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Following the Chiefs from afar has changed with Patrick Mahomes and the team’s ‘villain phase’

The Chiefs were an afterthought nationally for years. Now, everyone has an opinion on them. Here’s what it has been like for out of market fans during an era of winning.

NFL: AFC Championship-Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On Sept. 15, 2013, I was invited to a watch party with some friends from work as the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Dallas Cowboys for a Week 2 matchup.

Not knowing any other Chiefs fans living in my part of Fort Worth, Texas, I accepted the invite with tempered expectations. Literally no base should ever have been as proud of a team coming off of an 8-8 campaign the season before than these Cowboys fans were. The Chiefs, though, were coming off of a 2-14 season that brought a total overhaul of the coaching staff and front office.

My Dallas-supporting colleagues also relished with this opportunity to again see the boys in blue defeat former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, set to coach his second game in Kansas City.

The Chiefs squeezed by the Cowboys 17-16 — and would end the 2013 season with an 11-5 record before a disappointing playoff collapse. While I walked out of the party less popular than I had entered, I could not imagine the success the next decade would hold for my favorite team, which I had continued faithfully supporting after moving from Missouri to Texas in 2004.

Dallas Cowboys v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Even during the down years that now seem a distant past, the Chiefs have had enough of a following that you could always find their scattered supporters among the nation’s sports bars every Sunday. And out-of-market Chiefs fans were likely thankful for the opportunity to watch their games over lunch because, for years, the team played a disproportionate amount of early window games that rarely took priority for the league’s “regional coverage.”

In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chiefs traded up to the 10th selection to take Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes (spoiler alert — the trade was worth the high price Kansas City paid). Selecting the East Texas native suddenly created buzz for my Chiefs throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth market I now called home.

I soon realized how many alumni of Texas Tech that I knew — because they badgered me throughout the 2017 season about when their gridiron hero might finally pass starter Alex Smith on Kansas City’s depth chart. Mahomes’ opportunity came to start the 2018 season — and he took the league by storm in leading the Chiefs to a surprising run to the AFC Championship where he came up just short in a legendary matchup with the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots.

Heading into that contest with New England, Mahomes and the Chiefs were the underdog story. Most of sports world — and undoubtedly all of Texas — was firmly behind the upstart team in red and gold. Being defeated by Brady — then among the greatest supervillains of the sports world — made the Chiefs a nationwide darling as they defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

Four years later, as the Chiefs prepare to again face the 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, the honeymoon with the national sports scene is all but over. One thing remains clear — nothing forces a heel turn on a team like continued winning.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Brady was a lovable narrative early in 2002 as the Day 3 draft selection prepared to face the then-St. Louis Rams and an offense dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf.” As the unheralded former Michigan star drew comparisons to David vs. Goliath in taking down the much-favored Rams, few would predict how fans throughout the league would soon curse his name. By the time Brady won his third Super Bowl three years later — vanquishing Reid’s Eagles and denying quarterback Donovan McNabb a championship — fans outside of the northeast were over what made Brady’s story so appealing.

Seeing how my friends, neighbors, and colleagues interpret the Chiefs feels like a similar national fall from grace. It almost seems as if Mahomes’ duty was to win a championship —and then step out of the way to give a turn to the league’s other talented stars. The moment I realized how over the Chiefs casual NFL fans were was the local reaction as Mahomes orchestrated a 13-second comeback drive in the 2021 AFC Divisional Round, allowing them to defeat Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in overtime. I heard a week of elaborate arguments that all boiled down to some version of Allen should have won because it was his turn.

Kansas City Chiefs vs Buffalo Bills, 2022 AFC Divisional Playoffs Set Number: X163914 TK1

Sympathy for Allen — which Mahomes apparently did not enjoy when he lost his first AFC Championship try to Brady in overtime — even led to a rule being changed.

Being an out-of-market Chiefs fan currently means spending Monday mornings hearing a plethora of conspiracy theories about why legitimate penalty calls were made or why officials may have missed what replay shows to be obvious fouls. A high-profile celebrity romance involving tight end Travis Kelce — which you may or may not have heard of — has amplified local Chiefs fatigue.

As a Chiefs fan living in Fort Worth, I feel fortunate their last two Super Bowl appearances have come against the Eagles and the 49ers. My Cowboys-supporting friends may be tired of seeing the Chiefs win, but that sentiment has not risen to the level of cheering on hated rivals to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

If the Chiefs manage to win a third title in five years, I cannot imagine how hated my favorite team will become. As the team came out for the Super Bowl’s opening night on Monday, the crowd in Las Vegas showered them with boos from the start. Already, I am seeing sentiments that the Chiefs can only win if their offensive tackles hold on every play and that the long-standing rule assigning home and away teams for practice facilities is somehow engineered to give Kansas City an advantage.

Having supported the Chiefs for years when no one cared about them, I will be happy to cheer them on through their villain phase.

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