfortunately Tennessee college football fans, so we haven’t been very good for a long time,” Hudson said. “But we’re still fans. I love Tennessee.”
Not many people, however know about his claim to fame with the Chiefs and his connection to Mahomes.
“They don’t recognize me much,” Hudson said with a laugh.
FROM HUDSON TO MAHOMES
Hudson says he felt he had a decent arm, but nothing like what he sees in the arm of Mahomes.
“My lord have mercy,” Hudson said. “He’s got a gun.”
“When they’re saying he’s like Brett Favre, they’re not kidding,” Stevens said. “I like his base, I think he’s got a strong arm.”
Stevens also serves as a volunteer football for Helix High School in San Diego, which counts quarterback Alex Smith among its alumni.
“I’m a big Alex Smith fan to tell you the truth,” Stevens said. “I think he’s an absolute stud. But Patrick’s going to be the future. It’s going to take a little bit of time, it’s going to be hard to derail or take seat of Alex Smith. He’s worth every penny.”
Hudson says the key for Mahomes rests with learning the lessons head coach Andy Reid has to offer and tempering his enormous talent with discipline and mental preparation. Raw physical skills can take you only so far, he says.
“You can get away with it to a certain degree in that league, I think, but not over the long haul,” Hudson said. “You’ve got to be disciplined and taught well and be in system that’s very good and well coached. (The Chiefs) have that now.”