KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI // Renovations to the New Arrowhead Stadium have been completed and work on restoring the Kansas City Chiefs seems to be on schedule as well. Back in the Monday Night Football spotlight for the first time since 2004, Chiefs fans hope their team might again look as good as their remodelled stadium after they christened it with a surprising 21-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
The Chiefs used the prime time television stage to officially unveil the US$375 million (Dh1.38 billion) facelift and opening night had plenty of fireworks. But it was the Chiefs themselves who provided the thrills with a string of explosive big plays, highlighted by an electrifying club record 94-yard punt return for a touchdown by Dexter McCluster, the rookie running back. While Arrowhead's distinctive design remains intact, the stadium's reputation as one of the NFL's most hostile and intimidating venues has suffered along with the Chiefs' recent results.
In 2005, Sports Illustrated named Arrowhead as the "toughest place to play" but with just six wins at home in the past two seasons, a visit to Kansas City no longer struck the same fear into opponents. "Our vision for the New Arrowhead was, 'New body, same soul'," Clark Hunt, the Chiefs chairman, said. "We wanted to give our fans all the amenities of a brand-new, first class venue while preserving the iconic elements of the stadium."
All 71,000 seats were occupied for the season opener and supporters were in raucous form despite a driving rainstorm. "The fans tonight, what great energy out there," said Todd Haley , the Chiefs head coach. "This is how I visualised Arrowhead and it's because of those people who were out there in some pretty difficult conditions and it didn't look like too many were shying away from it." The planning and construction of the venue took six years, though fans are hopeful that it will not take that long to turn the team into play-off contenders.
The Chiefs are rebuilding, bringing in Haley and Scott Pioli, the general manager, last year. Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, who helped turn the New England Patriots into a dynasty, are back together assuming their old jobs of defensive and offensive co-ordinators. The team have also been using their poor results during the past few seasons to harvest a crop of enormously promising draft picks including McCluster and Eric Berry, the free safety, who both contributed to Monday's upset result.