Bill Kenney began the 1981 season as the club's starting quarterback and directed the Chiefs to a 6–2 start, including a 37–33 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium on Opening Day. Second-round draft choice, running back Joe Delaney electrified the club’s offense by rushing for 1,121 yards, a team single-season record at the time. He was named the AFC’s Rookie of the Year and became the first running back to represent the franchise in the Pro Bowl. Delaney registered a 193-yard performance in a 23–10 victory against the Oilers on November 15, the best single-game total ever amassed by a Kansas City rookie.
Owning an 8–4 record with four games remaining, the Chiefs were poised to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years before hitting a three-game losing skid. Bill Kenney missed the club’s final three contests due to injury as Steve Fuller temporarily reclaimed the starting QB position and guided the club to a 10–6 win at Minnesota, in the final contest played at Metropolitan Stadium. With the Chiefs winning the game, Vikings fans began dismembering the stadium as early as the second half—taking seats, pieces of the scoreboard and even chunks of sod as souvenirs. The victory assured the Chiefs of a 9–7 record, the club’s first winning mark since 1973 as coach Marv Levy increased the club’s victory total for a third consecutive year. Inspired by the Washington Redskins’s “Hail to the Redskins,” Levy penned a fight song for the Chiefs ("Give a Cheer for Kansas City"), but much like the team's Wing-T offense, the concept never really caught on.