KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Since joining the Chiefs late last month, Kyle Orton has been asked numerous times about the looming New Year's Day game against his old employers, the Denver Broncos, and Tim Tebow, the quarterback who took his job.
Orton had always deflected the question, saying he was concentrating on the game at hand. But he had to confront it this week, with preparations for Sunday's meeting in Denver well under way.
"The only guys I'm trying to prove something to are my teammates," Orton said. "I really don't worry about anything else.
"You've got to worry about yourself. There's so much you've got to play for every week. There's still plenty to play for just for your 53 (players). That's the approach you've got to take. I value every chance I get to get on the field. You only get 16 chances a year to show what you've got."
In Denver, the 8-7 Broncos are similarly trying to downplay the Orton vs. Tebow angle. The Broncos would win the AFC West championship and make the playoffs for the first time since 2005 if they can beat the Chiefs.
"I think that it's a little bit more for you than for us," Tebow said when asked about playing against Orton. "I think it's the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. That's a great rivalry and it'll be a great game. Excited we get to play at home in front of our fans. I think that as a player, as a quarterback, as someone who has dreamed of that his whole life, it'll be exciting to have one game, one last game, one last opportunity to make the playoffs."
Even so, the irony of the situation is too rich to ignore. The Broncos, after starting the season 1-4, benched Orton in favor of Tebow, who has gone 7-3 as the starter and led Denver to the top of the AFC West.
The Broncos eventually released Orton, but not until the Chiefs had the need for a starting quarterback after losing the injured Matt Cassel. The Chiefs claimed Orton off waivers to help them make a playoff push, but they were eliminated from contention with last week's overtime loss to the Raiders.
That doesn't change the fact Orton could help knock the Broncos from the playoffs. Oakland would win the division championship and a playoff berth by beating San Diego on Sunday if the Broncos also lose to the Chiefs.
The Broncos might have avoided such an awkward situation by either releasing Orton before Cassel's season-ending injury or holding on to him. But by doing so in late November, they almost guaranteed themselves they would see Orton play for the opponent in the New Year's Day game.
"Any time you put anybody out there, expose anybody on the wire, you take that risk," Denver coach John Fox said. "At the end of the day, we made a decision to go with Tim. Kyle had done nothing but handle himself like a true pro through some tough circumstances. I think it has worked out best for both parties and I wish nothing but the greatest things for Kyle Orton, except this Sunday."
While Orton may have indicated he was treating Sunday's game like just another one, Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel wasn't buying it. He said he talked to Orton on Wednesday in an effort to calm him down.
"Every player that I know wants to play (well) against (his) old team," Crennel said. "He would like to play (well) and I'm sure he would like to win the game. That's what I told him this morning: 'Your job is to help your team win. It's not Kyle versus the Broncos. It's the Chiefs versus the Broncos.'
"Guys have to be reminded of that, any player. I would have done the same for any player, whether it was a defensive lineman, a running back, anybody playing against their old team. Over my years, that's what I've seen, guys getting up and getting hyped for games against their old team."
Orton, in the last year of his contract, could well be playing his last game for the Chiefs. Crennel indicated recently he would welcome Orton's return next season, but as the interim coach, he may not have a say in the matter.
If the Chiefs re-sign Orton, they would in effect be admitting they made a mistake in acquiring Cassel, something that appears unlikely. Their stance would have to change radically if they're to bring Orton back for another year.
He might find an attractive job market waiting for him as an unrestricted free agent. The Broncos were close to trading Orton to Miami before last season began.
"I haven't allowed myself to even think about it," Orton said. "With everything that's been going on since I've been here, I've had enough to keep my mind off of it. I'm going to play this game and let the off-season be the off-season. "All that stuff is for later. I'm just looking at Sunday's game and trying to get a win.
"I've enjoyed playing for this team. There are good guys in the locker room. It hasn't necessarily translated into wins the way we wanted it to but I think we've done some pretty good things and have some things to look forward to. Hopefully, we can show that in this game."