When Lloyd Burruss arrived in Kansas City in 1981 as a third-round draft pick of the Chiefs, he set out to accomplish two things. He wanted to last a decade in the NFL, and he wanted to play in the Super Bowl.
Eleven years later, he has achieved football longevity, but the game's Holy Grail remains elusive.
The road to the Super Bowl leads Burruss and the Chiefs to Buffalo's frosty Rich Stadium Sunday, and that's as close as the veteran strong safety has come. Kansas City meets the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the playoffs, with the winner advancing to the AFC championship game a week later.
Burruss, a former University of Maryland standout, has been nothing if not persevering in his 11 pro seasons. He has outlasted three coaching regimes in Kansas City, survived a series of disabling injuries and watched the team walk an organizational treadmill.
Ironically, the Bills' coaching staff that blocks his path to Minneapolis and Super Bowl XXVI is the same one he started with in Kansas City. Buffalo coach Marv Levy, head coach of the Chiefs in 1981, welcomed Burruss to the NFL, along with then defensive coordinator Walt Corey. Corey has the same role with the Bills now.
"I was young then and didn't know about coaches being fired," Burruss said this week. "I saw Marv as a good organizer. He had coaches get things done. He let them work. I had Walt Corey as my backfield coach. Walt's a great man; he'll always be my friend."
Levy and Corey were gone by 1983, though. What followed were four fractious seasons under John Mackovic, and two losing seasons under Frank Gansz.
Until Carl Peterson, as team president, and Marty Schottenheimer, as coach, turned up in Kansas City three years ago, the Chiefs were going nowhere. Burruss had participated in just one playoff game in his first eight seasons. Under Schottenheimer, he has been in the playoffs the last two seasons. Last week's 10-6 wild-card victory over the Los Angeles Raiders was the Chiefs' first home playoff game in 21 years.
"It was definitely a big deal," Burruss said. "We come in every year striving to make the playoffs and have a chance to get into the Super Bowl. That's every year and it never materialized for us. It's a frustrating thing. Marty and Carl showed up here with a new philosophy as proven winners. Everybody got behind them.
"These players were hungry for winning. We knew we had talent. We wanted somebody to arrange this thing and get it together."
The irony for Burruss, 34, is that when the Chiefs finally became Super Bowl contenders, he had been placed in a backup role behind starting strong safety Kevin Porter, 25 and a four-year veteran. Shoulder and knee injuries in 1988 and '89 cost Burruss his starting job. He overcame one injury in 1988 to win an Ed Block Courage Award in Baltimore. But he wasn't able to regain his starting position under Schottenheimer.
"I'd like to have been able to do this [reach the playoffs] when I was playing every snap," he said. "Now I'm sharing time. Now I'm more of a role player. It's frustrating in itself, but the main thing is the team."
Burruss, who says he is completely healthy again, played all 16 games this season and started three.He is at his best playing the run, but insists he can still cover receivers in the secondary. His only interception of the season -- the 22nd of his NFL career -- was one that probably turned the Chiefs' season around. It came in a Week 9, Monday night victory over the Raiders. The Chiefs were 5-3 at the time and needed a victory to stay in the AFC West race. The Raiders were ahead and driving for a clinching score when Burruss intercepted Jay Schroeder. That launched a Kansas City comeback and 24-21 win.
The Chiefs use Burruss primarily in the nickel defense. They also use him on the safety blitz. In addition, he's captain of the special teams.
"We put Lloyd in a lot of different situations," said Tony Dungy, who coaches the Chiefs' defensive backs. "He's a very stabilizing guy for our defense. He's one of the more experienced guys on defense, and he plays at a high level. He's a very smart coverage player. He knows how to play the game and puts himself in good position."
Dungy thinks the way the Chiefs have used Burruss has helped make him an effective part of the defense. "The way we've played him has allowed him to be fresh and do some good things for us," Dungy said. "As an 11-year guy, if he plays every play the whole season, I don't know if he'd be able to hold up for that."
Burruss, a native Virginian who lives offseason in Palmyra, Va., hada Pro Bowl season in 1986 when he intercepted five passes, returning three for touchdowns. In one game and one incredible quarter against San Diego's Dan Fouts, Burruss intercepted three passes and returned two for touchdowns, tying an NFL record.
Against Buffalo, the Chiefs will have to overcome an injury problem -- they lost linebacker Chris Martin to season-ending knee surgery -- and the memory of a 33-6 regular-season whipping they gave the Bills. The Chiefs dominated that game with their running offense and their defense.
"I think our team realizes that was a great game for us," Burruss said, "but as far as that game meaning a whole lot this week, no. This is a playoff game and that was a while ago. They have [defensive end] Bruce Smith back, and [nose tackle] Jeff Wright back. They play differently with those guys.
"That's not to say we can't beat Buffalo. It'll be a great game. They say they've been waiting for it. Well, we've been waiting for it, too."
And in Burruss' case, he's been waiting 11 years.