Kansas, Missouri players return as virtual Chiefs

Noble Horvath

What if Gale Sayers, Jordy Nelson and Barry Sanders could combine forces and represent Kansas City on a territorial all-star team for the ages? Welcome to Homegrown Legends, a series of mythical all-star rosters composed of the best players in pro football history from each current NFL market. This is […]

What if Gale Sayers, Jordy Nelson and Barry Sanders could combine forces and represent Kansas City on a territorial all-star team for the ages?

Welcome to Homegrown Legends, a series of mythical all-star rosters composed of the best players in pro football history from each current NFL market. This is a new twist on the age-old debates about which states and cities produce the best football talent.

We have envisioned the NFL’s greatest superstars representing their hometowns, states and regions with lineups that transcend the history of football. Below, the best professional players from the states of Kansas and Missouri — and a couple from southeast Nebraska — are represented through the prism of an all-time Chiefs dream team.

To explain the background of our Homegrown Legends, we discuss their high school and college roots in the article below. However, the selections were based strictly on NFL performance. In most cases, hometown eligibility was determined by where an athlete played the majority of his high school career. Each team’s territorial draft area is slightly different, and we explain our selection methodology in detail in this article.

Soon, we will ask readers to vote for the best Homegrown Legends team in a 32-team tournament bracket.

For now, suspend your disbelief and imagine these superstars teaming up to rep Kansas City on the field.


NFL Homegrown Legends

More teams:

Dal / NYG / Phi / Was // Chi / Det / GB / Min // Atl / Car / NO / TB // Ari / LAR / SF / Sea //// Buf / Mia / NE / NYJ // Bal / Cin / Cle / Pit // Hou / Ind / Jax / Ten // Den / KC / LV / LAC

  • Coming Sept. 22: Vote – Homegrown Legends tournament bracket

John Hadl Chargers

Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

We begin our journey in Larryville, where our quarterback was born and raised, attended high school and emerged as a versatile college football star.

Hadl was born in Lawrence, Kansas, and earned all-state honors as a tailback at Lawrence High. He earned national acclaim at the University of Kansas, where he played defensive back, quarterback, running back and punter — and even returned kickoffs and punts. He was named first-team All-America twice, and his No. 21 is one of only three retired football jerseys at KU, along with Gale Sayers and Ray Evans.

Once Hadl turned pro, he settled in as a quarterback. He played 11 seasons for the San Diego Chargers from 1962-72, winning the 1963 AFL championship along the way. He’d go on to play for the Rams, Packers and Oilers later in his career.

Hadl earned four AFL All-Star Game invitations and two Pro Bowl selections. He led the AFL in passing yards twice and the NFL once. Hadl also won the 1971 NFL Man of the Year award. He registered 33,503 career passing yards and 244 touchdown passes in 16 pro seasons.

Hadl was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

MPS-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most athletic, artistic running backs in the history of the game, Sanders was born in Wichita, Kansas, and played high school football at Wichita North. He matriculated to Oklahoma State but was stuck behind All-America tailback Thurman Thomas on the depth chart for two years. When Sanders got the chance to start in 1988, he turned in perhaps the greatest individual season in college football history with 2,628 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns. He won the Heisman Trophy that year, racking up a total of 3,249 all-purpose yards.

Sanders was drafted No. 3 overall by Detroit in 1989 and went on to a brilliant 10-year NFL career. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 seasons and earned first-team All-Pro recognition six times. He led the NFL in rushing yards four times, including a personal best of 2,053 in 1997, and currently ranks fourth in NFL history with 15,269 yards on the ground.

Sanders was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. He was named to the NFL’s 100th season team in 2019.

Gale Sayers Bears

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Sayers was born in Wichita, Kansas, and played high school football in Omaha Central in Nebraska. One of the greatest athletes to attend the University of Kansas, Sayers earned consensus All-America honors as a junior and senior.

