KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Dave Pear can't remember the sweetness or the relief. He can't picture the anxious final moments on the field or the party in the locker room. Time and his flickering memory won't let him.
Pear was a Tampa Bay defensive tackle 32 years ago, when the Buccaneers beat New Orleans and snapped what is still the NFL's longest losing streak. It was the first of two consecutive wins for the Bucs. Too bad Pear can't recall much about the day his team's luck changed.
"I just remember that our record was oh-and-26," he says now.
The Chiefs don't have it that bad, but they are approaching another of Tampa Bay's dubious milestones. Kansas City has won two games since October 2007, and if the Chiefs lose today to the Dallas Cowboys, they will have done what the expansion Bucs did years ago: lose 28 of 30 games.
"Kind of puts your resolve and character to the test," says Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, a rookie for the winless 1976 Bucs. "Each one of us, we had to make a decision: Are we going to throw in the towel?"
Decades have passed since a team lost this often and for this long, and there is fallout from such a stretch. Some of those Tampa Bay players spent fruitless years with the team, and careers were torpedoed after being part of such a historic loser.
Pear's lot was worse: The repeated beatings he took in practices and games — none of it validated by a victory until that Sunday in December 1977 — eventually cost him his long-term health and short-term memory. Now, the 56-year-old doesn't even recall that the game was at the Superdome. Too many concussions, he says.
Pear says he feels for the Chiefs, whose equipment, safety regulations and pay are better than what players had in the 1970s. But the dread of another loss and the feelings of unrewarded sacrifice never change.
The Chiefs have spent parts of three seasons trying to remember how to win. Weeks keep passing — and losses, injuries and thankless practices keep adding up. The rewards, other than a paycheck and a roster spot, just aren't there.
Chiefs safety Jarrad Page sits in front of his locker and discusses how much his team has given to become a consistent winner, and how much more it will take.
"It kind of gets to the point where you're like: 'You know what? You've got to try to do more,' " Page says, a long practice behind him but a long day just beginning. "You work hard to get a certain result. It's frustrating."
* * *
No matter the week or the weather or the mood, the days seem to run together.
Players trudge off the practice field, soaked with sweat and caked with dirt, and head to a joyless locker room. They pull pads off sore shoulders, rip tape off beaten legs, and try to conjure whatever thoughts they can from a time when winning wasn't a faded memory.
The Chiefs look exhausted most times, disheartened at others. Some players try to muster answers. Many stopped trying long ago.
"You're taught from day one in this business — whether you won the last one or you lost the last one — forget it," center Rudy Niswanger says, dropping his 301-pound frame onto a stool. "If you have a great play, move on. If you have a terrible play, move on."
It has been 315 days since the Chiefs won a football game, preseason or regular season, and they haven't won two in a row since more than a year before that. They've tried changing coaches, overhauling the roster, entering a game with unrealistic confidence, telling themselves that they're respected by no one, playing for fans, in spite of fans, relying on rushing, relying on passing, and remembering the edict that there is nothing too unbecoming or unorthodox if it means a chance at a win.
"Everybody works too hard," Chiefs coach Todd Haley says, "puts too much into it, misses their families. A win cures a lot of pain."
Those old Buccaneers teams, long regarded as the epitome of NFL losers, started to turn it around a little after that 30-game stretch that comprised the franchise's first two seasons in 1976-77 and the first two games of '78. Tampa Bay won five games in 1978, the first 16-game season, then won 10 in '79. But the Chiefs' challenging schedule and their lack of tangible progress so far wouldn't seem to bode well for a similar turnaround at this time.
The days at Arrowhead change, but the routine rarely does. Players arrive early, some telling themselves during the drive to Chiefs headquarters that things must get better today, and begin the process of meetings, practice, treatment, weightlifting, more meetings, rest and repeat.
"It would be easy for guys to come in and shut it down," Page says. "I'm sure there are people around that would do that. The thing I like about this team is that guys are looking for a way to turn it around instead of just saying, 'Forget it.' "
* * *
The doors open, and the Chiefs locker room is quiet. Most players have scattered on a Thursday, but some laugh and relax in a place with reminders of better times surrounding them.
On a raised wall above the lockers, there are black-and-white photographs of Derrick Thomas, Len Dawson, Bobby Bell, Hank Stram and others. Men who won. That's how they're remembered.
The players in here realize that hasn't been their fortune. They are the foot soldiers, and unless they do something to change the Chiefs' own historic string, their pictures will be part of an era Kansas City would rather forget.
For now, running back Larry Johnson chats with several teammates. Punter Dustin Colquitt snaps kicker Ryan Succop with a towel. Niswanger, the center, discusses the contentment he gets from hidden sources.
"On this play," he says, "I've got my hands in the right spot; on this play, my feet — the little bitty things, there has to be pride in those. When you do those things right, they all culminate together to create the big things, create the wins that you're really looking for."
A few stalls over, Page sits near his locker. Another game is on the horizon. Page says that's another chance. He scans the locker room.
"It's a hopeful place," he says. "There's millions of people out there that hate to do what they do. Guys in this locker room are fortunate enough to do what we love to do — even if things aren't going the way that we want them to go right now.
"The thing I like about this team is that guys want to be here. They're trying to figure out what extra can we do. Can we do this? Can we study this a little harder?
"You've just got to be optimistic, and you have to work hard every day to try to get this thing rolling. I don't really see how you can come in here and be discouraged. The team is getting better. It's going to get better."