As an original AFL franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs have a rich history. While their past 60 years have seen plenty of iconic moments, ranging from appearing in the first Super Bowl to lifting the Lombardi Trophy with Patrick Mahomes, there have also been some darker moments along the way. The Kansas City Chiefs, unfortunately, have seen plenty of death.
While every franchise will come to know tragedy, the Chiefs have been more unlucky than most. Over the years, five players have tragically died during their time in Kansas City.
The Kansas City Chiefs have a rich history, starting in the AFL
These days, the Kansas City Chiefs are a fixture in the AFC West. When the organization was founded, however, they were playing under another name, calling a different city home, and hitting the field in an entirely different league.
In the 1950s, Lamar Hunt tried to buy his way into the NFL. While he couldn’t secure a franchise, he did what any businessman would do; he and several other entrepreneurs joined forces to create the American Football League. Hunt owned the Dallas Texans but, after the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys came to town, he moved his team to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs.
In Missouri, the club found its footing and turned into a powerhouse. With Hank Stram on the sidelines and Len Dawson under center, the Chiefs became one of the AFL’s top clubs. The appeared in the first AFL–NFL World Championship Games, falling to the Green Bay Packers; they would return to the title game, later dubbed the Super Bowl, a few years later, claiming victory in Super Bowl IV.
After that early success, though, the Chiefs fell on some hard times. While Kansas City could put together talented teams, everything would eventually fall apart; they also famously struggled to find a starting quarterback, which didn’t help matters on offense. Thanks to Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, however, the club has gotten back to winning ways and seems to have a bright future.
The tragic deaths of Mack Lee Hill and Bruce McLenna
While the Kansas City Chiefs found success in the early days of their franchise, the team also experienced two untimely deaths. They lost Mack Lee Hill in 1965 and Bruce McLenna in 1968.
Hill spent two seasons as Kansas City’s running back and showed great potential, averaging more than five yards per carry. At the end of the 1965 season, however, he injured his right knee and had to undergo season-ending surgery. “But two days later, in the midst of the procedure,” the Chiefs’ official website explains, “his body temperature spiked to 108 degrees, and he died of hyperthermia.” Today, the club’s Rookie of the Year award bears his name.
While McLenna never actually suited up for the Chiefs, he also died during his time with the organization. After bouncing between several teams in 1966, the running back signed with Kansas City and spent 1967 on the practice squad. Heading into the 1968 campaign, however, he had been elevated to the second spot on the depth chart.
McLenna would never get a chance to assume that role, though. During the summer of 1968, the running back died during National Guard duty. “He was riding in a military vehicle traveling from Fort Leonard Wood to Camp Clark when it went into a ditch off a highway near Urbana, Missouri, apparently after a minor collision with a car,” the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame statesh. “Although his only visible injuries were a bruised shoulder and a small scratch on his head, McLenna was dead at the scene. An autopsy revealed a broken neck.”
Chiefs fans were also shocked by the deaths of Joe Delaney, Derrick Thomas, and Jovan Belcher
Those two running backs weren’t the only two players the Kansas City Chiefs lost. Joe Delaney, Derrick Thomas, and Jovan Belcher also died during their time with the team.
Delaney, another running back, came out of nowhere to emerge as a star in Kansas City. During the summer of 1983, however, everything changed. Despite not knowing how to swim, Delaney jumped in an attempt to save some drowning boys; he didn’t survive.
The Chiefs drafted Derrick Thomas in 1989, and he promptly stormed his way to the Defensive Rookie of the Year title. The linebacker spent the next 10 seasons terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, but his career was cut tragically short by a car accident in January 2000; he died less than a month later.
Belcher, however, died in the most troubling circumstances of all. In December 2012, he shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, before driving to the Chiefs’ practice facility. There, he encountered Scotti Pioli, Romeo Crennel, and Kansas City’s linebackers coach before turning shooting himself in the head.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference