Let me start by saying that you’ve read this exact article a million times over the course of the last week.
Yes, everything you’ve heard about the horrors of being a Kansas City Chiefs fan are true. No, it’s probably not as bad as we’ve made it out to be. Yes, Patrick Mahomes is not the most engaging personality, and thus he’s doomed to be seen as great on the field and probably nothing more.
Yes, today is the greatest day of my sports life and many others.
You have heard this narrative en masse just within the last 2 quarter-annual rotations of the Gregorian cycle. That is the all-encompassing, always-available force that media has become as the third decade of the 21st century begins. And few things put the “mass” in “mass media” quite like these past 7 days.
The priority press conference is now basically the Diet Coke of Olympic opening ceremonies. A pregame show allegedly about football will last 4 hours and include cooking demonstrations, red-carpet interviews with celebrities and an interview with the President. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira will put on a professional pop concert for 30 minutes, arguably the most impressive achievement that stadium will have seen since it added a patio umbrella and changed its name (again) to a chain restaurant.
I am not here to change your emotional perspective or provide a significant breakdown of the X’s and O’s (although the most recurring strategic theme I’ve heard is how much the Niners playing Cover 3 might bite them against Mahomes, so there ya go). I am instead asking you to hear a story. It’s not all that thrilling, but it’s the story I tell every time I try to explain the Kansas City Chiefs.
On Sunday, December 4th, 2011, the Chicago Bears hosted the Chiefs for a game that would prove to be completely meaningless for both teams and the larger narrative of the NFL season. There are 433 combined yards of offense between the teams. Consequently, Dustin Colquitt punts for 447 yards by himself. There is nothing more Chiefs in the 21st century than Dustin Colquitt outplaying the whole team himself at a position where you should never be the star of the show. If there is anything about this game that is halfway notable for history, it is arguably the coming-out party for one of the best pass rushers in NFL history, as rookie Justin Houston collects 3 sacks.
Neither of the 3 quarterbacks who took the field managed to pass for at least 160 yards. One of those quarterbacks, Caleb Hanie, throws 3 interceptions for the Bears. One of them, former Bears QB Kyle Orton, attempts one pass. But it is the third quarterback who we must focus on. That would be Tyler Palko.
Palko was a former starting QB at the University of Pittsburgh. That once meant you played at the same school as Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett and Larry Fitzgerald. Now that you means you play at PITT, the nexus of big, dumb, chaotic football. There have not been championships at PITT for many a year. Their best days are behind them, but the fans never stop coming and cheering them on, largely because they will do something very dumb and funny to a team that is supposed to accomplish great things. If there is an analog for the Kansas City Chiefs in college football, it is the program that used to be known as the Pittsburgh Panthers but is now known, simply, as PITT.
Don’t believe me?
I don’t care that this came from a Snickers commercial. This is the essence of this franchise, and in many ways the spiritual cousin to all things PITT. It was destiny that a PITT quarterback would play for the mighty CHEFS.
That quarterback was Tyler Palko, and he threw what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in that horrible game against the Bears. It was the first of just 2 career TD passes. And it went like this.
The man’s first career touchdown pass was a fluke. One of only 2 professional TDs Tyler Palko threw came because of a lucky bounce. The Chiefs won 10-3, even though it sure felt like everyone involved lost.
This is the id of the Kansas City Chiefs. They can put on the pastiches of rich history and an integral role in creating the modern NFL, but strip away Lamar Hunt and Len Dawson and the old AFL’s glorious ride into the sunset and you have nothing but sadness.
Ever since the Dolphins won a double-overtime playoff game at Municipal Stadium to begin their dominance of the ’70s, all has been some form of despair. Seriously, the team history documentary put out by NFL Films in the early aughts just skipped the ’80s. And even when you get to Martyball or the Vermeil years or those weird times when Herm Edwards and Todd Haley got to go to the playoffs, it’s only about how they won some games against the Raiders and the Broncos, because that’s all we have left.
There is no extended run of success. There are no NFL superstars. There are no championship games, and there sure as hell is no Super Bowl. Lamar Hunt came up with the name. That’s as close as we’re allowed to get. Forget “always the bridesmaid,” you weren’t cool enough to be invited to the wedding altogether.
Andy Reid came along, right after he publicly admitted he spent too much time around the game of football and it cost him a son. He’s still obsessed with the game, but the man has found a middle ground. Hearing the “sweet and sour pork” metaphor for his grandkids this week is a funny quote, sure, but it also hit me how much that sounds like something my own grandfathers would say. He’s a family man just as much as he is a football coach, and that’s really the first victory for Arrowhead and its faithful that should matter.
But Big Red brought plenty of winning, too. He broke the playoff losing drought (with a gigantic assist from Brian Hoyer). He’s won 4 straight AFC West titles for a team that had never won three in a row. He’s already in the same company as Hank Stram’s teams for the best stretch of football in franchise history.
Highlight-reel players have emerged who will ensure the team’s Ring of Honor runs out of room. A second lease on life dawned for Scott Pioli products like Dwayne Bowe, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Dexter McCluster, Jamaal Charles, Justin Houston and Eric Berry. New faces emerged to steal a city’s heart this past year, when that old guard was essentially all swept away. Alex Smith got a second chapter to his career and ended up becoming arguably the most successful quarterback in the team’s history besides Lenny the Cool. It really has been marvelous.
