First a bit about me. Then a bit more about the Chiefs.
I'm an interviewer by trade. Music journalist, really. For the last 15 years or so (aside from a very enjoyable few-year run working for SB Nation, actually), I've paid my bills by interviewing bands and reviewing albums. Newspapers. Magazines. Websites. Anyone who will pay, really (and before that, anyone who would just post my work).
Not many skills are necessary to do my job, but I mention all of this because there is one trait that separates the good from the bad (in my opinion): those who can mine for the story. Here's how it generally works.
An artist like Bruce Springsteen or Jason Isbell or Pearl Jam or Seth Keysor will give a publicist or label a certain day and amount of time and say, "You have this much to work with." So that label will stack as many interviews within a, say, three-hour block of time. Usually 10 minutes of quick interviews stacked back to back (to back to back to back).
Because the artist is typically asked the same questions over and over again (and many of them are asinine to begin with), they quickly become disinterested. As if they were ever interested in the first place. What this leads to is artistspeak, a language only spoken by musicians comprised of rote, mechanical responses that mean nothing at all.
The challenge, then, for guys like me is to interrupt the flow with something worthy, something that piques their interest, something to jar them into responding with something real, authentic and meaningful.
Because I've conducted approximately 2,000-plus interviews of artists, actors, authors, directors, composers and the like to date, these things have become automatic for me â like anyone else just doing their job. And that reflex showed me something with Andy Reid.
* * *
On Sunday, Andy Reid gave his season-closing remarks to the media. The attention was largely on clock-related gaffes, Doug Pederson's exit, headset issues at Gillette Stadium and injury concerns. Andy did what Andy does: provide the waiting media with coachspeak. Every NFL coach (worth his salt, at least) does the same.
For an allotted amount of time, a number of people trying to all write the same basic story ask the same basic questions of the same basic people. Week in and week out. The coach turns into a less-interesting Zoltar machine (the wish-granting genie in the movie Big) dispensing quotes that contain zero substance. Observe some of Reid's own remarks from Sunday.
"There are some things that we did well in this game. There are some things we need to continue to work on."
"We've got an off season here that we've got to handle."
You get the idea. Every football is a "good football team." Every player is a "good football player." And then, in the middle of the transcript, I read something that hit me funny. It's something I can't move beyond. I know this feeling because it's what I'm used to searching or listening for. As Reid went into detail on the clock management issues at the end of the Pats loss, the Chiefs head coach closed with this:
"And listen, we were a bit tired at that point, and so I put the big fellas in and we didn't get that play off."
It's the "listen" part that grabbed me. This whole column could be much ado about nothing, searching for insight where there is none, but I've learned to trust this instinct. And for me it tells a much more interesting story, one I wish someone would have asked about in that room of reporters.
* * *
Twenty two years. That's the span between playoff wins. We all know this already, not just because it's been fed to us by the media ad nauseum but also because it feels like 22 years. It feels like Joe Montana was the quarterback the last time the Chiefs were considered a contender. It feels like two decades of frustration, of mediocrity, of holding out hope only to watch it fall apart.
And then there's this season, a team that truly looked the part. I'm talking about the preseason, when the Chiefs locked up arguably the best defensive player in the NFL whose stats aren't measured in Watts. When Jamaal Charles was healthy. When Jeremy Maclin was getting reacquainted with the playbook. When the roster, on paper, had impact players in all the right places, had depth at key positions and had developing playmakers across the board.
The Chiefs were of the league's youngest yet talented rosters. They also enjoyed as much continuity among coaches and the front office as anyone could hope for. There was a plan and it was being applied without interruption. Was it possible?
For one more year, for a 2nd year, fans prepared to wear Red on Fridays once again. It looked like it could be the year. It should be the year. God, we hope this is the year.
It's been a long time coming.
* * *
This season, in many ways, has felt as long as the actual playoff winless streak itself. The storylines are that exhausting.
Eric Berry made us all emotional with one of the most courageous and amazing returns in sports history. Not just NFL history, but sports history.
Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito defied age to return in the shadow of Berry's own return. In the case of DJ in particular, it was another return of a team icon, the heart of the defense, to defy age and show up in the middle like we'd all hoped.
A season-opening victory over the Houston Texans that then set the stage for one of the biggest stomach-punch losses in recent team history to their hated rivals, the Denver Broncos.
The loss of one of the NFL's greatest offensive weapons (and one of the Chiefs only real true offensive weapons) with Jamaal Charles' season-ending injury.
Consecutive losses that should have put the team's hopes for any level of success whatsoever at zero. (Seriously, the Chiefs defied every year of the NFL history books to come up with this season's storyline.)
On October 18, the Kansas City Chiefs flew home from a loss to the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. It was the last time they would taste defeat in 2015. There was no way for them to know it at the time, other than blind faith. Five consecutive losses should have had them frustrated, confused, distracted. Other teams have crumbled under lesser circumstances. But then came the streak. It's the sort of streak about which you will tell your children. Maybe even their kids.
In an era when every single week brings unforeseen losses, as Vegas laughs at vain attempts to predict the outcome, the Kansas City Chiefs set a franchise record for the most consecutive wins in team history with 11. Week after week, the Chiefs did just enough (and sometimes much more) to defeat their opponent. It would have been a notable and noble feat to reach .500, to finish even, to be mentioned among potential wild card hopefuls heading into December. Instead, they pulled off the impossible.
I'm attempting to add a bit of drama here because it is warranted. If the Chiefs lose a sixth game at any point along the way, they are likely finished. That's what they had to believe. It's a testament to the coaching staff that they didn't already believe they were finished. I can't imagine what it would be like to have faith like that. Except I have.
I've been against the wall wondering how a bill will get paid, whether a job will still be there, whether she will still be alive come morning. I've held out hope when there's nothing tangible to point at and say, "THIS. THIS IS WHY I THINK IT WILL BE OKAY." But I've done that. I've been there. And, at certain moments, I've enjoyed the fruit of such faith.
Football is not real life. A much-needed win for a team at 1-5 is not equivalent to real life or death matters. But the emotions are the same, inasmuch as when I have faced such moments, such sleepless nights, such worry and frustration and wondering why-the-hell-isn't-this-working-like-it-should, I know that I am tired.
So very, very tired.
Now imagine giving your body and mind over to that reality of being up against the wall for 12 straight weeks.
* * *
When I hear Andy Reid throw in a line about the Chiefs being "a bit tired," it signals something to me. It signals to me that the Chiefs arrived at the end of their story. It was an unfortunate end, but the story itself deserves to be told, to be celebrated. It's also worth mentioning that a man should be tired at the end of a very long season filled with such natural emotions, incredible subplots and memorable achievements.
If Andy Reid would only admit as much, I'd tell him he'd earned some time off. If we could only get beyond this coachspeak.
Here's to a (likely) very tired team who gave us one of the most memorable and exciting football seasons I've ever seen.