Chiefs, Broncos inaugurate a new holiday tradition

Thursday, November 23rd 2006, 6:47 am

By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Football fans of America, say hello to a brand new holiday tradition.

Starting this year in Arrowhead Stadium, there'll be a third NFL Thanksgiving Day game for fans to stuff themselves with. This week, it's Kansas City hosting Denver in a key AFC West matchup.

Next year, in the NFL's expanding universe of television entertainment, the night game will be somewhere else. Unlike the long-standing Detroit and Dallas Thanksgiving game traditions, the third contest will be rotated, which is exactly what Lamar Hunt has been fighting for since 1969.

That's when the founder of the Chiefs first pointed out that letting the same two teams host year after year on Thanksgiving was unfair.

``There is no doubt that having this first Thanksgiving night game in Kansas City is a salute to Lamar,'' said Carl Peterson, Chiefs president and general manager.

Hunt's just happy to see his argument finally carry the day.

``I figured out that I've been fighting for this for 37 years,'' he told The Associated Press.

The plan is for the league to offer a third Thanksgiving day game from this year forward.

``That's my understanding,'' Hunt said. ``And I would not want it any other way. I'm not seeking for us to get a priority right, like Dallas and Detroit have. But I am seeking that those teams not have that priority right.''

It's a big night for the league in another sense, too. This will be the first game televised live by the NFL Network, which is still fighting for its foothold in the crowded cable marketplace.

Because only about 40 million of America's 111 million television homes receive the NFL Network, this will be a good way to persuade fans to pressure cable outlets to add it.

With the Chiefs (6-4) in the playoff hunt and everyone excited about quarterback Trent Green's successful return last week from a severe concussion, the whole town's been astir. Standing-room-only tickets went on sale this week, which means about 80,000 fans will be crammed into a stadium that Denver tight end Stephen Alexander calls the loudest in the NFL.

``The noise is unbelievable,'' Alexander said. ``It makes it hard to make adjustments on the line of scrimmage as far as audibles and that type of thing. But, you know, it's like any place. If you go out and play well, make some plays early in the game, it can get quiet.''

The league for weeks has been hyping the 8:10 p.m. EST kickoff as though it would be the first game ever shown on television.

``I think this will probably be the most heavily promoted game the Chiefs have ever had,'' Hunt said with a wry smile.

Plans for the extravagant halftime production, calling for a big stage to be hauled out of the West tunnel, has even triggered a dispute among two old rivals who probably don't like each other that much anyway.

The Chiefs told the Broncos at midweek they would have to exit the field at halftime through the tunnel on the 50-yard line, the one the Chiefs use. But the Broncos were balking.

``It's still being worked out,'' a front office official with the Chiefs said Wednesday afternoon.

Denver (7-3) will try to stay just one game behind San Diego in the AFC West and playing on a very short week. The Broncos blew a big lead at home to San Diego last Sunday night in a game that was moved for television from an afternoon kickoff.

``Just on the body you notice (the short week),'' said Denver wide receiver Rod Smith. ``The thing is you're trying to recover, but I live by myself, so I'm fine. All these guys with families might be upset.''

The Chiefs were confident Pro Bowl left guard Brian Waters would end a two-game absence brought on by a knee injury. Linebacker Derrick Johnson and Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez had also returned to practice and seemed like good bets to be on the field.

Most of all, they recognized the entire city has embraced the honor of having their owner and stadium inaugurate a new tradition.

``It'll be electric,'' said Chiefs coach Herm Edwards. ``These fans are very passionate and they're excited. This is going to be a fun spot to be.''

Smith has been to an excited Arrowhead many times in his long career.

``The first seven minutes in their place is going to be loud. You're going to hear nothing and you can't give them a couple of plays here and there, no big returns, none of that,'' he said.

``You've got to weather the storm the first seven minutes, make everybody calm down and we've got to take over the game, and it's always that way.''

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