Sayers was a top-five pick by the Chicago Bears and the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1965 NFL and AFL drafts, respectively. He opted for the established league and was named NFL Rookie of the Year after registering 2,272 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns. Sayers earned first-team All-Pro recognition in each of his first five pro seasons and led the league in rushing yards twice. Unfortunately, knee injuries would limit him to two games in each of his last two seasons and force his retirement after the 1971 campaign. Sayers totaled 9,435 all-purpose yards and 56 total touchdowns in just 68 career games.

In 1976, he was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. The following year, at age 33, he became the youngest player ever selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sayers also was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977 and named to the NFL’s 100th season team in 2019.

Jordy Nelson Packers

Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY Network

Nelson is the Little Apple’s answer to John Hadl. Just as Hadl was born and raised in Lawrence and attended high school and college in his hometown, Nelson was born in Manhattan, Kansas, and grew up on a nearby farm. He attended Riley County High, where he was a dual-threat quarterback and a standout in basketball and track. Then he stayed home to walk on as a defensive back at Kansas State, ultimately developing into an All-America wide receiver for the Wildcats.

Nelson exploded on the national radar as a Kansas State senior in 2007, recording 122 receptions for 1,606 yards and 13 total touchdowns. Green Bay drafted him in the second round the following spring, and he eventually became Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target. Nelson won Super Bowl XLV with the Packers in the 2010 season and was named to the Pro Bowl four years later. He won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2016 after recovering from a torn ACL, leading the league in touchdown receptions that season with 14. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in receiving four times in nine seasons with the Packers before finishing his playing career with Oakland in 2018.

Nelson is among the athletes selected to this year’s class at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Brandon Lloyd Rams

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Lloyd is a Kansas City native who played high school football in nearby Blue Springs, Missouri. He would go on to have a standout college career at the University of Illinois, where he registered 160 receptions for 2,583 yards and 21 touchdowns in three seasons.

San Francisco drafted Lloyd in the fourth round in 2003, and he would enjoy a productive 12-year NFL career with the 49ers, Washington, Chicago, Denver, St. Louis and New England. He was named to the Pro Bowl in the 2010 season, when he led the league with 1,448 receiving yards for the Broncos.

Lloyd, who totaled 399 career catches for 5,989 yards and 38 total touchdowns, retired in 2015.

Kellen Winslow Missouri Chargers

Rod Hanna-USA TODAY Sports

With the Rams no longer calling St. Louis home, that means the Gateway City is now Chiefs territory.

Winslow was born in St. Louis and attended East St. Louis High School across the river in Illinois. Although he didn’t play football until his senior year of high school, he possessed physical talent and a willingness to learn and work hard. The University of Missouri took a flier on Winslow, and he repaid the Tigers by developing into an All-America tight end.

Winslow recorded 71 catches for 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns at Mizzou, but he was just getting started. After being selected No. 13 overall by San Diego in the 1979 NFL draft, he would redefine the tight end position with the Chargers. Stretching the field and creating mismatches, Winslow earned five Pro Bowl selections and was named first-team All-Pro three times in nine seasons with San Diego. The 6-foot-5, 251-pounder led the NFL in catches in 1980 and 1981, eventually registering career totals of 541 receptions for 6,741 yards with 45 touchdowns.

Winslow was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He also was named to the NFL’s 100th season team in 2019.

Mike McCormack Browns

(Henry Barr Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

McCormack attended De La Salle High School in Kansas City, Kansas, on his way to becoming a Jayhawk at the University of Kansas. He earned All-Big 7 recognition as a senior tackle and team captain.

The NFL’s New York Yanks drafted him in the third round in 1951, and he was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He missed the next two seasons while serving in the Army during the Korean War but returned to the NFL in 1954 with Cleveland, where he would develop into one of the league’s best offensive tackles. McCormack would earn five more Pro Bowl nods in nine seasons with the Browns and helped the team win NFL championships in 1954 and 1955.

After retiring as a player, McCormack served as head coach of the Eagles, Colts and Seahawks. He also held executive roles with the Seahawks and Panthers. McCormack was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1984.

