It's Monday November 7th, and we are fresh off a loss to the Miami Dolphins. I have wondered for a week when I should publish this story, and I was hoping it would come after another victory. Parts of it were written during the week and parts were written over the weekend. Seeing as though we are all down a bit, I thought I'd drop this one in here and see if this helped out at all with lifting the spirits for a bit. Here we go
The alarm clock was blaring at 8 AM on October 24th. I opened my eyes and thought about the work week that was ahead. In doing so I kept getting distracted by the thought of the Chiefs 28-0 victory over the Oakland Raiders the day before. My friends tell me I am obsessed with the Chiefs so I didn't think much of it when I was replaying the game in my head.
It was at that moment that a very strange thought entered my brain: Was it feasible for me to actually fly out for the huge Monday Night Football game? Surely the price of a flight, hotel and game ticket would be far too much for me to handle. On a whim, I checked some travel sites and I was amazed at the price I could get for a flight. And even more surprised that there were plenty of rooms available at the Holiday Inn, which is within walking distance to the stadium! How would I get a ticket though? StubHub and other sites want insane prices and single tickets are hard to find most times. It was here, on Arrowhead Pride, that a great man named Chiefs40 offered me a FREE ticket to the game and I would be sitting with him at the 40 yard line if I decided to go. That "if" was erased in minutes as I booked all the necessary arrangements and I would be heading to KC for the biggest game of the year so far.
This story (if you wish to read it) is a long one. It has some interesting moments and it has some that may leave you saying, "I just don't care". Above all though, this is a story about passion. The passion that I and so many others have for our beloved Kansas City Chiefs as well as just how very lucky the people are who can see a game in Arrowhead on a regular basis. I brought the passion and I saw it in abundance in my few days in Kansas City and would like to share it with you.
A little background (as quickly as I can) on this ever evolving love story: I was born and raised in Rhode Island. My father was a Packers fan. He allowed me to choose any football team I wanted to follow. Oddly enough, I very much enjoyed the Browns for a bit, but settled in on the Chiefs because I loved the red uniforms (I wasn't bright enough to realize maybe I was just a Marty disciple). I also loved them because NOBODY else in my school liked them and I always liked the underdog and liked being different. It developed over time, I felt the sting of the playoff losses in the 90's, remembered the end of the Marty era, felt bad for Gunther, loved the Vermeil teams, was nauseated by the Herm squads and have enjoyed Haleyball for the last three seasons.
Arrowhead was like Mecca or Graceland to me. It was on the bucket list before I ever heard the phrase bucket list. In 2009, I traveled with my girlfriend to see a game for the first time, only to see the boys lose in overtime to Miles Austin and the Dallas Cowboys. It was a wonderful experience that I would not have traded for anything, but as you will read, this recent visit was something entirely different.
Sunday the 30th of October was here and I arose at 4:00 AM EST to finish my packing and to prepare to head to the Providence airport (quick trivia note: the Providence airport is not in Providence. It is in a city called Warwick). After connecting to another flight in Chicago, I arrived in Kansas City at around 11:30 local time. I decided that renting a car was my best choice so I needed to take the airport shuttle to the rental car center. The shuttle arrived and there was a man named Ross that picked us up. This is where I knew I wasn't in the Northeast anymore. Ross was one of the single most engaging and friendly people I ever knew for less than five minutes. He greeted everyone with a smile, a quick compliment and talked to everyone about the big game the next night. He even had been given two tickets from an ESPN staffer who had taken the shuttle the day before and this was going to be his first game in many years. I thought to myself, "Damn, kindness does have rewards". I also thought to myself that this would NEVER happen where I live. In case you don't know, we aren't known for our friendliness here and I'm pretty sure nobody ever refers to "Northern Hospitality".
I know you probably want me to fast forward to the game but I will not do it. I left with my tiny little compact rental and went straight to the 810 Zone in the Plaza to watch football. The hotel could wait. I have a few things to say about this place. First, I actually listen to 610 on my phone for hours daily so I felt like I was cheating on them at this place. Secondly, this really was a great place to watch the games. Great bar food, tons of TVs, and despite not playing until tomorrow night, tons of people wearing Chiefs hats, shirts, etc. I truly felt in the right place and thought to myself that this would NEVER occur at home.
After lunch, I checked into my hotel and rested a bit because I was going to be meeting a celebrity for dinner. I wasn't sure if his entourage would be a problem, but it turns out they are all pretty cool. That celebrity is none other than Joel "Primetime" Thorman. Behind the bling and the tattoos and the gold teeth, was a really cool dude. Ok, I made a lot of that stuff up, but yes I went to dinner with Joel at a cool little bar called Charlie Hooper's and got to meet the man that really makes a lot of what we take for granted possible. After hanging out for about ninety minutes, I can truly say that this site and our little community here is in awesome hands. And the fact that he is pretty much living a Chiefs fan's dream is pretty awesome as well. To travel all this way and have dinner with someone I never met, yet have so much in common with, was excellent. It was also something that would not happen in my town.
Nighttime descended upon Kansas City. I kept trying to stay calm at the thought of the game. I played the expected noise of the crowd over and over in my head. I thought about tomahawk chopping, I was ready to yell as loud as I could, I wanted to taunt Phillip Rivers until he cried. Only sleeping would get me there faster.
If I could wake up every morning and see Arrowhead Stadium I could die a happy man. But this was no time to get sentimental. It was game day. I totally forgot about breakfast. I knew I wanted to look for some Chiefs apparel and I knew I wanted some BBQ for lunch. After driving around for a little bit and seeing some sights I wanted to see, I headed over to Sports Nutz. What an amazing store! If you can go in there and not find something Chiefs related that interests you, then I really don't know what you could be looking for. I settled on a new sweatshirt and immediately decided it would be my clothing of choice for the game. As an aside, I met the man they call "X Factor" in the store and spoke to him for a bit. He sat in the front row in Oakland, had some batteries thrown at him (one of which almost brought a tear or two) but survived. I also found out he makes everything on his outfit himself. Just another something that would not have happened in cozy little New England.
Heeding the advice of Steve_Chiefs, I ventured further down highway 40 to Gates BBQ. It was intimidating at first as I was not prepared enough for the, "HI, MAY I HELP YOU?!?" that I received. I nervously ordered a double-decker pork sandwich with fries. A woman standing in front of me, probably in her mid 40's, turned right around and asked if I had ever been to Gates before. I told her no and she proceeded to cancel my order herself and ordered me a mixed plate of beef and pork which came with fries. Honestly, if someone did that around here, a fight might break out. Not if it happened to me, but there are plenty of people who would have been offended by such a gesture. I just wanted some good food and didn't care how I got it! After paying, the same woman asked me if I would like to come sit with her for lunch. Yet again, the kindness of KC (or in this case Independence, but close enough) stunned me and I ate a delicious lunch with my new friend.
I headed back to the hotel for final preparations for the game. The hotel was serving food in the lobby and people were having their face painted, but I was having none of it. I just wanted to get to the stadium and walk around and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the parking lot.
After crossing the George Brett Bridge and as I looked down that hill at the masses arriving, I already had a feeling this night could be special. I did a lot of walking, people watching, talking and just admired everything there was to see around the stadium. I was amazed at the number of people dressed in costume, but more amazed at their creativity. I expected to see just some bearded Todd Haley's but that was not to be. Allow me to share a couple:
-Ron Burgundy, Channel 4 News Team
Warpaint, dressed as an official. In hindsight, the horse could have done better in some cases.
I went into the Chiefs Team Store and that is another must-visit. Amazing. They have literally everything I could have thought of to put a Chiefs logo on (let's keep it clean). Pricy? Yes, but that's how it goes. It also is why I bought my shirt earlier in the day.
The Pavilion is also worth a look. It's not totally for fans, but if you go in you can see some tremendous pictures and news clippings from times past and present. It's a really nice trip down memory lane from the Dallas Texans all the way to our team today. One picture caught my eye and if a picture truly speaks a thousand words, this one could use many more than that:
I walked around some more, had a little bit to eat and drink from the friendly folks in Lot A, and got to the front of the line for the 5:30 gate-opening. Once inside, I literally ran down to the field level and stood and watched the team run through warmups. Who cares about warmups? This guy. It was very interesting to me to see them go through some pregame routines and rituals. Allow me to give you my observations from the warmups and I will share some pictures from them as well:
- Matt Cassel looked really good, but (and I know this will get some people excited) Ricky Stanzi throws absolute bullets. I don't know if he will ever be the guy, but the boy can throw.
- Dwayne Bowe is insane. I was really impressed with the skills of all of our receivers, but Bowe is in his own little world and I love it. If you scream out his name, he will either do a little dance, point to his back where his name would be, or just acknowledge the crowd in some way. He is a rare talent who can have his mind in a lot of places, but when the game starts he is elite.
- Wallace Gilberry listens to music at an unhealthy decibel level. No less than three times were people shouting for him to get out of the way, and he had absolutely no clue.
- Watching Jackie Battle before the game, you really get the feeling like he is enjoying every second of this chance. I enjoyed watching him warm up and liked the intensity he had.
If you click on the red word and open this movie you get to see the Defense doing drills.
I then remembered I wanted to see the Hall of Honor. Another must see in the "new" Arrowhead. I took the stroll over to it and got the chills almost immediately. It is a great tribute to those who have brought pride and honor to the franchise. There are video screens, individual busts for all of the inductees and a wall that details every single game that the Chiefs have ever played. You need a lot of time to really get the full effect here.
So yeah, there was that game also! I got to my seats and got familiarized with my seat neighbors. The one disappointing part of that process was that Chiefs40, the very man who made this trip a possibility, could not make it to the game. His car's alternator died and he was stuck back home. So while I made due with my new friends, it was upsetting that Chiefs40 could not be here to take in the game with me.
If you have never been to a Chiefs game, there are few better pregame experiences in the minutes leading up to the game. I think this is one of the few places in America where the national anthem is a HUGE DEAL and you better be in your seat or you might miss it. I screamed Chiefs as loudly as I could at the end of the anthem and prepared my brain for the next three hours. (vid of my anthem spot can be seen at:www.youtube.com/user/deemo15#p/a/u/0/59-dvVY_a0Y)
I'm not going to recap the entire game play by play. We know the story by now. I firmly believe the crowd was indeed a huge benefit to the Chiefs during this game. Starting from the first play until the final snap the fans and our complimentary white towels were going absolutely crazy. The people around me are all complete strangers and as the game wears on it's like we have all watched games together for ages. That's part of what makes the Chiefs experience so amazing. It does not matter where you or from or who you are, when the game is going on we are truly one entity.
As the game went on, I began to think optimistically. I wondered what the television and online reporters would say about the team if we won. I began to wonder what first place would feel like again. But in a way that only the Chiefs seem to know how to do, San Diego began to creep ever so closely into the game. By now, my cell phone has died so there were no chances to capture any footage for the remainder of the night. Regardless, the game looks more and more like it is going to slip away. After the Chargers tied the game and got the ball back, they converted on that 3rd and 18 and people nearby literally begin to leave. I cannot say I blamed them at first, I was just too stunned to do anything. All the miles I traveled, how wonderful the night was, everything, was about to go up in smoke if San Diego could just get to the middle of the field and kick a field goal.
And then it happened. Phillip Rivers fumbled the snap. I lost my mind. I wish I could have recorded myself at that instant because I haven't felt joy like that in ages. I stood with my hands raised and screamed to the sky like some kind of primitive beast. When I finally sat back down, I thought I was going to pass out. It was the best, or at least it was close.
As the overtime period progressed, and the Chiefs began to drive down the field, it became apparent we were going to win this game. And when it happened, everything was validated. Traveling all this way for one midseason game suddenly felt like the most sane thing I had ever done. And just when you thought you had seen it all, the players run to the crowd with masks on and spend a good few minutes with the Arrowhead faithful. They were like little kids out there. I later heard from Joel that the locker room celebration was pure insanity. To me that is just the coolest thing ever. In a world where professional athletes are all about the "show me the money" lifestyle, it's awesome to hear about our guys living a win up like they just won the big Homecoming Game when they were 17.
I waited until they pretty much had to ask me to leave the stadium but as I sat there in an empty stadium, much like I had entered it, I reflected on a few things. I thought about how lucky someone has to be to be a fan of the Chiefs. It's not because we win all the time or have the flashiest players or even the greatest coach. It is because unlike in other cities, these players play for each other and they play for the fans. I have had the privilege to speak to several former Chiefs and it's always the same thing: "The fans motivate us to win". Has the team always been good to us? Certainly not. But we keep coming back for more every season. And while I am a mere 31 years old, and a generation of Chiefs have come before me and many will follow, I am proud to say I am a fan of this team and that experiencing a game in our stadium is one of the most uplifting feelings on this planet. And this, my friends, is not what it is like back home.
I appreciate you reading this lengthy story, especially in light of the drubbing we have since taken from the Miami Dolphins. But that is part of the saga that is being a Chiefs fan. We live to root another day, and we wouldn't think twice about it. I will always love the Chiefs even when they treat me badly and I hope you will too.Thank you to Chiefs40, Joel and everyone for sharing this experience with me.