There is no other way to say it. In late 1978, Bill Kenney had one last shot – and perhaps only a couple of minutes – to keep his dream alive in the National Football League.
Brought in to Arrowhead Stadium for a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs, the quarterback arrived on a blustery and snowy day in December, only to be told that he wouldn’t get the chance to take the field. More worrisome, he would get only a couple of throws in the stadium tunnel to show off his arm.
Fortunately, Kenney hit offensive coordinator Kay Dalton on the money twice. “He turned to the GM,” Kenney recalled, “and says, ‘Sign him if you can.’”
Kenney didn’t make his debut until two years later, but he soon emerged as the one of the most prolific passers in the NFL in the 1980s. His success has led to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, which is proud to induct Kenney with the Class of 2017 — with the induction a part of the Enshrinement in Springfield presented by Killian Construction, set for Sunday, January 29. (For tickets & details, see below).
Kenney quarterbacked the Chiefs from 1980 to 1988, leading Kansas City to the 1986 playoffs, its first postseason berth since 1971.
It was part of quite a career for Kenney, who essentially became a star in 1983 and went on to reach the team record books, where his name still appears 26 times in the Chiefs’ all-time quarterback statistical rankings.
Kenney ranks third career-wise in passing yards (17,277), games started (77), passes attempted (2,430), passes completed (1,330) and touchdown passes (105). Additionally, Kenney’s 603 pass attempts in 1983 are still the most ever by a Chiefs quarterback in a single season. He also ranks in the top three in single-season passes completed (346) and passing yards (4,348 in 1983), which remained the record until Trent Green broke it in 2004.
This for a quarterback who likes to joke that he recently was named the 1978 draft’s Mr. Irrelevant, winning on a technicality because Dallas’ Lee Washburn – the last pick of that draft — never played.
Thanks to Dalton, Kenney was able to.
“He just took an interest in me and, after they signed me, they brought me in April 1st and I had 2 ½ months to work with him before training camp,” Kenney said.
For Kenney, it was a second chance in the NFL, and perhaps his last chance, given he wasn’t a big-time prospect.
In college, Kenney spent a brief time at Arizona State University before transferring upon being asked to play tight end. However, his dreams of being a college quarterback weren’t realized until his final year at the University of Northern Colorado, where coaches initially positioned Kenney at tight end – only to relocate him upon the injury of the starting quarterback.
Then, in 1978, he was cut twice, first by the Miami Dolphins and then Washington Redskins. But even after signing with the Chiefs, Kenney spent his first two seasons behind Steve Fuller, their first-round draft pick in 1979.
Yet he never quit, but Kenney soon never stopped throwing the ball.
“John Mackovic came in to coach the team (in 1983) and he wanted to throw the ball,” Kenney said. “I just lit it up.”
Over the next four years, Kenney kept hold of the starting quarterback role, despite the Chiefs drafting Penn State’s Todd Blackledge in the first round in 1983. In that ’83 season, Kenney’s 4,348 yards passing were the fourth-most in NFL history at that point, with wide receiver Carlos Carson his favorite target.
Fans have wondered if Chiefs would have had more success in the 1980s if tragedy would not have struck. You see, standout running back Joe Delaney passed away in June 1983 after trying to rescue three children from drowning in a Louisiana pond.
Fortunately, Kenney was among those – defensive back Deron Cherry being another — who helped re-energize the fan base three years later, as the Chiefs reached the playoffs and finished 10-6. A torn ligament in Kenney’s throwing hand, suffered in the final regular-season game, prevented him from playing in the playoffs.
After football, Kenney went on to serve as a state senator and as the Missouri Public Service Commissioner, plus has owned real estate development, brokerage and construction companies.
But he never would have been a name at all in Kansas City had it not been for a coach, Kay Dalton, who took a chance on him.
“If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a shot,” Kenney said. “He saw something in me that others didn’t.”
ENSHRINEMENT IN SPRINGFIELD
When: Sunday, January 29
Early Reception: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in Springfield. Event is sponsored by Meek’s The Builder’s Choice.
Reception, dinner & ceremony: 4 p.m. at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in downtown Springfield, 5 p.m. dinner and ceremony. Sponsored by Killian Construction. Associate Sponsors are Advertising Plus, Hartman & Company, Inc., Hiland Dairy, Hillyard, Inc. and White River Valley Electric Co-op
Inductees: St. Louis Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman, Kansas City Royals outfielder Amos Otis, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney, the Voice of the Missouri Tigers, Mike Kelly, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane (University of Central Missouri baseball), former Mizzou football coach Warren Powers, Missouri State volleyball coach Melissa Stokes, Mizzou head athletic trainer Rex Sharp, B.A.S.S. champion Rick Clunn (Ava), motocross champion Jeff Emig (Kansas City), Missouri State basketball standout Kelby Stuckey, NFL referee George Hayward (St. Joseph), the Voice of the Missouri State Bears, Art Hains, track coach Rod Staggs (St. Louis Berkeley), Penney High School football coach David Fairchild and Glendale High School soccer coach Jeff Rogers. The Hall of Fame also will induct the New Bloomfield High School Baseball Program and its coach, the late Rod Haley, and the University of Central Missouri Mules Baseball Program. The John Q. Hammons Founder’s Award will be bestowed on Jack Henry & Associates, and the Hall will present the President’s Award to Leon Combs.
Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. A sponsorship table of 10 is $1,500 and includes an autographed print of the Class of 2017, sponsor recognition in the printed program and at the table. An individual ticket is $150. Numerous other sponsorships also are available, including congratulatory ads.