Professional athletes want to win. Only a fool would suggest otherwise. But those same pros get over a loss -- no matter how ugly -- pretty quickly. They know there's always another game. They're still going to get their obscene paychecks. They're still going to live their nice lifestyle. Heck, their fans take the defeats a lot harder.
No doubt, there's plenty of angst in Kansas City this morning after the Chiefs were whacked, 45-7, by the Steelers yesterday. It didn't just drop the team's record to 2-3. It was the franchise's worst loss in a non-strike game in 22 years.
But there didn't appear to be much dismay in the Chiefs' locker room, at least not around running back Larry Johnson's stall. Fifteen minutes after his team was embarrassed and he had his worst day as a starter, he was yukking it up with teammate Michael Bennett. There might not have been as much laughter down the hall in the Steelers' room.
"Do they want to talk to you, Mike?" Johnson asked Bennett, nodding at the media gaggle around their lockers.
Everyone wanted to talk to Johnson.
The man who many predicted would run for 2,000 yards this season.
The man who yesterday managed a meager 26 yards on 15 carries.
The man who would have been a complete non-factor if not for his little hair-pull with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
"I'm not frustrated at all," Johnson said. "It's only the fifth game of the season." Later, there would be "the eight men in the box" excuse.
"That's what happens when you're good," Johnson said, shrugging.
Johnson clearly belongs in the elite group of NFL running backs. The league found that out last year when he finished the season with nine consecutive 100-yard games on his way to 1,750 yards. A lot of us around here knew it when he ran for 2,087 yards at Penn State in 2002.
But the Steelers' defense did a nice job swarming around Johnson, even better than the Arizona Cardinals' defense did a week earlier when it held Johnson to 36 yards on 16 carries. As a result, the Chiefs' offense was hopelessly overmatched. From late in the first quarter through much of the third quarter, it had six consecutive three-and-out possessions.
The Chiefs tried to get going by using Johnson in the passing game, but that also failed. Against the Cardinals, he set up the winning field goal by going 78 yards with a screen pass before being yanked violently to the ground by his facemask by defensive back Antrel Rolle, leaving him with a neck injury that initially left his status for the game yesterday in some doubt. As it turned out, Johnson probably should have taken the day off. His three catches produced just 6 yards.
"We didn't do anything to slow them down," Chiefs guard Brian Waters said. "We didn't do anything to make them have doubts. It was almost like they didn't have any resistance."
The Chiefs will have a lot of days like this if they don't get Johnson rolling again. That's especially true with backup quarterback Damon Huard playing for injured Trent Green. Huard came in with a sparkling 107.4 passer rating yesterday -- more than 60 points higher than the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger -- but was ineffective.
About the only thing the Chiefs could be proud of was a sensational effort Johnson made on a touchdown-saving play that ended with him pulling Polamalu down by the hair.
It happened early in the third quarter after Polamalu intercepted a deflected pass and appeared headed for a touchdown. Johnson never quit on the play, fighting off a block and running down Polamalu. Considering the Steelers led, 31-0, at the time, no one would have blinked if he had mailed in his effort.
As it turned out, everybody blinked twice to make sure their eyes weren't deceiving them. Did Johnson really yank Polamalu down by his long, flowing hair?
"The dude had hair. What do you want me to do?" Johnson asked. "That's the only thing I could get my hands on."
A player's hair is considered part of his uniform so Johnson's tackle was legal. Johnson got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because he tussled with Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor after the play.
"I hope I got the penalty for hitting Ike Taylor twice in the face," Johnson said, smirking. "It was real cute that Ike Taylor came over and tried to defend his boy."
That was the most fight Johnson and the Chiefs showed all day.
That didn't stop Johnson from bouncing out of the locker room for a reunion with his father, who watched the game from the Chiefs' sideline. Larry Johnson Sr. is an assistant coach on Joe Paterno's Penn State staff and made the trip over from State College, still feeling the hangover from the Nittany Lions' 17-10 loss to Michigan Saturday night.
"I know how he's feeling," Johnson said. Not really.
Coaches are a lot like fans. They take the losses a lot harder than the players. It was clear Johnson already was over this defeat.
There's another game Sunday, isn't there?
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1525.