CLEVELAND — Kareem Hunt’s about to face the team that drafted and developed him before deciding to push the running back away.
The Kansas City Chiefs won a Super Bowl without Hunt. He wants to stop them from getting another one.
Hunt, whose career briefly derailed in Kansas City before being renewed with a second chance in Cleveland, expects to have “high” emotions Sunday when the Browns visit the Chiefs in the AFC divisional round.
He’ll run with anger, but said it won’t be aimed at the Chiefs. They’re just the next team in his path.
“I play with a lot of emotion, but this will probably be a little bit more,” he said.
This isn’t about revenge for Hunt, who insists he doesn’t carry a grudge toward the Chiefs for releasing him in 2018 after a disturbing video surfaced of him shoving a woman to the floor and kicking her during an argument.
He lied to them about his involvement and the 25-year-old paid the price. Then The NFL suspended him eight games.
Hunt says this return is simply about football.
“It’s a big game,” he said. “I came in with those guys over there. This is the first time playing against some of my best friends.”
Back in 2017, when Patrick Mahomes was still a rookie backup quarterback with a big arm and big potential, Hunt, a third-round draft pick from Toledo, seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the NFL in rushing.
He was a rising star on a rising team, but his off-field behavior snuffed any glow.
In the aftermath of the video, Hunt was released and appeared to be untouchable before former Kansas City general manager John Dorsey, who had moved on to Cleveland after his own messy separation from the Chiefs, signed him.
Back in his hometown, Hunt’s now part of a renaissance with the Browns (12-5), who knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round.
It tore at Hunt last winter when the Chiefs won it all. He told a police officer after he was pulled over for speeding — his only misstep since joining the Browns — that it “hurts my soul’ that he wasn’t part of Kansas City’s win.
It’s not that he wasn’t thrilled for Mahomes, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and other ex-teammates he considers “family,” Hunt just wanted to share the experience. It’s what drives him now.
“My biggest goal coming into the NFL was to win a Super Bowl,” Hunt said. “The Super Bowl has been on my mind since I got drafted to Kansas City. They were able to get that goal, which they deserve. That is a good program over there, a good football team and good people.”
As this strange season has unfolded, Hunt, who has a combined 1,145 yards and scored 11 touchdowns, had a premonition the Browns would face the Chiefs.
“Kareem talked about this game all year like he knew it was going to happen,” said his running mate, Browns Pro Bowler Nick Chubb. “He’s excited for it. I am excited to watch him go out there and play. He’s ready for it.”
After last week’s win at Pittsburgh, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield thought Hunt was running “like he wanted to get to Kansas City.” Hunt then raised some eyebrows by posting that this week’s game was ”personal.”
On Thursday, Hunt said his remarks were only meant that he was playing good friends — not to soothe any agenda. He’ll run hard. Always does.
“Bragging rights,” he said.
While he didn’t leave Kansas City’s organization on good terms, Hunt has remained close with its players and Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“We love Kareem,” Reid said this week. “He was here. He’s a heck of a kid. I’m so happy for him that he’s doing well, and really when its all said and done, that’s the important thing — you put the game aside and hope these guys end up in the right direction so they can sustain that for the rest of their life.”
Just as they were against the Steelers, the Browns are underdogs. And, for the second week in a row, they’ve found some extra motivation.
Earlier this week, Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins responded to a fan on Twitter by saying he didn’t think the Browns would provide much competition. Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster fired up Cleveland with his “The Browns is the Browns” remark, which has since become a rallying cry across Northeast Ohio.
“We’ll just see on Sunday,’′ Hunt said. “If he believes that, we’ll see what he thinks after the game.”
NOTES: Browns Pro Bowl LG Joel Bitonio remains on the COVID-19 list. He’s eligible to return, but has yet to be cleared. ... WR KhaDarel Hodge returned and practiced after missing three games with the virus. ... All-Pro RT Jack Conklin, LD B.J. Goodson (shoulder) and TE David Njoku sat out their second straight practice.