And I think we take that for granted. The highlights used to be Tyler Palko throwing a fluke Hail Mary TD to win 10-3. Even when they came up short the last few years, it was more than any of us had gotten from the Chiefs in our lives. We probably should have been more grateful. But when you blow 3-score leads in playoff games twice in 5 years and it’s “same old Chefs,” that tends to get lost.
Lin Elliott broke most people. John Elway in ’97 broke plenty others. I’m young enough that my introduction to adulthood and the cruel, cruel nature of this world was the ball bouncing perfectly into Andrew Luck’s waiting arms on the way to erasing 38-10. I was there in person when Marcus Mariota caught his own touchdown pass. I didn’t blink. I’d watched this movie before. You eventually get past despair and sadness as overwhelming. You just become familiar.
The glimmer of hope showed up on New Year’s Eve 2017, when yet another Texas Tech quarterback showed up with gaudy stats and at least one pass-happy coach convinced he could make it in the pros. If you’re familiar with this site, you know I blog a lot about college football. Let me just tell you that this never pans out. Then again, all of the previous Tech QBS (including his college head coach) were nothing like Patrick Lavon Mahomes the Second.
You know his story by now, at least the NFL part. He’s a different breed, fitted with with a Howitzer like no other. He is, already, an established once-in-a-generation talent. And his success on the field has reflected that talent, on the stat sheet and on the scoreboard.
Yes, John Dorsey and Brett Veach have done a brilliant job building a capable team around him. But go back and research the history of football, and long before the forward pass was a thought, the creators of the game were designing the sport with a singular star in mind. It makes more narrative sense to have a leading man like the QB. Thus, the game has always leaned towards great quarterbacks. If you would like dispute that Pat Mahomes’ kid is a great quarterback, please, by all means, keep on shouting into the void.
I will forever be partial to Charles, Houston and Berry as my favorite guys to wear the red, white and gold. They were great players on bad teams, guys that would have gotten the credit were we not all beholden to the almighty win-loss record. But I understand and recognize, even this early on in his career, no Chief is more important than Mahomes.
Mahomes has combined with guys who are climbing up my list of sentimental favorites. Travis Kelce is fun incarnate on top of being a freak of a player. Tyrann Mathieu is everything I wanted out of Eric Berry and maybe a little bit more. The Legion of Zoom-well, you can guess how the receivers have gotten that name. Chris Jones is large in a terrifying way, than becomes large like Santa Claus, in a jolly way, at the flip of a coin. Frank Clark is a bad man in all the right ways. I could name every player and tell you something I’ve grown to love about them. I’m even starting to learn to love Eric Fisher, a player who epitomized the good-not-great mood around the early Reid years in KC.
Being able to see the Chiefs get to this moment in person was something I never would have dreamed of. Getting to do it with my brothers and my dad was a perfect dream. Arrowhead is my second home now, and 2 weeks ago felt like the first time we brought home the baby. His name’s Lamar, for his granddaddy.
I used to throw Super Bowl parties for my friends at the end of junior high and all through high school. It was for the sake of eating a bunch of junk food, cracking jokes and (weirdly, for teenagers) playing hide-and-seek. It was never because you actually cared who won the game (so long as it wasn’t the Patriots). We always passed around a ballot for game picks and MVP. Somebody brought up the country Malaysia once.
I miss the good ole days when me and my friends could all agree that we wanted Malaysia to win the super bowl.
— Artist Formerly Known as PJ (@SethMuehler) January 31, 2020
I do not know how this joke started. I don’t really care. It made me laugh. It is one of the little things that I do wish was different about my life now. I wish I could still hold a Super Bowl party. I wish could have my brothers and my old friends around me, watching the game we’ve watched a million times, but this time actually having a reason to bust out the Tony Gonzalez jerseys or the Priest Homes duds.
I will get to replicate that a bit. I’m going to see some of those old friends this weekend. We’ll throw a Malaysia Memorial Super Bowl Party, because we have to when this moment comes along.
And I guess that’s what I want you to take out of all this rambling. Especially to the Chiefs fans who, like me, are slowly beginning to pull their hair out and shorten their breath at the thought of being emotionally invested in every play on Sunday night. Don’t view this as the be-all, end-all. Don’t let thoughts like “Aaron Rodgers has only been to one Super Bowl” consume you. Do I want to win? Absolutely. But I’ve never be able to process what that would be like. And, for now at least, I don’t want to.
The world at large has paid a little less attention to the Super Bowl this year. There’s obviously good reason for it. I’ve thought a lot about Shaquille O’Neal, and the first time he had to go in front of a camera and tell that world about death.
When Shaq breaks down, there’s a lot of grief there. But he also admits guilt for not connecting more with the people in his life. Shaquille O’Neal, a guy who lights up every room he walk into, thinks he’s not making time for the people in his life.
If I could say thank you to Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and everyone involved with the organization, it would not be for the winning. It would not be for the rings, if they come. It would be for the moments of connection. I get to reconnect with my dearest friends because of the Chiefs. I got to make lasting memories with my family because of the Chiefs.
Even if there aren’t any more moments ahead of us, the Chiefs have given us a gift. It’s not a reward for years of toiling as a “loyal fan.” We all made that choice to sit around and watch Tyler Palko barely throw touchdowns. It just so happens that now, that choice has an extra incentive. The truth is, the Chiefs have no responsibility to be good. The only responsibility we have to is each other, to stay connected to our loved ones. And that is what the modern-day Chiefs do best. They bring us together.
I don’t really need a win Sunday night. It would be truly spectacular, but I’ve already won. I hope you feel the same way. Go Chefs.