From one of the toughest players ever to strap on a Chiefs helmet comes a memoir of football life and finding home in the Chiefs Kingdom.
Former Notre Dame Fighting Irish football player Tim Grunhard always felt he had something to prove. Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Grunhard wasn’t initially considered a top recruit. But then-Minnesota head coach Lou Holtz liked what he saw in the young offensive lineman, and made a scholarship offer that carried over when Holtz took the job in South Bend.
Grunhard flourished under the Golden Dome, helping the Fighting Irish to the 1988 national championship before being selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the 1990 draft.
Grunhard was a staple of Chiefs football in the 1990s, paving the way for Marty Schottenheimer’s physical running attack on the field and becoming a prominent member of the Kansas City community off the field.
The retired lineman shares behind the scenes stories from Chiefs Kingdom, from the unforgettable Martyball era and playing alongside superstars Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, and Derrick Thomas to the modern-day championship team led by Patrick Mahomes. It is an essential read for all Kansas City faithful.
I had the chance to jump on a call this week and talk with Tim Grunhard about his new book, View from the Center. Here’s what we chatted about.
What drew you to play football at the University of Notre Dame?
I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and there were two teams you rooted for: Notre Dame and the Chicago Bears. From as early as I can remember, those two teams were all I heard people talk about. My father was a huge Notre Dame fan, and a huge Chicago Bears fan, and that’s how I got indoctrinated into Notre Dame football. On Sunday mornings, before we went to church, we would watch the replay of the Notre Dame game from Saturday. In my book I tell the story about when I was three or four, my aunt (who lived in New Mexico) bought me a helmet and brought it to Chicago. It was a Kansas City Chiefs helmet, and I’m not sure why she bought me a Chiefs helmet (maybe because they had recently won the Super Bowl), but I cried because it wasn’t a Notre Dame or Chicago Bears helmet. My dad took the helmet and painted it gold, and I wore it everywhere. You can see the Chiefs logo bleeding through the gold, which is kind of funny as those are the two teams I played for in my football career.
What was your favorite memory from Notre Dame?
The easy answer is the 1988 National Championship game, but that pretty much goes without saying. My second favorite football game would be the game versus Colorado (1990) when they were number one and we were number three. We had just gone ahead, and Holtz called the offensive line together. He told us, “we’re going to run the ball down the field and eat up the clock, and we’re going to win this game.” And that’s exactly what we did. We ran the ball 19 or 20 times in a row, wore down the Colorado defense, and scored another touchdown. That’s an offensive lineman’s dream, to eat up the clock and win the game. That was the last game of my college career.
What is your favorite Coach Holtz memory? Joe Moore story?
My favorite memory with Coach Holtz was going through the recruiting process with him. He originally offered me a scholarship while he was still at the University of Minnesota. Coach Faust hadn’t offered me a scholarship as I didn’t fit in with the “mold” of his offensive line. Coach Holtz called me during my shift at Walgreens on the south side of Chicago during the holiday season. My manager came over and told me, “you have a call from some guy who says he is Coach Holtz.” I got on the phone and heard, “Tim Grunhard, we would like to know if you would like to come up to Notre Dame for a visit.” I thought it was someone playing a joke on me, and so I replied, “Who is this??” And it actually WAS Coach Holtz. When I went up to Notre Dame for my visit, I wasn’t guaranteed a scholarship at that point, I was just up there checking out campus, and in the middle of my visit they offered me a scholarship. It was where I always wanted to go, and so getting that opportunity was priceless to me. Especially because there was no way my parents could have afforded to send me to Notre Dame had I not gotten a football scholarship.
As far as Joe Moore goes, he was such a task master when it came to the little details, the fundamentals, and the techniques of the game. During this one game in which I didn’t play well, he told me, “You have one shot, kid, to go out there and play at the next level, and you’re blowing it. You’re not taking advantage of the opportunity you’ve been given, and we think that’s a sin.” And that slapped me back into reality. Joe Moore was my biggest cheerleader when the pro scouts came in to look at me, and I was drafted in the second round by the Kansas City Chiefs. But during my senior year, Coach Moore didn’t think I was playing to the best of my ability, and he let me know that loud and clear.
What was the best, and worst, parts of playing in the NFL?
