The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't played a regular season game in Kansas City since 1986, but at least three Bucs players have played their fair share of games at Arrowhead Stadium.
On Sunday, Bucs running back Michael Bennett, defensive tackle Ryan Sims and defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson, will return to Kansas City to face their former team.
Sims, who was a first-round pick with the Chiefs in 2002, played in Kansas City for five seasons (2002-06) before being traded to Tampa Bay during the '07 offseason. Sims said he is playing where he wanted to be all along.
"I'm glad to be out of there. It wasn't a good situation for me," said Sims, who has notched six tackles and 1.5 sacks as a backup nose tackle for the Bucs in 2008. "I'm glad to be here. It was frustrating there. I was drafted there to try to help the team, but no matter what happened things kept going the same way, kind of like what they're going through right now. They historically have had defensive problems.
"It was funny how Tampa was number one on my list. I never told my agent that, I was just ready to get out and start over. God willing, he brought me here. I really wanted to get back to the Southeast. Tampa is known for great defense. I was on a team that was all about offense each year."
Sims is part of a Tampa Bay defense that ranks No. 5 overall in the NFL. Kansas City's defense, on the other hand, currently ranks 31st in the NFL, but 5-3 Bucs are expecting the 1-6 Chiefs to play for pride on Sunday.
"We have to respect them on their home turf," said Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton. "We have to go out there and play our game. We have a great opportunity to go into the bye week with six wins, and that would put us in a good position heading into our bye."
Wilkerson played in Kansas City for five seasons (2003-07) before signing with Tampa Bay as a free agent during the 2008 offseason. Like Sims, Wilkerson has been used as a situational defender along the defensive line. He's notched 10 tackles and one sack in his first season with the Bucs.
"I'm really looking forward to this game," said Wilkerson. "Having played there for five years and going back home, I know a lot of the guys on the team, both offensively and defensively, so I'm going to have a lot of fun with this."
Wilkerson suggested Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and the team's coaching staff have leaned on him to provide some information on how to attack Kansas City's defense.
"I try to help where I can," said Wilkerson. "Learning the defense we have here is taking up a lot of my time, but I tell them what I can. If it helps us then that's a plus for us. If it doesn't I know we're still going to go out there and do a great job."
Bennett is familiar with Kansas City's defense from his one and a half seasons with the Chiefs. Bennett seemed to temper his enthusiasm for returning to Kansas City due to the fact that he doesn't know whether he'll even play vs. the Chiefs. Bennett has been inactive for half of Tampa Bay's games this season.
"It's kind of the type of game you want to go back and play in and play against some of the guys you had a chance to get to know before," said Bennett. "We just want to go in there and get the win and have fun in the process."
A former first-round pick with Minnesota, Bennett was glad to be traded from Kansas City to Tampa Bay during the 2007 season due to a lack of playing time with the Chiefs. Little did Bennett know that his playing time would actually be diminished in Tampa Bay.
"I look and search for answers everyday, and I still can't answer them," Bennett said when asked why he isn't playing more for the Bucs. "You have to ask the powers that be and the people that make the decisions.
"I definitely played more there. I was active every week and I had a chance to play at least 15-20 plays per game. I'm healthy and my body is feeling great. I'm ready to go. Whenever number 29 gets called up to do his job I'll be ready."
The Chiefs could certainly use Bennett for this game. Kansas City running back Larry Johnson might not play due to off-the-field issues and a possible suspension from the NFL, and Jamaal Charles is nursing an ankle injury. Tampa Bay's defense still has respect for Kansas City's offense, particularly first-year quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who is playing in place of injured quarterbacks Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle.
"It doesn't necessarily make them weak," Wilkerson said of the loss of Johnson and Charles. "They have some good backs there still. They also have Thigpen. We watched some film on him today and he can really run. A lot of people didn't really know about him before, but now people know he an run and throw."
Bucs rookie cornerback Aqib Talib concurred with Wilkerson's thoughts regarding the Chiefs offense, which ranks 27th overall in the NFL.
"It's a pretty productive offense," said Talib. "You have a tight end like Tony Gonzalez and a receiver like Dwayne Bowe, a couple of backs in Dontrell Savage and Jamaal Charles, I've seen them live, so I already know what types of backs they are. And their quarterback can run as well."
The three former Chiefs players are doing their best to prepare their Buccaneer teammates for the raucous atmosphere at Arrowhead Stadium, which holds over 79,000 fans per game.
"It was a great experience," said Bennett. "My thing was when they'd come out and do the national anthem. That was the biggest charge I think I've ever gotten as a player to go out there and have the crowd yell, ‘Home of the Chiefs.' It just sends a charge through your entire body. I was telling some of the guys about that. There's a lot of electricity in that stadium when it is sold out."
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden suffered his first loss as a head coach at Kansas City in 1998, but he owns a 3-1 record vs. the Chiefs from his coaching days with the Oakland Raiders. Ironically, Gruden has a chance to become Tampa Bay's all-time winningest head coach with a win in Kansas City on Sunday.
“It’s a great venue,” Gruden said of Arrowhead Stadium. “It’s a great facility, a loud place. They have a tremendous, devoted following and base of fans. They have nice tradition there. You’ll see the Hall of Fame up there with Willie Linear and Bobby Bell and all of the great players that played there. They have had very good football teams over the years. It’s the only show in town. When they play on Sunday everybody is interested. It’s just a neat place to play. I have a lot of respect for [president] Carl Peterson, [head coach] Herm Edwards and the Chiefs organization.”
Tampa Bay is just 1-3 on the road and its offense has struggled to score touchdowns away from Raymond James Stadium. Gruden knows the Bucs must play better in all phases in order to win in Kansas City.
“About 11 points,” Gruden said when asked what the difference was playing on the road as opposed to playing at home, where the Bucs are undefeated. “We’ve been in close games, but we haven’t played good football. We have played some good teams on the road. We’ve got to get more done offensively, generate more turnovers and coach better. I like our team. I’m really concerned about injuries. It’s hard to have a practice. It’s not like we’ve laid eggs on the road. We’ve had chances to win all three games.”
The good news for the Buccaneers is the Chiefs are just 1-6 on the season, which has apparently hindered fan enthusiasm and attendance.
"It can be a really tough place to play, especially when they have the crowd into it," Sims said of Arrowhead Stadium. "From what I hear from my brother who is living out there, there aren't a lot of people going to the games right now. In the years I was there the crowd was crazy. It made things really tough on the opposing offense."
No one knows what type of crowd will show up for Sunday's game. Regardless of the fan turnout, the Bucs are expecting the Chiefs to show up and attempt to protect their home turf.
"They're down, but they're never out, especially at Arrowhead," Bennett said. "We will have to be on top of our game to leave there with a win."