Russ Washington Chargers

Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Chargers

Washington is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, where he attended Southeast High School. He went on to the University of Missouri and became one of the most dominant linemen in school history. Washington received All-Big 8 accolades twice and was named first-team All-America as a senior in 1967.

San Diego drafted Washington with the No. 4 overall pick the following year, and he would play his entire 15-year NFL career with the Chargers. At 6-foot-6 and 289 pounds, he earned the nickname Mt. Washington and received five Pro Bowl selections. Talented and durable, Washington didn’t miss an NFL game until his 13th season.

Ryan-Lilja-Chiefs

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a familiar face. Lilja was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and played high school football at Shawnee Mission Northwest on the Kansas side of the border. He played two seasons of junior college football at Coffeyville and transferred to Kansas State for his junior and senior seasons. Lilja earned second-team All-Big 12 recognition and Academic All-America honors as a senior in 2003.

Although Lilja wasn’t picked in the 2004 NFL draft, he caught on with Indianapolis and won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts in February 2007. After five seasons with the Colts, Lilja came home to play three seasons with the Chiefs. He started 45 games for the Chiefs, playing both guard spots and the center position.

Jason-Whittle-Giants

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Although mostly overlooked by talent evaluators as a high school and college athlete, it turned out that Whittle was playing the long game. He was both an offensive lineman and defensive end at Camdenton High in central Missouri and continued his athletic career at Southwest Missouri State (now known simply as Missouri State). He switched from defensive line to offensive line as a redshirt sophomore and went on to earn second-team All Gateway Conference honors as a senior.

Whittle wasn’t picked in the 1998 NFL draft, but he caught on with the New York Giants and carved out an 11-year NFL career. He played seven seasons with the Giants, two with the Bills and single seasons with the Buccaneers and Vikings, appearing in 137 regular-season NFL games. Whittle was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

Dave-Rimington-Bengals

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Although Rimington is best known as one of the great linemen in college football history, he also enjoyed a solid seven-year NFL career. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, he earned all-state football honors and wrestled at Omaha South High. Rimington went on to star at the University of Nebraska, where he earned consensus All-America recognition twice and captured back-to-back Outland Trophies as the nation’s top interior lineman. He’s the only two-time winner of the Outland, which has been presented annually since 1946. He also won the Lombardi Award and was a two-time Academic All-American.

All those qualifications led Cincinnati to draft Rimington in the first round in 1983. He was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team and played five seasons with the Bengals. Rimington played two additional seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He appeared in 86 regular-season NFL games, starting 80, plus two postseason contests.

Rimington was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

Justin Smith 49ers

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A native of Jefferson City, Missouri, Smith earned all-state accolades twice at Jefferson City High and helped lead his team to a state championship as a senior. He stayed true to the Show-Me State by attending the University of Missouri, where he became a one-man wrecking crew for the Tigers. Smith was named All-Big 12 twice and received first-team All-America recognition after recording 11 sacks and 97 tackles as a junior in 2000.

Duly impressed, Cincinnati drafted Smith with the No. 4 overall pick in 2001. He became a starter in the Bengals’ fifth game as a rookie, and he never went back to the bench. After seven seasons in Cincy, he signed with the 49ers and took his game to the next level by earning five consecutive Pro Bowl invitations from 2009-13.

Remarkably durable, Smith missed just three games in his entire 14-year NFL career. He registered 87 sacks and 798 tackles in 221 regular-season games. Smith also played in nine postseason contests, including Super Bowl XLVII with the 49ers.

Cal Hubbard Green Bay Packers

Photo courtesy of Green Bay Packers

Sure, Hubbard is a product of a bygone era. But there’s a lot to be said about the athletic prowess of the only person enshrined in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Even before Hubbard received those honors in 1963 and 1976, respectively, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1962.