The best part of playing in the NFL was on Tuesday when you’d get your paycheck. But in all seriousness, it was a job. You had a job to play a kid’s game, a game you loved, and you were getting paid to do that. It is what every kid dreams of, to play football at the professional level in the National Football League. The bad part of playing in the NFL was, unlike college, there were no guarantees that your friends would remain on the team from week to week. One day you’d be at practice with them, and the next day they’d be gone. And you had no control over that. You’d make friends with your teammates, and your wife would make friends with the other wives, and then all of the sudden they’d be gone. It was tough to have that “workplace merry-go-round,” but that’s the reality of the NFL. Anyone could get cut at any time. In college you knew you were going to be with the same group of guys for four years. In the NFL, that fraternity of brothers/camaraderie, didn’t exist like it had in college.
Were you looked at differently in the league than guys from other schools? If so, did you feel any pressure being a player from ND?
Absolutely. One of the dirty little secrets of the NFL is before every game, you go look at your opposing team’s roster and see where they went to college. If you saw a guy who went to a school you had beaten, or to a school that had a lesser record than your school had, you knew you had a leg up on them, and were better than them.
I also know that if someone was playing us, and saw that I went to ND, they’d circle my name as they’d want to show people they could compete with a guy at that level/who had won a National Championship in college. That certainly was a real thing in the NFL.
I would look at a guy on the opposing team who had played football at Alabama in college and think, “oh, he played at the same level as I did.” And if the guy was from a smaller school, you’d know you had a leg up on them.
What was your favorite Chiefs memory?
My favorite Chiefs memory from my playing days was the Monday night football game … Joe Montana vs. John Elway (October 17th, 1994). It was a classic battle. Elway went down and scored the go-ahead touchdown, but with a little over a minute left in the game, gun slinging Joe Montana comes out on the field, makes a joke in the huddle to relax us, and tells us, “We are going to go down the field and score the winning touchdown.” We believed him, and we did just that. He drove us down the field and scored the winning touchdown. It was one of the best Monday Night Football games of all times.
About a year ago, I was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame, and Ring of Fame, which I was able to share with my adult kids. (Three of whom went to Notre Dame, and one went to Saint Louis University.) They were in athletics, and they all know the struggles and adversity you face when playing sports, and they understand the honor of being recognized like that.
What was it like to play with Mike Webster?
What was it like to play with Mike Webster? He was my mentor, and I loved him like a big brother. When I came to Kansas City, he was the first person I met with. He told me, “Hey kid, I don’t want to play this game anymore. My job is to get you ready to play. Let’s get to work. Here’s what you need to know: never walk to the line of scrimmage, always run. Finish every play. Be the smartest guy on the offensive line. Know more than everybody else on the offensive line because you have to be the communicator, and the leader, and the traffic cop for the offensive line.” He helped me make the transition both socially and athletically from college to the NFL.
I had multiple opportunities after I played in the NFL to do color commentating for either college or NFL games, and to do coaching, but I wanted to be around my kids on the weekends and be involved in their lives. And so many times when you have jobs like that, you’re traveling the whole weekend. Mike Webster gave me an opportunity to use football to make a living and gave me an opportunity to thrive in the game, and that’s why I coach high school football now. I know it doesn’t make me a lot of money, and it takes up a lot of time, but I’m trying to pay back what Mike gave to me. I missed out on the signs that he was struggling, and I wish I could have helped him, but we knew so little about CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) back then.
Now I want to pay it back to him by working with kids to use football to get them to college, and even more importantly than that, to teach them life lessons. We all have fourth down situations in our lives where we have to convert. Football is so often a microcosm for life, and there are so many situations in which you have to dig deep and figure out how to get through things both in life and on the field. If I can help kids make better decisions, and not back down from challenges, not only will our communities be better, but our society will become better, too. And then, that makes the country better, which in turn makes the world better. I know I’m starting small in my little community here, but it spreads, and that’s why I do what I do. And it all flows back to Mike Webster.
What made you want to write a book about your experiences?
When COVID came around in 2020, we all had a little bit of extra time on our hands. I knew I had a lot of great stories about growing up on the south side of Chicago, the college recruiting process, playing at Notre Dame, and then going on to become a Kansas City Chief. When I joined the Chiefs in 1990, the organization was trying to build a relationship between the fans and the team, and I was in the heart of that initiative. So, in 2020 I reached out to a local author (David Smale) who helped me put my thoughts together and co-authored it with me. The whole process brought up a lot of great memories. It reminded me of a lot of great times and some tough times, too. I wanted to show the Kansas City football fans what the team was trying to do back when I started in the 1990s. Obviously every NFL team wants to win a Super Bowl, but deeper than that, Marty Schottenheimer and Carl Peterson knew they needed to get the fan base back and excited about Kansas City. In the 1980s the fan base involvement had dropped off, and they knew they needed to get them back, and they had a three-prong approach to do that.
