10-03-2010, 11:39 PM
Suddenly and without warning, the dark clouds have disappeared. The weather is perfect on an autumn afternoon in Kansas City, and people go about their business with pleasant thoughts about a football team whose days seem brighter.
In Independence, Andy Sawmiller takes his family for pizza and pulls his SUV onto Noland Road, four Chiefs flags attached to the rolled-down windows and flapping in the breeze. In North Kansas City, a barber drapes a hair cloth over a man who needs a trim, and as it sometimes does at Dub’s, the talk turns to the Chiefs.
“There’s a change,” says Jack Bets-worth, the man in the chair.
“If they can beat the Colts,” the barber, Jack DiMartino, says before his voice trails off and he eyes the white hairs poking over Betsworth’s ears.
In the Northland, Wanda Fankhauser, a single mother, considers the next game at Arrowhead Stadium and how the team’s 3-0 start compelled her this week to buy season tickets for the first time since 2006. She used to take her son, Tyler, and now she likes the idea of Tyler, 24, taking his son, 4-year-old Ayden, to the games, pointing to the players and telling the boy that this is what it used to feel like to watch a game at Arrowhead.
This is a Chiefs town again, and Kansas Citians are absorbing the team’s best start in seven years — and wondering how much of this is real. For so long, Chiefs fans grew accustomed to losing and kept their red and gold clothing at home. Discussing the team became a discouraging enterprise, and Arrowhead became a relic of what it once was.
“I hate saying this,” Chiefs offensive lineman Brian Waters says, “but over the last few years, I’ve kind of felt like, for the first time, that our fans were similar to other fans that we’ve seen on the road.
“Even when we first got here, when we were seven-and-nine, six-and-10, I never felt that way. They cheered as loud as possible, no matter what our record was, no matter what was going on.”
Some skeptics remain. Perhaps that’s why Arrowhead wasn’t full even last Sunday, when the Chiefs walloped the San Francisco 49ers 31-10 and remained one of the NFL’s three undefeated teams. But the enthusiasm is returning, and no matter which side of town you’re on, it’s clear that the Chiefs are worth talking about again.
Players have noticed, too. Defensive end Glenn Dorsey now hears from happy fans when he goes to the grocery store. Cornerback Brandon Carr, anonymous in public his first two seasons, was stopped for autographs in the team merchandise store at Arrowhead. Coach Todd Haley noticed last week how many people were wearing Chiefs gear when he attended his youngest daughter’s soccer game.
“There’s something different in the air,” Carr says. “We all can feel it.”
Casey Wiegmann remembers the old days, when Arrowhead was intimidating and the Chiefs’ success wasn’t such a surprise.
The crowd would scream when Dante Hall ran onto the field. It would erupt when the defense forced third-and-long. The Chiefs belonged to Kansas City, and for that stretch, Kansas City belonged to the Chiefs.
“People were making noise for no reason,” says Wiegmann, who was with the Chiefs during 2001-07 before signing with Denver. “Until someone witnesses it, it’s hard to describe.”
But when Wiegmann played for the Broncos, he says, visiting Arrowhead the last two seasons felt more like a preseason game. Fans expected to be disappointed, and many didn’t bother showing up because there were better ways to spend money and time than watching a team that looked overmatched each Sunday.
That’s why Fankhauser, the single mother, dropped her season tickets after the ’06 season, the last time the Chiefs finished with a winning record and made the playoffs. Arrowhead had once been a place where memories were made, and attending games with young Tyler was a way for a mother and son to bond. She enjoyed talking football and plotting the future after Chiefs wins, on the drive home to Platte City.
Then, the team raised ticket prices, the economy tanked and the Chiefs did, too. Spending Sundays at Arrowhead felt like a waste.
“A financial investment and time investment,” she says, “that we weren’t necessarily benefiting from.”
So she stayed home, and many others did, too. The Chiefs lost 38 games in three seasons, and they were blacked out on local television last December for the first time in two decades. Kansas City was losing, and worse, it was losing interest in the Chiefs.
“You’ve just got to understand,” Waters says, “that so many people here base their Mondays off of what we do on Sundays.
“This is the city’s heartbeat. Chiefs football is the city’s heartbeat.”
When Wiegmann re-signed with the Chiefs this past offseason, a young teammate approached the 37-year-old veteran and asked which stadium was the NFL’s toughest. The loudest, rowdiest, craziest stadium he’d ever experienced. Wiegmann said Arrowhead, and the youngster had a hard time believing it.
The Chiefs’ core, players who have been in the league three seasons or fewer, have never known Arrowhead as anything more than a place where a ticket buys little more than disappointment. They heard the stories about how Kansas City had embraced football and how Arrowhead’s parking lots used to be packed on Sundays. But reality didn’t match the legend.
“I heard a lot about it,” says Dorsey, who was drafted by the Chiefs in 2008. “It was two rough years.”