Hubbard was a native of Keytesville, Missouri, and played college football at Centenary College in Louisiana, where he became the school’s first All-American, and later at Geneva College in Pennsylvania. There wasn’t a defensive end, as we know the position now, in those days. But Hubbard was big, fast and versatile among his peers, and certainly adept enough to play the edge on our mythical team. He played on both sides of the ball, as most players did in that era, and spent time at offensive tackle, offensive end, defensive line and linebacker at various points in his career. He played three seasons with the Giants and six as a member of the Packers, winning one NFL championship in New York and three with Green Bay.

Hubbard, who served as a longtime MLB umpire after retiring from football, was named to the NFL’s 100th season team in 2019.

Sheldon Richardson Jets

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Richardson is a St. Louis native who became a coveted recruit at Gateway High School while starring not only as a defensive tackle – but also at running back, tight end, quarterback, wide receiver and defensive end. (Whew!) A five-star prospect, he chose to stay in state at the University of Missouri. Richardson narrowed his focus to specializing as a defensive tackle at Mizzou and earned first-team All-SEC recognition as a junior.

The New York Jets drafted Richardson with the No. 13 overall pick in 2013, and he promptly won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award while starting 15 of 16 games. He received a Pro Bowl invitation in 2014 after recording eight sacks and 59 tackles. After four seasons with the Jets, Richardson played one season each with Seattle and Minnesota. He signed a three-year contract worth a potential $37 million with Cleveland in March 2019.

Entering the 2020 season, his second with the Browns, Richardson had recorded 373 tackles and 26.5 sacks in his first seven NFL seasons.

Sylvester-Williams-Broncos

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Williams is a late bloomer in a football sense. He started only one game at Jefferson City High in Missouri’s capital. But two years after walking on at Coffeyville JC, he walked away with a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina. Williams became a team captain for the Tar Heels and impressed scouts as a disruptor with quick feet and hands.

Denver drafted Williams in the late first round in 2013, and he appeared in Super Bowl XLVIII as a rookie. He earned a starting job the following year and won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos in his third pro season. Williams spent time with the Titans, Lions, Dolphins and Chargers over the past three seasons and currently is a free agent.

Mike Jones Super Bowl tackle

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Years before Jones famously made the game-ending tackle to preserve the St. Louis Rams’ victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, he was a 220-pound all-state running back at Southwest High in Kansas City, Missouri. He also displayed solid skills at linebacker, which we’ll get back to in a moment. Jones played tailback at the University of Missouri, recording 2,076 yards from scrimmage, 65 receptions and 23 total touchdowns in four seasons.

Jones went undrafted in 1991 but signed as a free agent with the Raiders – who wanted him as a linebacker. He was a reserve for four seasons before earning a starting job in 1995. Jones joined the Rams in 1997 and recorded a career-high four interceptions and three defensive touchdowns two years later en route to the Super Bowl.

In addition to playing for the Rams and Raiders, Jones spent a season and a half with the Steelers toward the end of his 12-year NFL career.

Gary Spani Chiefs

Photo courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs

No need to strain your imagination trying to picture Spani in a Chiefs uniform. No. 59 spent his entire nine-year NFL career with Kansas City. He was an all-state football player at Manhattan High School and stayed home to attend Kansas State, where he became a pivotal player in the history of the Wildcats program. Spani earned All-Big 8 recognition three times and recorded 543 tackles in four collegiate seasons. He was a consensus All-America pick and the Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 1977, when he averaged 17 tackles per game.

The Chiefs drafted Spani in the third round the following year, and he would record 999 tackles for the franchise – a mark that ranks second only to Derrick Johnson in franchise history.

Spani became the first Kansas State player to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame when he was enshrined in 2002. He was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame the following year.

Mark-Simoneau-Saints

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Here comes another great Kansas State linebacker. Simoneau was an all-state football player and state shot put champion at Smith Center High in north-central Kansas. He moved on to KSU, where he recorded 400 tackles, eight forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries in four seasons. As a senior in 1999, he was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and earned consensus All-America recognition.

