KANSAS CITY — There are only seven players left on the Kansas City Chiefs roster who've been with the team since the 2008 season, who have enjoyed scant few highs and unimaginable lows.
In that time span, there have been four coaching changes. There's been two seasons in which the Chiefs went 2-14, matching the franchise mark for futility. There was a murder-suicide involving a teammate, and a fan revolt that came to symbolize a lost season a year ago.
Yet for Jamaal Charles, Brandon Flowers and the rest of those hardy souls, all those years of disappointment have been worth it now that Kansas City is back in the playoffs.
"The last couple years, we've been through all kinds of situations, losing seasons, tragedy. It opens your eyes a lot," said Charles, the Chiefs' Pro Bowl running back. "You see so many people work hard, we deserve this. We've wanted this, and now we're here."
As the Chiefs prepare to visit Indianapolis for a wild-card showdown Saturday, there's an unmistakable bond that seems to unite the longest-tenured players in the organization.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson and punter Dustin Colquitt were drafted in the same class in 2005, so they're actually on their fifth coach: Dick Vermeil, Herm Edwards, Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel and now Andy Reid, who has guided Kansas City to an 11-5 record in his first season in charge.
Linebacker Tamba Hali is the only player left from the 2006 class, which means three players still remember the sting of losing a wild-card playoff game at Indianapolis that season.
Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is the only player left from the 2007 draft, so in a span of six seasons, those four players put together a forgettable record of 29-67.
But things started to turn around when Flowers, Charles and left tackle Branden Albert were drafted in 2008. They went 2-14 their first season and 4-12 the next but wound up going 10-6 and losing a wild-card playoff game to Baltimore after the 2010 season.
At that point, those three figured only good days lay ahead.
"Every day that goes by we have to cherish because next year could be totally different. I experienced that," said Flowers, the Chiefs' Pro Bowl cornerback. "I went to the playoffs a couple years ago, thought we had a young team and we'd be there every year. This is my first time back."
Indeed, the Chiefs slipped to 7-9 the following year, when dysfunction in the front office resulted in a mid-season coaching change. Haley was fired and Crennel took over on an interim basis, and the first signs of cracks began developing within the organization.
They blossomed into massive fissures last season, when Kansas City won just twice. Along the way, fans started to show up to Arrowhead Stadium wearing paper bags over their heads — those who still bothered to show up, at least. The team struggled on offense, was abysmal on defense and then-general manager Scott Pioli was pilloried by folks hungry for change.
When those seven veterans stepped on the field late last season, they gazed skyward to see airplanes towing banners paid for by fans pleading for Pioli to be fired.
They got their wish in January. Crennel and Pioli were both shown the door, and Reid was hired along with new general manager John Dorsey. They set about overhauling the roster, but perhaps more importantly, they completely altered the psyche of the team.
No longer some downtrodden bunch of sad-sack losers, the Chiefs suddenly believed they could win. The result was a dramatic 9-0 start, a winning record and a berth in the playoffs.
One that feels good to those who've been around the block.
"We all have a bond, not just us, guys that have been here, but also the guys that are new," Albert said. "We all have a common goal to get wins around here."
Charles said the goal is to do more than get wins.
The Chiefs haven't won a playoff game since 1993, when the youngest members of the Chiefs were still in diapers. That would be a good place to start. But for the guys who have been around the longest, the only thing that seems to matter now is getting all the way to the Super Bowl.
"I've been to Super Bowl games where I sat in the stands," Charles said. "I mean, it's fun, but not playing and playing in one, why can't we do it? I'm here. We're in the playoffs. It's possible. Anything is possible."