Another Milestone For Vrabel … Saturday Cup O’Chiefs

From the Truman Sports Complex

It was August 31, 1997. It was the NFL’s opening weekend and at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were hosting the Dallas Cowboys.

The game turned into rout for the Cowboys, as they won 37-7.

Thirteen years, two months and three weeks later, Mike Vrabel remembered the afternoon of his first NFL regular-season game quite clearly.

“They beat the crap out of us,” Vrabel said Friday after final preparations had been completed for the Chiefs game on Sunday against Arizona. “I remember Daryl Johnston cracked me one time. He was at fullback and he went out and came back and crack (blocked) me and it was one of those ‘I’m in the NFL now.’”

On Sunday, Vrabel will play regular-season game No. 200 at Arrowhead Stadium.  

“I remember that (Cowboys OT) Erik Williams didn’t block you as much as he just took you with two fists and hit you on top of the shoulder pads and you went right to your knees,” Vrabel said. “It’s really not the best game to have as a memory of your first game,”

When considering the number of players that have worn NFL uniforms over the 91 seasons of league play those that survive for 200 games is a relatively small group. It’s just over 200 men, topped by kicker Morten Andersen, who appeared in 382 games over his 25 seasons in the league with six teams, including the Chiefs (2002-03).

The every down offensive/defensive player with the most games was WR Jerry Rice at 303 games. The defensive player with the most games was CB Darrell Green with 295. The linebacker who played in the most games was Clay Matthews with 278 games.

So hitting the 200-game mark does not have Vrabel breaking any records. He’s the second man on the Chiefs roster who will achieve that standard, after C Casey Wiegmann who will play in game No. 205 against the Cardinals.

But it’s testimony to his greatest ability over the years – his availability. As the 91st player selected in that ’97 NFL Draft, Vrabel would have been expected to play five or six years at the most, maybe close to 100 games if everything fell right. Coming out of Ohio State, he was listed as a defensive end, but eventually would settle in at outside linebacker in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defensive front.

He was playing that first year for head coach Bill Cowher and then defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. On that defense were players like Levon Kirkland, Carnell Lake, Greg Lloyd, Joel Steed, all players that would make the Pro Bowl. On the other side of the ball were names like RB Jerome Bettis and C Dermontti Dawson. That Steelers team went 11-5 and hosted the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Denver team that the week before had beaten the Chiefs at Arrowhead.

When he stepped on that field in Pittsburgh to play the Cowboys, Vrabel had no thought that football would become his career.

“I didn’t have any ideas or expectations,” said Vrabel. “You really don’t know. It really becomes doing everything you can do to keep a job for another year. It was going to training camp and doing whatever you had to do to make the team that year.

“That’s the essence of this business.”

Although he could not remember specific lessons he learned in that rookie season, Vrabel said he was lucky because the Steelers had so many veterans that were willing to help a young guy.

“They took care of the game, respected the game,” said Vrabel. “Guys like Dermontti Dawson, Carnell Lake, Levon Kirkland, Greg Lloyd, Mike Tomczak, Jim Sweeney, Will Wolford, a lot of professionals were on that team. They helped me learn how to work, how to come into the league and care for the other guys and learn from them.

“They took care of young players. It’s something I learned a lot from and it’s something I try to do.”

Vrabel’s will to extend that helping hand to head coaches as well. In 1997, Todd Haley was a rookie assistant coach in the NFL, working quality control for the New York Jets staff of Bill Parcells. At the start of his head coaching career, Haley is very happy to have Vrabel around at the end of his playing career.

“Mike is a guy that I rely on a lot in a lot of different situations,” Haley said. “He’s a special, special character player, like no one I’ve ever been around. We traded for him and that was a tough deal for him. But he proved to me that he was willing to get on board with me in the trenches last year. And then the fact he was able to make his own decision this year was a big, big item.

“He called and talked to me a bunch before he made that final decision, and it just felt so good to have him back. He’s a special guy. He’s a special football player. He’s a unique, unique individual that I’m so happy to have here, and to have as a resource for me and for our team.

“Mike’s somebody that, a bond has been built over the last year-and-a-half. There were some rocky times that you go through as a young team, and they were real rocky for a guy coming from a team that had done nothing but win for a long time, and he was such a big part of that. He’s a lot of fun to be around and he’s one of those people that makes you a better person and keeps you on your toes full-time. So I’m real grateful that Mike’s here.”

Game No. 200 goes down on Sunday against the Cardinals. If he stays healthy and available, Vrabel will push the number to 206 by the end of the season. How much longer Vrabel will play after that is something he hasn’t thought about.

“You think about what you are going to do when you are done playing football,” Vrabel said. “But I don’t think about when. There’s no time for that right now. We have games to win.”

On Sunday, there will not be a big celebration for Vrabel’s 200th game. “I’ve played in a lot more than 200 games,” Vrabel allowed, factoring in numerous pre-season games and his 19 games in the playoffs with the Steelers and Patriots. “It’s just a number.”

Maybe so, but it’s an impressive number.


  • NFL – fined Titans OT David Stewart $20,000 for an unnecessary late hit; LB LaMarr Woodley $12,500 for a roughing the passer penalty; Patriots RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis $5,000 for a chop block
  • BILLS – signed FB Jehuu Caulcrick off their practice squad; released WR Paul Hubbard.

One Response to “Another Milestone For Vrabel … Saturday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • November 20, 2010  - Rick says:

    There can be no doubt that Vrabel’s longevity is impressive. Also I think he has really helped the coaching staff keep a handle on the locker room and set a tone of work and not entitlement like the last regime tolerated. But, Mike is slow, he’s a plodder, he’s one of the reasons our pass rush is so anemic.

    I personally would like to see Studebaker get more playing time. He’s not all-world or anything, but he can put better pressure on an opposing QB better than Vrabel can at this point.

    When Vrabel retires it would be nice if he could stay on with the organization in some coaching capacity.

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