Six years is usually a long enough time to get to know a person. But Kansas City knows just one side of Dwayne Bowe, the persona he hauled out on fall Sundays.
The rest of his story may be known only to those who worked side by side with him for the Chiefs.
“People think Dwayne Bowe is one of those diva wide receivers, a loud-mouthed guy and all that,” quarterback Matt Cassel said. “But that’s not what he is at all. If you go around this locker room and talk to everyone, not one guy would say they have a problem with Dwayne Bowe and the manner he goes about his business.
“That’s the thing about Dwayne. A lot of people only see him on game day. He likes to have fun. He might do a touchdown celebration where he points to the back of his jersey and do all that. But that’s just for show. He’s not one of those guys who comes back to the huddle screaming for the ball or cussing people out. He’s respectful to players. He’s respectful to coaches. He’s not one of those guys that talks back. He just gets his work done. And then on Sunday, you know what? It’s OK to have some fun.”
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Kansas City may get no more opportunities to get to know Bowe, unless he’s passing through town while playing for another team.
This much is certain: Bowe’s season is over. He missed last week’s game against Oakland because of broken ribs and won’t play Sunday against Indianapolis at Arrowhead Stadium or in the season’s final game against the Broncos in Denver.
His time with the Chiefs could be finished as well, though that is far from a sure thing. His contract, the one-year deal worth $9.5 million that he signed this season as the Chiefs’ franchise player, is up when the season is through.
The Chiefs declined to offer Bowe a long-term deal that satisfied him, making it unlikely they would do so next year, either. They could make him their franchise player again, but doing so would come at an even greater cost in 2013.
If he’s done in Kansas City, here’s what the Chiefs will miss the most: his remarkably consistent numbers. Except for 2009, when he missed five games, Bowe’s annual receptions fluctuated between 70 and 86, and his annual yardage fell between 995 and 1,162. He was on pace this year for 73 and 986 before his injury.
He ranks second in career catches among Chiefs wide receivers with 415, one behind Henry Marshall. He is third all-time among receivers at any position. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is the runaway leader.
“Dwayne has put up some great numbers,” said former wide receiver Eddie Kennison, a teammate of Bowe’s for one season with the Chiefs. “If anybody looks at his numbers, they’d have to say he did everything he was asked to do by the Chiefs. He came in and he produced. Nobody can really say anything different about Dwayne Bowe.”
Yet some maddening moments kept Bowe from taking his place as one of football’s elite receivers. He dropped passes at an alarming rate, including what would’ve been a touchdown reception toward the end of a 2008 game in New England that would’ve enabled the Chiefs to pull an upset for the ages. He coughed up an onside kick that cost the Chiefs a victory that same season against San Diego, and there were many others.
But he had some great games, too. He had a pair of 13-catch games in 2010. His juggling touchdown catch last year against Indianapolis is still shown on highlight reels. His streak of seven games with a touchdown reception is a team record.
Add it all up and, despite his flaws, Bowe is by some measures the best wide receiver the Chiefs have ever had.
“I think he’s an outstanding football player and really a tough matchup because of both his size and speed and his ability to go and get the ball,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s a big, physical receiver. He can go and get the ball on those contested throws. Anytime you have those big, physical guys that can really go up and get the ball, they present some real challenges.”
Bowe came into the NFL a ready-made player. He needed no transition period, catching eight passes for 164 yards against San Diego in his fourth professional game. But he refined his game greatly in those first few years with the Chiefs.
“He has grown so much since he’s come into the league,” said Travis Daniels, a college teammate at Louisiana State and for the last four seasons a defensive back for the Chiefs. “He had a lot of raw talent, but he didn’t really understand the game yet.
“We were apart for a few years by the time I got to the Chiefs. His knowledge of the game by then was so much better. He learned how to set up a defender. He didn’t just use his ability anymore. He understands defensive concepts. He knows how to read safeties.”
Bowe clashed with Todd Haley when he joined the Chiefs as head coach in 2009, but Haley’s insistence that Bowe adhere to a strict standard with regard to his work ethic made Bowe a better player. Bowe’s best season came in 2010, when he was named to the Pro Bowl after setting a Chiefs record with 15 receiving touchdowns.
“That was tough for him because he took a lot of criticism,” Cassel said. “But he responded like a true professional. He’s gotten better each and every year. That speaks to how hard he works. He doesn’t take days off.
“He was a guy that I was able to depend on. He was a guy that I was able to trust. I looked to him because he’s a guy I felt would consistently work to get open.”
If the cost was Bowe pointing to the nameplate on the back of his jersey after a touchdown, count Cassel among those who could live with that.
“He’s not one of those guys that’s a challenge for a quarterback to work with,” Cassel said. “He doesn’t have an ego in the locker room. He comes in, shuts his mouth and gets his work done. He’s here every day, 30 minutes before meetings start, and he’s with the receivers coach going through his routes and what he needs to do.”