Atlanta drafted Simoneau in the third round in 2000, and he would play a decade in the NFL with the Falcons, Eagles, Saints — and one game with the Chiefs in 2010. He played in 124 career regular-season games, starting 67, and appeared in seven postseason contests.

Simoneau was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Terence Newman Cowboys

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Newman was an all-state cornerback and track champion at Salina Central High in north-central Kansas who went on to make national headlines at Kansas State. He won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in his senior season for the Wildcats. That season, he recorded five interceptions and 54 tackles on his way to being named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and earning consensus All-America honors.

Dallas used the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft to select Newman, and he would register 32 interceptions in nine seasons with the Cowboys. He also spent three years each with Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings. Newman, who was selected to the Pro Bowl in the 2007 and 2009 seasons, recorded 42 interceptions and 834 tackles in his pro career.

Newman is among the athletes selected to this year’s class at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Roger Wehrli Cardinals

Herb Weitman-USA TODAY Sports

Wehrli was a football standout and track champion at tiny King City High in Missouri’s northwest corner. Although his senior class was composed of just 28 students, he would manage just fine when he stepped up to the college level at the University of Missouri in 1965. Wehrli recorded 10 interceptions in three varsity seasons for the Tigers and earned consensus All-America honors as a senior in 1968, when he ranked as the nation’s leading punt returner.

The speedy Wehrli was selected in the first round of the 1969 NFL draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, and he would spend his entire 14-year career with the franchise. He ultimately earned seven Pro Bowl nods and three first-team All-Pro selections, and was named to the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team.

Wehrli, who registered 40 career interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries as a pro, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

Nolan Cromwell Rams

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Cromwell was an all-state football and basketball player and a track standout at Ransom High in western Kansas who went on to make his mark at the University of Kansas. After playing defensive back as a freshman and sophomore, he rushed for 1,664 yards and 16 touchdowns in two seasons as a run-first quarterback, earning Big 8 Offensive Player of the Year honors as a junior.

The Los Angeles Rams drafted Cromwell in the second round in 1977, and he would play 11 seasons for the franchise. He earned four consecutive Pro Bowl invitations from 1980-83, including three first-team All-Pro selections over that span. Cromwell registered 37 interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries as a pro. He was inducted into the state of Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

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Belser is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, who attended Raytown South High on his way to becoming a two-time All-Big 8 defensive back at Oklahoma. He was an eighth-round draft pick in 1992 by Indianapolis, and he went on to play nine seasons with the Colts – including eight as a full-time starter.

Belser, who concluded his NFL career with two seasons back home with the Chiefs, recorded 14 career interceptions, 12 fumble recoveries and three pick-sixes. He appeared in 173 regular-season games, starting 137, plus six postseason contests.

Darren Sproles Chargers

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Sproles played high school football for Olathe North in suburban Kansas City. He rushed for 4,979 yards and scored 48 touchdowns at Kansas State on his way to becoming a fourth-round draft pick by San Diego in 2005.

Sproles played 14 NFL seasons with the Chargers, Saints and Eagles, earning three Pro Bowl selections as a special teams ace. He holds the NFL record for most all-purpose yards in a single season with 2,696, set with New Orleans in 2011. His 19,696 career all-purpose yards rank fifth all-time.

Sproles, who won Super Bowl LII with Philadelphia, is among the athletes selected to this year’s class at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Herb Weitman-USA TODAY NETWORK

Leahy is a St. Louis native who used his college soccer experience at Saint Louis University as a springboard to an NFL career as a place-kicker. He kicked for the New York Jets from 1974-91, scoring 1,470 points in 250 career games. Leahy was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Moorman was born in Wichita, Kansas, and attended high school in nearby Sedgwick. He earned Division II All-America honors all four years at Pittsburg State and went on to play 13 seasons in the NFL.

Moorman earned Pro Bowl selections and first-team All-Pro status in the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He played his entire pro career for the Buffalo Bills, with the exception of 12 games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2012. He was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

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