Elvis Is Back - In Kansas City

The biggest news to come out of Chiefs camp this week: The return of starting quarterback Elvis Grbac.

The typical reaction to come from Chiefs fans this week: So what?

Excuse Kansas City for the collective yawn. Yes, Elvis is back in the building, but we're not exactly talking about a football Moses. If the Super Bowl is the promised land, then Grbac and the Chiefs are still wandering in the desert.

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    Forum: Who's the better QB -- Rich Gannon or Elvis Grbac?

  • It's not anything Grbac has done, it's what he hasn't done -- establish himself. The 28-year-old veteran of six NFL seasons has been a Chief for 22 games. He's been able to stay healthy for 12 of them. The latest injury was a separated shoulder suffered in the Sept. 4 opener against Oakland.

    Since then, the Chiefs and their rabid following have been more than happy to turn the team over to 32-year-old backup Rich Gannon. That's fine with everyone involved. Twice in the last year, Gannon has bailed out the Chiefs when Grbac was injured.

    Late last year, Gannon went 5-1 after Grbac was knocked out with a broken collarbone. Gannon then had to take over at halftime of the Oakland game this year and has quietly gone 3-1. Since the beginning of the 1997 season, Gannon is 8-2 as a regular-season starter. Grbac is 9-2. Gannon has thrown for 1,994 yards, Grbac for 2,073.

    That's the problem: There is no discernible difference. Elvis is Rich. Rich is Elvis. Their stats in the last two seasons are so similar, it's eerie. They're also average, considering the Chiefs are no closer to a Super Bowl today tha they were before Grbac arrived. Oh sure, Gannon can scramble a bit, but there are reasons why he is a backup quarterback. Witness his three costly fumbles Sunday night in the rain against Seattle.

    "We practice with both of them each day," running back Kimble Anders said. "It doesn't matter (which one plays). ...We know how Rich plays. We know how Elvis plays."

    Yawn ... again.

    If Grbac were head and shoulders -- bad pun, considering his injuries -- above Gannon, his return this week against New England would be cause for celebration. Grbac has been a backup for most of his six seasons, but it is telling that in that time, he has started only 20 games. Luckily, he's at a place where Gannon is a valuable backup commodity, keeping the team in contention while Grbac heals his often-injured limbs.

    Grbac, however, is a $20.4 million question mark. That's how much he's getting paid over his five-year contract.

    "Anytime you're a starter, it (being injured) eats at you a little bit," Grbac said. "You want to get back and do the things the other guys are doing in there. I handled it a lot better than I did last year. I stayed in good shape. Mentally, I handled it better. It paid off this week."

    Gannon was a late-season savior in 1997, helping guide the Chiefs to the best record in the AFC. Grbac returned for the last regular-season game and playoffs. He beat New Orleans and lost to Denver in what has become a familiar playoff swoon for this franchise.

    After a long off-season agonizing over that 14-10 playoff loss, Grbac seemed re-committed. Then it happened again. On the last play before halftime of the opener, Grbac landed on his shoulder while being sacked. Boom -- out four weeks. For those keeping score, Grbac has played only 2 1/2 of the last 13 games.

    He might have the game plan in his head, but his body is another matter. A headline in the local paper asked if he was "Grbreakable?"

    "It's one of those things that happened back to back," Grbac said of the injuries. "There's nothing I can do about that."

    And neither can the Chiefs. They are stuck with Grbac at this point because of the money they paid him. Don't look for a quarterback controversy because there won't be one. Grbac's contract makes him the unquestioned starter -- when he's healthy.

    Coming out of San Francisco two years ago, he seemed like an untapped vein of gold. In the 14 games he either replaced or started in place of Steve Young, the Niners were 10-4. That's the rub: How do you criticize a guy who did that in San Francisco and is winning 84 percent of his startin Kansas City?

    The Chiefs answer with their underwhelming support.

    "There's not much difference at all," receiver Derrick Alexander said. "They both throw the ball the same. It's a very catchable ball."

    You want your starter to throw balls that leave marks on receivers' chest. You want him getting in the faces of 300-pound linemen. You want him returning a week or two early from the projected length of an injury. A couple of weeks ago, it looked like Grbac was ready to go after a successful throwing session. The next day, he told reporters the pain was limiting his throws.

    What gives?

    It was suggested to Anders the G-men could alternate by play -- a la the University of Florida system that was scrapped this week by coach Steve Spurrier.

    "We could do that," Anders said half-seriously. "It probably wouldn't be a bad idea."

    There will be a better comparison Sunday in Foxboro. Grbac left San Francisco two years ago as an unrestricted free agent because he saw no future backing up Young. This week he faces a former No. 1 draft pick -- Drew Bledsoe -- who already has started six playoff games, including a Super Bowl, in the same amount of time Grbac has been in the league.

    "As a No. 1 pick, that's expected out of you," said Grbac, who was an eighth-round pick in 1993.

    If that fact buys Grbac time to develop, he might consider a more tangible career enhancer -- a flak jacket.

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