KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the final seconds slipped off the clock at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, Kansas City's John Tait and Indianapolis' Rob Morris walked onto the field from opposite sidelines, searching for each other.
Once they were reunited, the former BYU stars shook hands, embraced and chatted briefly. Though they play on different sides of the line of scrimmage, that encounter was the most contact they had with each other all day.
Still, fate and the National Football League schedule brought Tait and Morris, who have been best friends since their days in Provo, together for Morris' first regular-season NFL game. "It was neat to see him in that uniform," Tait said. Between them, they had about 20 friends and relatives in the stands.
In a matchup between two AFC rivals, Morris' Colts defeated Tait's Chiefs, 27-14, before more than 78,000 fans.
Opening Day 2000 was somewhat bittersweet for the pair of ex-Cougars. While Tait is the Chiefs' starting left tackle and one of the top, up-and-coming offensive linemen in the league, Morris, who was drafted in the first round by the Colts last April, never got into the game at middle linebacker. Instead, he was relegated to the special teams, handling kickoff and punt coverage.
"I'm the rookie, and John's the man," said Morris, who now sports something he didn't have at BYU: long sideburns and a goatee. "It's like being a freshman all over again. You have a role to do on the team and you do that role and you go out next week and get ready to be the starting middle linebacker."
In that position for the Colts now is Dwight Hollier, who had five tackles. "It's football, whether you're a linebacker or covering kicks," Morris said. "My role is different right now than it was in college, but that could change."
"I know Rob didn't play as much as he wanted, but that's OK because he's going to be a good player," Tait said. "It's no big deal. Some guys are in positions where they can come in and start right away and some guys aren't. Middle linebacker is one of those positions where it's tough (to break in)."
Some observers believe Morris eventually will become the starter this season, and they see him as a key defensive cog in the Colts' quest for a Super Bowl appearance. With stars like quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and receiver Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis, after posting a 13-3 record last year, is a legitimate AFC title contender.
But for now, Morris is a backup. It didn't surprise him too much that he didn't see more action. "(Hollier) played well. When someone's playing well, you don't anticipate them making a change in the middle of the game," said Morris, who recorded one tackle. "So I'm just going to hang in there. My day will come."
Morris did make the most of his time on the field, however. Whenever the song "Start Me Up" blared over the public address system before kickoffs, Morris responded by bouncing up and down. With the score tied 14-14, Morris' blocking helped spring teammate Payton Williams free for a 52-yard punt return, which led to a field goal that put the Colts up for good, 17-14.
During each of Indianapolis' defensive series, Morris stood on the sidelines and kept his helmet strapped on, ready to jump into the fray. But his chance to get in and to mix it up with Tait and the rest of the Chiefs never materialized.
"I was looking forward to smacking him," Tait said with a laugh. "It would have been nice to hit him a couple of times."
Sunday's contest also marked Kansas City's first home game since the off-season death of Chief linebacker Derrick Thomas. Before the game, the franchise staged a moving tribute to their fallen leader, including a video presentation featuring highlights of Thomas' career, a B-52 flyby and a moment of silence.
"I didn't know him (Thomas) very well since I was only on the team with him for one year," Tait said. "It was nice they honored him like that today. We wanted to play our hearts out for him."
Though busy with their lives in the NFL, Tait and Morris remain close. They talk on the phone three to four times a week, and last summer they vacationed together, traveling to Mexico, among other places. But opportunities to be together during the season are rare.
"It was good to see each other," Tait said. "We haven't seen each other in a while. We'll always be really close."
Friendships and individual performances aside, this was football. Morris walked away from Arrowhead Stadium happy — because his team had won. "Just like coach (Ken Schmidt) at BYU always told us, losing stinks," Morris said. "Every win is a big one."
Tait left disappointed. "As a team, we have to look at ourselves," he said. "I need to look how I played individually and how I can get better. The whole thing was tough. Every loss hurts." The defeat snapped the Chiefs' streak of 11 straight home-opening victories.
Now that Steve Young has retired and Ty Detmer is out for the 2000 season, BYU fans might be searching for familiar faces to cheer for in the NFL. There are others besides Morris and Tait, of course.
Former Cougar Larry Moore has been the Colts' starting center the last couple of years. Next week, Tait will play against another former teammate, rookie defensive lineman Byron Frisch, who plays for the Tennessee Titans.
"We all played together, and we all talked about our dreams of making it to the NFL," Tait said. "To see those dreams become reality is cool because those guys worked their butts off. They worked really hard to get where they are today."
Tait knows down the road he and his best friend, Morris, will finally be able to smack each other around on an NFL football field.
"Maybe," he said, "we'll meet again in the AFC championship game."