In 1963 the late, great Lamar Hunt decided to move our beloved Chiefs to KC. My family were amongst the very first to purchase season tickets. All ticket holders receive a priority number based on how long they have held their tickets. The lower the number, the higher your priority for things like changing locations, adding seats etc. My mom (who will be a major character in this tale) has a 2 digit number. Think about that. Of the thousands and thousands of season ticket holders, she’s been there longer than all but a couple dozen.
My mom’s group had seats near the 50 in old Municipal Stadium. Her section was known for being the loudest and most rabid fans in the stadium. They were so well known by the team and our opponents, that a local broadcaster began referring to them as the "Wolfpack". Their howling ways were infectious and soon the team started an official Chiefs Fan Club and named it after them. The name Wolfpack was revived in the 90s by Carl Peterson and it is the source for having KC Wolf as our mascot.
In 1970, I was born. Mom was pregnant with me while the Chiefs were marching towards Super Bowl IV. The pregnancy was very difficult and for this reason, she was unable to attend our only SB championship. I am the cause of one of the greatest fans in Chiefs history being unable to attend our greatest moment. I have never been able to live this down.
As a toddler, the Chiefs were obviously the centerpiece of Sundays in the KCSatchmo household. From the very beginning I was given a choice during road games. I could go play in my room if I wanted. But if I wanted to be around the adults (which I always did) I had to sit quietly and watch the game. My earliest memories are of my mom explaining football to me. "Those are the Chiefs. They are our team. We love them and root for them no matter what." Class was in session at an early age.
When the Red Coaters were founded, my mom was one of the first to sign up. She knocked on doors and visited businesses trying to sell Chiefs tickets. The Red Coaters in those days were the team’s marketing department. They did not receive any pay and did this out of love for the team. Over the years the Red Coaters expanded into one of the most active charitable organizations in KC. They were the first such fan club for an NFL team and other teams quickly tried to emulate their success. Through it all, mom was always known as being among the most generous with her time and diligent in her efforts.
Those teams in the 70s were very bad. Despite the efforts of my mom and people like her, the stadium was often empty. I remember playing touch football with my friends in the concourse area. We had the run of the stadium. Once while messing around in the end zone seating area, I caught a football after an errant field goal attempt. Field Security yelled for me to throw the ball back on the field. I ran. I must have been fast for my age because I somehow managed to elude security and make it back to our seats. When I showed mom my prize and told her the story, she was patient and understanding. But she explained, "That ball belongs to our Chiefs. If they need it you should give it back to them." So I did. Class was in session again.
Over the years, mom’s access to the team enabled me to have some extraordinary experiences. I got to go with her onto the field before games. I have been in the locker room following victories. I sat on Hank Stram’s lap. I rode Warpaint. Once per year mom would be invited to watch a game in Lamar Hunt’s suite. She always took me along. One of my favorite memories was of watching a game there. I don’t remember who we played or what the circumstances were, but the Chiefs got robbed by some horrible call by the Refs. Norma Hunt was livid. Norma was always the perfect counterpoint to Lamar’s quiet calm. She was ranting and raving about how she was going to call the league office the next day and really give it to Pete Rozelle. I remember looking over at Lamar, standing next to a wall watching the proceedings with just the faintest hint of a smile on his face. I don’t know how it turned out, but I have always had the funniest feeling that he let her make that call.
Back in the day, the tunnel that leads from the stadium to the player’s parking lot was not fenced off. After games we’d tailgate for a couple of hours waiting for the players to come out. They would mill around, talk to people and sign autographs. I remember that Jack Rudnay was always the first one out of that tunnel. For those who don’t remember Jack, he was the greatest center (sorry Grunny) in Chiefs history. He was the first great Chief to wear #58. Jack didn’t come out first because he was in a hurry to get out of there. Jack was in a hurry to greet the fans. As other players filtered out and eventually got in their cars to leave, Jack would still be there shaking hands and talking football. As much as we loved Jack, we were really there for one reason. A 6’7" reason by the name of Art Still. Art was always the last to come out. He moved slowly everywhere but on the field. Our tailgate group loved Art. We dubbed ourselves the "Official Art Still Fan Club" complete with t-shirts proclaiming this fact. I was too young to appreciate how funny "Official" was at the time. But, I now know that it was part of the title to discredit any other usurper Art Still Fan Clubs that might come along. Big Art was a terror on the field. For most Chiefs fans, a Mount Rushmore of red and gold defense would have the faces of Lanier, Buchanan and Thomas. For my money, Art belongs in that elite company. As great as he was on the field, he was an even better person. He would stand around and chat with us about the game for as long as we wanted. "Here comes Big Art" mom would say, "be sure to tell him how much you appreciate what he does for our Chiefs." Class in session as usual.