First, they needed to win football games, or the people wouldn’t come out. Second, they wanted the players to go out into the community and become what we call social influencers today; be on radio shows, TV shows, visit local hospitals, high schools, attend events and Christmas tree lightings. Just be a part of the community so that the fans became invested in the players, not just the team. And get the fans to feel like they had ownership in the team, and that they knew the players. And third, he wanted the fans to have ownership of the team, and of the game experience. He knew it cost the fans a lot of money to buy season tickets, and that many of them did that instead of going on vacation. He wanted to make sure the fan base felt they had ownership of what happened on the field and how the team performed.
Can you share with my readers your involvement in the Kansas City community and any philanthropy efforts you may be involved in?
I’ve been the president of the Kansas City Chief’s Ambassadors for the past three years, and have just come off that assignment, but I’m still very active in the organization. It’s a charitable organization comprised of former players and we work with multiple charitable organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Kids with Cancer, and Special Olympics. We also try to be out in the community and be visible to the fans as the current players are busy getting ready for games.
I coach football at Bishop Miege High School. I was the head coach there for seven years. Then I coached with Charlie Weis at the University of Kansas for three years, but I love coaching high school, and I eventually went back to Bishop Miege as an assistant coach, and I coach the offensive line and do run game coordinating and have a blast doing that. I also have a radio show three days a week for 810 WHB. And I am an influencer for a CBD company called American Shaman, and I really believe in their products. So many guys I’ve played with have had issues with opioids and drugs that will really hurt you instead of helping your pain and anxiety.
Fan question ... What’s your favorite BBQ in Kansas City?
I have a little place called LC’s Bar-B-Q, which unless you live in Kansas City, you’ve probably never heard of it. It is off 47th street, kind of close to the stadiums. It’s a little hole in the wall place, but they have the best BBQ. Sometimes people are a little intimidated of going in there as it’s not the prettiest of areas/buildings; but it’s my absolute favorite BBQ. And of course, you have Q39, but LC’s is my hands down favorite.
What have I missed …?
I know somebody brought up all of the guys we have lost from the Holtz era. Dean Brown was my best friend. My being from the south side of Chicago, and him being from Canton, Ohio, we came from two completely different worlds. My dad was a Chicago policeman, and we grew up in a segregated neighborhood in Chicago. I didn’t know many black kids in high school, and Dean and I became best friends at Notre Dame. I brought him home with me to Chicago, and my dad was a bit prejudiced, or stuck in his ways you could say, but he absolutely melted when he reached out to shake Dean’s hand and Dean ran up to him and gave him a great big bear hug. And from that moment on, Dean was like a son to him. And Dean was like a brother to me.
My dad bought me a 1975, lemon yellow Cadillac Eldorado convertible for getting a scholarship to Notre Dame. Dean and I would sit in the front of that car with the top down and drive around campus. Coach Holtz just loved that car. He thought it was the coolest thing. Andre Jones and Todd Lyght were roommates of mine. Rodney Culver and I played against each other when I was with the Chiefs, and he was with the Chargers.
I don’t know why we’ve lost so many guys from that group, but the one lesson I’ve learned from the guys we have lost is to enjoy every day you have. Take advantage of the opportunities that God gives you, and the days that God gives you, because you never know when it’s going to be you, or someone close to you who is no longer here. As coach would say, “seize the day, enjoy the day, and don’t let the little things slip away as you don’t know when it’s the last.” I grieve the guys we have lost but I have a big smile on my face when I think about them. The love and the trust and the commitment that Lou Holtz talked about for all those years was exemplified by the relationships we had in that locker room. It was as special as anything I’ve been around. I thank God for being a part of that 88 team, a part of that locker room, and a part of that recruiting class. I’ve just been so blessed. It’s important to not only grieve, but to also celebrate the time we had together.
I hope you enjoyed my interview with Tim Grunhard. Please, pick up your copy of View from the Center today on Amazon or at your favorite local book seller!
Cheers & GO IRISH!