Saturday, December 1, 2012
The weekend before, we had moved in to our new house. I had spent the whole week getting things unpacked and organized, but at the dawn of this particular Saturday, the house was in pretty good shape. My wife had left early for her annual Christmas shopping day with her family and friends, and for the first time in months, I could look forward to taking a day off. The DVR was loaded with movies I liked, and I was anticipating a very pleasant day on the sofa.
Instead - like tens of thousands of others - I spent the day engrossed in television and Internet reports as the horrific facts surrounding the deaths of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher came to light.
Two different people in my life have committed suicide. I knew both of them well, but one was among my closest friends. It's been 25 years since my friend Mike took his own life, and I still can't get over it. If you've had a similar experience, you know what I am talking about. You have questions that will never be answered… guilt that can never be assuaged… anger that will never subside.
But most importantly, the experience changes you in fundamental ways. You can never look at life in the same way again.
That Saturday morning, a Michael Jackson song popped into my head. It stayed there for the whole weekend:
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
No message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself then make a change
At first, I couldn't figure it out. But by Monday morning, I thought I understood.
I wasn't there when either of my friends committed suicide, but I had heard graphic descriptions of the scene when their bodies were discovered. Those secondhand images still haunt me today. And on that Monday morning, I realized that Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel and Gary Gibbs were carrying an even more horrible image around with them. They had been there, and saw what happened with their own eyes. I felt terrible for them.
So for the next few weeks, I kept hearing that song in my mind, and started wondering how this tragic incident might change how Pioli, Crennel and Gibbs approached their jobs with the Chiefs. As we now know, however, this proved to be a moot point.
And the song finally went away.
Yesterday - thanks to a link in AP's Arrowheadlines - I read a technorati.com interview with social media specialist Travis Wright, and then went on to read the background of the interview on Wright's web site. Basically Wright believes that he is responsible for the firing of Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel. Wright thinks it's because of a Twitter kerfuffle he had with an employee of the Chiefs public relations department that Wright turned into an anti-Chiefs crusade through Twitter and Reddit. Wright also claims to have brought Eric Granell and Marty McDonald together to create the SaveOurChiefs movement.
I read all this and thought, Hogwash. This idiot must have an ego the size of North Dakota. Pioli and Crennel were fired because the Chiefs had the worst record in the NFL last year. Plain and simple.
And then I started hearing that song in my head again.
In an AP article I wrote in November 2009, I argued that Clark Hunt's hiring of slick businessman Scott Pioli was exactly the kind of move that his father would have made; in experience, style and substance, Pioli much resembled his predecessor Carl Peterson, and like his father, Hunt was going to depend on Pioli to run the franchise without interference:
Clark Hunt also knew that while he wanted to have more control over the franchise than his father exercised, too much control is a bad thing. He would know this as instinctively as a child raised on UAW barbecues knows to pull the Democratic lever in the voting booth, or a child raised on debutante balls on the south lawn of the Nelson Art Gallery knows to reach for the Republican one - because in the Hunt family, it is axiomatic: if it's done the way Al Davis does it, it's wrong.
So whoever took over at One Arrowhead Drive was bound to have the keys for Dad's red 1969 GTO convertible handed to them with very few preconditions, little interference in the way they did things, and plenty of time to get it right. And therefore, fans who are worried that the gut instincts of Scott Pioli and Todd Haley will lead to the ruin of this proud franchise are just going to have to tough it out. Only time will tell if P&H can locate the hard-to-find parts that will be needed to restore this vintage machine to showroom condition.
There is, however, no question that this time around, Clark Hunt has made substantial departures from the way his father did things. He interviewed and hired the new head coach himself, and made the coach responsible directly to him. Only then did he hire a GM - who was also responsible directly to Hunt. Lamar Hunt would never have made such moves.
But these changes in approach were nothing compared to Hunt's crowning touch: personally bringing Andy Reid to the city - an event that Hunt allowed to become a media event, with news helicopters circling overhead as the young billionaire walked into Arrowhead carrying a suitcase, for God's sake! Lamar Hunt would never have put the spotlight on himself in such a way.
And now I finally understand why that song keeps coming back to me.
Like me in 1979 and 1987, Clark Hunt wasn't there when Jovan Belcher pulled the trigger. But I think it's inescapable that the tragedy impacted him on a fundamental level.
So as he carried his bag into the building on January 4, Clark Hunt was sending Chiefs Nation a message: A month ago, I looked into the mirror, and I didn't like what I saw. I realized it was time to make a change - not just with the people who run this franchise, but with me, too. Starting today.
It's reasonable to suggest that a man like Clark Hunt might better serve his fellow man by devoting his vast resources to charity. But an NFL owner - particularly in Kansas City, where the Chiefs have become part of the very fabric of our community and identity - has a responsibility beyond the dollars and cents of a sports franchise.
Lamar Hunt understood this responsibility, but believed he could best serve it by staying above the operation of the team. At first, Clark Hunt did what anyone would do: he did his best to follow his father's example. But I now believe that on that awful Saturday in December, Clark looked in the mirror and realized it was time to do things his own way - in short, to be his own man, and accept full responsibility for the care and maintenance of Dad's prized red 1969 GTO.
I loved Lamar Hunt. Between 1993 and 2009 - when I was covering his team for a local broadcast outlet - I loved talking to him. As so many have said, he was one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. I will never forget one particular moment. Lamar was in the locker room following a very exciting game that the Chiefs had won. His clothes were disheveled. His Chiefs tie - over the years, I saw him wearing many different ones - was askew. And his glasses were broken… held together with white adhesive tape.
For all I knew, Mr. Hunt broke his glasses in the car on the way to the stadium - or three days earlier, and he just hadn't bothered to get them replaced. He was that kind of guy. But he sure looked like a man who just broken them… celebrating in his private box with his friends. It was priceless. Here was an elderly businessman who could buy and sell everybody in that crowded room - including some millionaire athletes - and for all the world, he looked like Joe Fan celebrating in the bar after an exciting game on TV.
That's the kind of an owner you have to love.
But it may now be time to say that while Lamar's huge heart was in the right place, he may have done his beloved Chiefs somewhat of a disservice through his basic approach to the team. I won't criticize him for it, though. Every good thing about the Chiefs - and indeed, many of the good things about the NFL itself - are because of what he did for his team and its fans. Lamar's way of doing things did, after all, bring us a championship season we will never forget, and later, a solid decade of success that forever cemented the Chiefs to its city.
And now... Clark Hunt has finally stepped from his father's shadow. Things are going to be done in a different way, and Clark Hunt is going to be the guy who will take ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of what is now - finally and inalterably - his team.
It's far too early to say, of course, if this young man's new approach will help improve the team enough to finally return it to the championship game his father named. But I, for one, think it's foolish to bet against a man who knows himself.
And Clark Hunt has looked in the mirror.