Photo credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
Another favorite event was always the NFL Draft. These days the Chiefs draft party is held in the Stadium Club and admission is paid. Back in the day, a small group of people were invited down to the locker room where the team would have a little stage set up and TVs spread around the room. A buffet was set up in the weight room. Grigsby would emcee. After the Chiefs would make a pick, Carl and Marty would come down from the war room to tell us about our new player. Imagine being in the locker room with about a hundred other die hards while CP tells you about a special player by the name of Derrick Thomas being drafted a few minutes before. I was there.
Mom eventually became a member of the Chiefs Club Board of Directors. Her 10 year tenure as a member of the Board is the longest in history. During this period, she and her cohorts took the charitable efforts to all new levels. Their partnership with various player charities has resulted in raising countless dollars for great causes. Mom was always right at the center of things. Working events, raising money and wearing her Red Coat with pride. A few years ago, the Chiefs presented her with a lifetime achievement award for these efforts. She is one of four people to be so honored. At the banquet, she deflected praise and spread credit. Forever the team player. Class was in session.
I once got to take a trip to a Chargers game with mom. We rode out on the team plane. I remember Al Saunders standing up for most of the flight. Walking up and down the aisles talking football with people and sharing stories. If there is a nicer person in the NFL, I don’t know who it is. Carl may have been the King and Vermeil the Lord of all things Chiefs in those days. But Al was the mayor. I also remember Eric Warfield sticking out like a sore thumb. While the other players were treating this as a business trip, Eric was decked out in his best designs from the 2.7 catalog and making a loud nuisance of himself. The guy wanted to be the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. I knew at that moment he would never reach his vast potential.
We stayed in the team hotel and on Sunday morning 2 busses leave for the stadium. The first bus takes most of the players. The second takes and players/coaches running a little late as well as folks like us traveling with the team. The hotel had a room off the lobby with computers available for guests to use. As we’re standing there, Dante Hall comes out, spots mom and his face lights up. He comes over to give her a big hug and thanks us for being such great supporters of the team. "You better hurry up Dante we need you today." "I’m on my way" he said, "Just had to get my Fantasy Football lineup in." As he’s walking away, he stops and turns around. "We need you too." Mom never missed a home game, she never left a game early no matter what the score and she NEVER booed the Chiefs. "Let the Raider fans boo their players" she says. "We’re better than that." Class in session.
In 2001, mom was selected for enshrinement into Canton as part of the Visa Hall of Fans. This is a wing of the HoF dedicated to fans from every NFL city. One fan from each city is selected each year. "Spike" the Raider fan with road warrior face paint and spiked shoulder pads is in there. So is "Barrelman" for the Broncos. The Charger fans have a monkey that escaped from the SD Zoo and found tickets in a trash can. Ok, I made that Charger part up…but seriously…Charger fans? Child Please. Alongside the face painting David Puddy wannabes of this world stands my mom. Looking like a demure school teacher. Proudly wearing her Red Coat. Selected not for being the most noticeable, but being the most dedicated. Class in action.
The day I most remember is when the Chiefs honored her HoF selection. We went down onto the field for a pregame ceremony on the 50 yard line. Players and cheerleaders came up to congratulate her. Carl and Lamar stood along side as she was given her plaque. A representative from Visa explaining her accomplishments to a sold out Arrowhead. At long last, after 40 years of unwavering support for our team, the applause was for her. Class dismissed.