ST. JOSEPH, Mo. —A line of autograph seekers ringed the sideline of the Chiefs practice field on a steamy Wednesday morning. Center Casey Wiegmann made sure no one walked away disappointed.
Wiegmann, the last remaining Chiefs player, stayed until the very last fan received an autograph.
That's how happy Wiegmann is to be back with the Chiefs after a two-year hiatus with Denver.
"I missed Kansas City," said Wiegmann, a 15-year veteran who spent 2001-07 with the Chiefs as part of one of the most productive lines in NFL history. "The fans care about football. That's what it's about. That's why I play. If the fans care about it, I've got to love that."
Wiegmann, 37, has shown up for his team and the fans every week for the last nine years. Since missing the 2001 season opener with the Chiefs following an appendectomy, Wiegmann has made 143 consecutive starts and taken 9,078 consecutive snaps at center, the longest active streak by any NFL offensive lineman.
His goal is reach 10,000 consecutive snaps, which would come in week 14 or 15 of the season, assuming he wins the starting center job. It was one of the reasons Wiegmann decided not to retire after the 2007 season.
"I don't know how my body does it. You just keep going. I think about it all the time. I've been blessed. I was brought up by a good high school coach, who taught me the value of hard work and work ethic," he said of the late Ed Thomas of Parkersburg, Iowa, who developed three other NFL players from a town of 1,804.
"I take great pride in being out on the field and helping my teammates. I know I'm in a position battle with Rudy (Niswanger), and it's just part of the job."
Niswanger, 6-5, 301, became the Chiefs starter in 2008 after the Chiefs decided to go with a younger and bigger center than Wiegmann, who is 6-2, 285. Wiegmann signed with Denver and went to his first Pro Bowl in 2008. But after last season, the Broncos also decided to go younger and bigger at the position, so Wiegmann returned to the Chiefs, who were looking for veteran leadership.
Niswanger began camp as the starter and started the preseason opener at Atlanta, but this week Wiegmann is filling that spot and likely will start Saturday night's exhibition game at Tampa Bay.
"I'm here for a reason," said Wiegmann. "They brought me in, they think I can still play. I'm trying to prove it on the field. I've played in the offense, I played in this offense last year; it's the same deal but different terminology. It's getting comfortable with the guys you're playing around, and that's part of training camp."
Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who grew up on the practice fields of Pittsburgh's Super Bowl teams when his father was the club's scouting director, likens Wiegmann to a throwback in the mold of Steelers linemen that included Hall of Famer Mike Webster, Ray Mansfield and Gerry Mullins.
"He is a football-playing dude," Haley said of Wiegmann. "He is the epitome... all the great linemen I've ever been around, even going back to the Pittsburgh days and paying attention and just watching and been up close and personal with, they all are the same... in the brain. They are offensive linemen.
"They are, 'I'm playing, no matter what. It would have to be broke in half and dangling to not be in there. This is what I do.' Offensive linemen want to be in the trenches. That's the way they're made or developed. Casey Wiegmann, if you looked up offensive lineman in the dictionary, there would probably be a picture of him.
"Ask him, 'Why are you still doing it?' It's what he does. It's what he knows, it's what he loves."
And where he loves playing. During Wiegmann's two trips to Kansas City with the Broncos, he would linger in the area between the two locker rooms as if he didn't want to return to Denver.
"It was hard," Wiegmann said. "You know all the grounds crew guys, you know all the equipment staff, you know all the trainers. You know players. Coming back here felt like home, and you felt like you didn't want to leave."
So now Wiegmann is back. Signing autographs and snapping footballs as if he's never left.