"Classless." In the last week, this or things like it were frequently being applied to Chiefs fans. Fans were classless for flying a banner which called out people by name. Fans were classless for cheering when Matt Cassel was hurt. On the whole, I agreed; these actions are not characteristic of Chiefs fans. We leave such scumbaggery to our west-coast rivals, the inhabitants of the Brown Hole. But, as I learned to ask in a Dynamic Marriage class: anytime you are confronted with negative behavior from another person, you should ask the question "what makes this make sense?" How does a fan base, which has a long-standing reputation for being among the best in professional sports get accused of being "classless" twice in the same week? What makes that make sense?
First, I'd say it's not just because we are losing. Chiefs fans have suffered through multiple losing seasons and still maintained our reputation of being supportive. Just the losing doesn't make this make sense.
It's also not just because of bad play. As Eric Winston pointed out, he has not been playing the best football either, his game against the Chargers being particularly error prone. But his name wasn't on the banner flying around the town. Bad play by itself doesn't make this make sense.
To me, what makes this make sense, is a perception, real or imagined, that Matt Cassel is both incapable of playing high-caliber professional football and is still the unquestioned starter at quarterback for the Chiefs. There is a perception that Matt Cassel will never be held accountable for bad play, and that Scott Pioli is the reason for this. That would be why it was their names on the banner. That is why there was cheering for an injury. It wasn't happiness for a person being physically harmed (at least for the most part. Some people really don't have respect for human life and well-being, but I don't think many of the people cheering are like that). It was a cry of relief that the team would now be forced to try something different; that they would be forced in a different direction.
Make no mistake, I would not have cheered Matt Cassel's injury, and am not condoning or excusing it now. On the contrary, it was wrong, if for no other reason than because it fosters enmity between the players and fans. For a team to really be successful, it needs the support of its fan base. Unfortunately this has been a very lopsided position for the fan base of late.
The long years of cheering of a supportive fan base turned to the boos of frustration. They booed because of the team's steadfast reliance on Matt Cassel. They booed because of the mounting evidence that this team was being quarterbacked by an inadequate player, and no one capable of changing that has made any attempt to do so. They booed because they wanted change. They booed, and everyone on the sidelines, in the press box, and in the owners box seemed deaf to their boos. The team was deaf to their booing fans, how then can the fans be blamed that when they cheered, the team actually bothered to listen?
The fans that cheered a fallen Matt Cassel were wrong (my opinion, disagree if you feel like). Concern for a persons health should always outweigh his performance. I'd like to think that many of those who cheered in the stadium or even those who were secretly glad for his injury are humiliated today. I know I am. I didn't cheer, clap or smile. But a player for my team was injured and I was not first concerned for his health. For that, I am ashamed. But there should be plenty of shame to go around, team members included.
Eric Winston may be ashamed of the team's performance so far. I would imagine he probably is. But he should also be ashamed of indicting 70,000 fans and countless more at home for the actions of the minority. His broad brush risks alienating those who are on his side. I don't really hold it against him that he was disgusted. He was upset and said so, just like the cheering fans. When a team is losing, there are always plenty of mistakes to go around.
The biggest one, is that Matt Cassel should not have been in the game to be injured. Regardless of who you think is responsible for all the turnovers that have been killing the team's chances of winning this year, ultimately it still comes to the quarterback. In the words of the late, great Hopper of A Bug's Life, "First rule of Leadership: everything is your fault." Todd Haley was fired for his leadership performance last year; Bill Muir: conveniently dismissed; Thomas Jones and Casey Wiegmann: both locker-room leaders allowed to leave on expiring contracts. Presumably, their performance had something to do with the fact that they are not here anymore. Why then, despite bad performance by him and the team, is Matt Cassel's job security not in question? Why has Crennel stated multiple times that he has not even considered pulling Matt Cassel?
At some point, a person digs himself into a hole so deep that for his own good you let him take a seat. It should have happened for Matt Cassel after the pick six against the Chargers. It should have happened after the goal-line fumble. I would argue that it should have happened the second you were unwilling to risk a 4th down hail-mary on your opponent's 42 yard line with only 12 seconds left in the first half against the Ravens. In whom exactly did Crennel not have faith? Did he think the offensive line would give up a sack? Did he think Matt would turn the ball over again? The worst case (and unlikely) scenario is that it would put the Ravens into a position to score before the end of the half. The best case: you go into the half up a touchdown. Most likely: An incomplete gives the Ravens the ball at their own 42 yard line with a few seconds left. By punting you are suggesting to your team and fans that the worst case scenario is more likely. If Matt Cassel cannot be allowed to risk that, why was he in the game?
I hope the player-fan relationship is not irreparably damaged. Morale is an important part of winning, and if you don't like who you are playing for, you are less likely to play well. In a way, it's a good thing the Chiefs are away for the Tampa Bay game and on bye after that. We'll call it a separation which we hope will help us rebuild the relationship. When the fans return to Arrowhead, it will be against a common rival: the Raiders. In the meantime, I will still support the Chiefs, even if Matt Cassel starts at quarterback. I will root for him to be successful despite himself. I won't cheer if he gets hurt, and I won't blame him when he fails. He is just doing what he is told to do as well as he can do it. He should not be expected to take himself out of the game. Fault falls upward.