Then the 2010 season began, and the Chiefs defeated San Diego on national television. The Chiefs beat Cleveland, too. Last Sunday, the 49ers seemed to have no chance. The team had its city’s attention again.
“It’s different. Everybody is patting you on the back and stuff like that,” Dorsey says. “They’re getting excited about us again.”
Fankhauser says her son watched the Chargers game on television and remembered the old feeling of watching a winner. Tyler’s own son began asking about the Chiefs, too. Tyler said something to his mother recently.
“Too bad you don’t have tickets anymore,” she says he told her.
When Haley is on a flight that travels over the Missouri River, that’s when he thinks about the hold a football team has on its city. From above, the water is brown and looks lifeless, and instead of boats and riverfront attractions, there is only the occasional industrial plant or casino.
Pittsburgh used to look like that, too. That’s Haley’s hometown, and he remembers when the Monongahela River was dull, and few residents cared to venture downtown. Then the Steelers started winning, and Pittsburgh wanted to show itself off, improve its riverfront appearance, make downtown a place worth visiting. Now, Pittsburgh is a vibrant city with rivers packed with boats and fishermen.
Haley says he sees the same potential for Kansas City.
“Our ultimate goal is the Super Bowl,” he says. “We have to get to be a good team, and then take it from there.”
Haley said he can’t get ahead of himself or the difficulty of turning a 3-0 start into a season-long success story. But the man can’t help but think sometimes about how Kansas City might respond if the Chiefs become one of America’s best teams. He says there’s a correlation between a team’s success and its city’s mood.
“The team is the catalyst for making great strides,” he says. “I know how it felt. I know how I felt when the Steelers lost, the whole week. It was the worst. How quick could Sunday come? School sucked. Everything. It sucked. Sucked. It wasn’t fun. But when they won, man, what a great week.”
He admits that it’ll take time, and he’s aware that change comes slowly. It took three years for Kansas City to get over the Chiefs; a reconciliation won’t happen overnight.
In that barbershop in North Kansas City, the owner, Alex Castro, is among the skeptics. But he’s willing to give the Chiefs a chance.
“It’s been the same thing,” he says during a slow moment. “Next year, next year. Well, maybe this is the year.”
Fankhauser has put a deposit on 2011 season tickets. She says she’s not sure how her plans will change if the Chiefs don’t continue making improvements.
Waters says he understands that enthusiasm will be slow to rebuild. He says he was surprised this past Sunday to look into the stands and see thousands of empty seats.
“Five years ago,” he says, “that stadium would have been just a sea of red, with people in the seats. It’s getting back, but it’s not where it was.”
The economy hasn’t fully recovered, and people are more careful with their money. Besides, who knows if the Chiefs’ fast start is a sign of future glory, or simply the latest cruel twist in these years of heartbreak? Waters says he’s curious to see how Kansas City responds if the Chiefs continue winning — or if they lose a game or two.
“That’ll be a true test for everybody,” he says. “For us and how we’re able to bounce back, and for our fans and community.
“As you continue to win, the doubts continue to go away.”
Vernon Morris sits in the shade at a bus stop in Independence. He’s waiting for a bus to take him home, but while he waits, he doesn’t mind talking some football. He’s not a Chiefs fan, but he has heard plenty about them.
“I like good football,” he says. “Chiefs are three-and-oh, huh?”
He’s not proud of this, but Morris spent 20 months in the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth for illegal drug distribution. It was inside that the Illinois native heard about the team that played at Arrowhead, the team that was down on its luck for a while, that once determined Kansas City’s weekly mood.
Morris, 42, was released last November. In the time since, he has enrolled at Vatterott College. He says he believes in second chances.
“And third chances,” he says with a smile. “And fourth.”
He says he learned at Leavenworth that the true Chiefs fans are willing to give their team unlimited chances. The Chiefs might break their fans’ hearts, but the loyal ones are always willing to come back.
Since he’s been out, Morris says he has learned how important the Chiefs are to Kansas City. He sees the reminders all over town, and he says these last few weeks are the first time he has seen what the old crowd was talking about.
He gets calls sometimes now, from men he met inside, and they want to talk about the Chiefs’ hot start, and how the playoffs don’t look so impossible anymore.
Morris says he knows he doesn’t represent all Kansas Citians, or even most. But he is a Kansas Citian now, and he says that all the recent chatter has made him curious. He says he wants to know more about the team that people care this much about, that can make people this happy, feel this united, just by winning a handful of games.
He adjusts himself, and his feet dangle over the wall and are touched by the sun.
“Sometimes you’ve got to start from the bottom again,” he says. “That’s what they gotta do now.
“I’m going to try to get to a game and see them live. It makes me want to be a part of what’s going on.”
10-07-2010, 12:58 AM
YouTube - The Monkees - I'm a Believer [official music video] (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfuBREMXxts&feature=related)
for some of us older crowd.....gotta love the Monkeys!
OMG, the Monkeys, :lol:
Yep, I watch that show. :punk:
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