Monday, December 30, 2013

NFL: Chiefs’ J.V. Awarded AFC's Sixth Playoff Spot

Editor's Note: This post was first published on our sister blog ( because of the satirical nature of its content.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced this morning that the Kansas City Chiefs B Team will replace the San Diego Chargers in this weekend’s opening round of the AFC Playoffs.

The League cited several reasons why it decided to override its own formula for choosing which six teams would represent each conference in the quest for this season’s Super Bowl, to be held February 2 in New Jersey. “After reviewing the film of yesterday’s game in San Diego, we believe it would be an insult to the integrity of professional football for the San Diego Chargers to represent the American Football Conference in this year’s wildcard playoff game,” said Goodell, reading from a prepared statement.

The Chiefs, with its fifth seed sealed, gave the Chargers every opportunity to route them in yesterday’s game, but the San Diego club took advantage of none of them, barely escaping with a tainted 27-24 OT victory on their home field. The Chiefs played its scout team and did not even activate many of its eight pro bowlers.

 What’s more, the Chiefs denied their starters a pre-game meal and withheld Gatorade until the game reached overtime.  “We did everything in our power to give them the game except to take a knee,” said Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid in assessing the loss. “I’m not sure what more we could’ve done. You know, we don’t much like Todd Haley and all but we had to make it look like we were at least trying so as not to insult the Steelers. Shoot, our scrubs made that redneck Philip Rivers look like he was wearing a tutu out there,” exclaimed Reid. “I was like ‘Phil-take a valium and put on your big boy pants,’” he said as he shook his head laughing.

The Chargers could not take advantage of any of the Chiefs charity, but instead were forced to rely upon errors from the officiating crew, which it was later determined to be a holdover “scab crew,” from last year’s referee strike. “The zebras clearly blew two calls,” said Goodell in a departure from his prepared remarks. “The Chiefs kicker (Ryan Succop) should’ve gotten another chance to make a 36 yarder at the end of regulation because of that illegal formation, and then I don’t know what they were thinking when they gave the ball back to the Chargers on that fake punt in O-T,” admitted Goodell. “In my book, that was either a fumble/T.D./Chiefs’ win or Chiefs ball on the San Diego 22. Either way, ‘Good Night Chargers!’”

“While the NFL acknowledges that this decision is both unorthodox and certainly controversial,” read Goodell as he returned to his script, “we believe it is in the best interests of this game we all love to implement this decision.” He continued: “It would be an absolute joke for those sissy Chargers to go to Cincinnati Sunday to take on the 11-5 Bengals. I’m sorry, but if those pantywaists in San Diego can’t convincingly beat a bunch of rag tag B-teamers, then what in the world will Andy Dalton and the Bengals to them?” he said. “That’s simply not going to happen on my watch.”

Many around the NFL were immediately critical of the League’s decision because it did not choose the Steelers to take the Chargers’ spot, instead giving the nod to the Chiefs’ second string. When asked about that, Goodell, clearly annoyed, simply stated: “Bottom line—we  chose what we thought was the best remaining available squad from what we had to pick from. This decision was about putting the best 22 guys on the field against the Bengals. Period.  No more, no less. I can’t involve myself in conjecture and ‘what-ifs?’ If Rooney’s boys had taken care of their own business we would not have had to step in. Let them go cry on their collection of Lombardi trophies,” said Goodell.

The Chiefs’ Reid was clearly pleased with the NFL’s decision, which will allow him to coach games on consecutive days this weekend and allow backup QB Chase Daniel additional meaningful work. “I think our staff is up to the task,” said Reid. “We’ll practice like we always have—starters vs. scout—during the week. We’ll all head to Indy Friday, then the J.V. will bus to Cincy at halftime Saturday. Both squads will be without backups but hopefully we’ll remain injury-free,” said Reid. “The only other thing we’ve got to figure out is how to get Ryan (Succop) and Dustin (punter Colquitt) down to Paul Brown (Stadium) by noon Sunday,” he said. “We’re essentially approaching this like the Royals do a split squad game out in Spring Training,” said Reid.

The NFL declined to meaningfully address the possibility that the Chiefs’ first and second strings could play each other for the AFC Championship January 19. “There’s a lot of football to be played between now and then,” said Goodell. "Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves."

He paused, then added: “I can tell you one thing for certain: If the Chiefs end up essentially having an intrasquad scrimmage for the AFC Title, then that game will definitely be played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City,” he said.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Tigers

In sports, as in life, allegiances and loyalties are forged over time, the jagged products of family, place, and experience.  And sometimes loyalties are dislodged and become fluid, as influences emerge, shift, or change.

If you are a Tiger fan, defined as one whose loyalties rest with either Auburn University or with the University of Missouri, you are not wondering who to root for this afternoon as these two schools clash for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship. But I find myself on the morning of this game in a bit of a quandary. A quandary that certainly took me my surprise, unexpected in the momentum it has gained as the week has ambled along.

In my youth I was a diehard Mizzou fan.  As I listened to Saturday afternoon broadcasts, I dreamed of one day replacing Monte Montgomery as the Missouri punter, or kicking a game-winning field goal for the Tigers in the Orange Bowl.  But alas, I was only Division II talent (if that) and didn’t  receive even one letter from the Missouri coaching staff.

Despite playing for an emerging I-AA team in the State, my allegiance to those Missouri Tigers remained strong throughout my collegiate days. One November Saturday  in 1980, I traveled  with friends to Columbia  to watch the Missouri-Kansas game, a game which featured, on opposites sides of the ball, two of my high school teammates—Andy Gibler for Missouri and Mike Arbanas for Kansas. Although we visited Mike at the Jayhawks’ hotel, I still rooted for Missouri, who won the contest 31-6.

I took a fondness for Mizzou to graduate school at Kansas. I chose KU because of its reciprocal agreement with Missouri for students entering its School of Architecture and Urban Design. I chose Graduate School because I didn’t take a job with the City of Springfield, Mo. which was going to pay $13,900 per annum, and if the truth be told, I wasn’t quite ready to work anywhere for any amount of money.

I learned quickly at Kansas and during the years which immediately followed that it is unheard of to be a fan of both MU and KU at the same time in the same way and in the same dimension. So my fondness for Mizzou weakened a little during my 18 months in Lawrence as I became indoctrinated in all things Jayhawk, not the least of which was Kansas basketball.  It was during that time that I realized that even William Clarke Quantrill could not have spent two winters in Lawrence without being a bit smitten by the mystique of Allen Field House.

As I concluded by tenure at KU and entered the workforce, I began spending a great deal of time with a young lady with whom I had become reacquainted since our days together in high school. That young lady, whose name was Sandee and who would eventually become my wife, had spent some time as a freshman at Auburn University, which happened to be her father’s alma mater. She had also lived the first year of her life on the Auburn campus in married student housing.

When Sandee and I were joined in matrimony, I was grafted into a family of Auburn Tigers. Sandee’s father had not only graduated from Auburn but starred for its football team before becoming the Kansas City Chief’s 4th round draft choice in 1963.  A host of Sandee’s kin—grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins taught me about the magic of the Plainsmen and Toomer’s Corner and the battle cry of War Eagle!

I eventually visited Auburn and experienced game day in person, attending the first Iron Bowl (Alabama-Auburn game) ever played at Auburn. The game had always been played in Birmingham, off campus for both schools, which my father-in-law always claimed was virtually a home game for Alabama  and not the neutral side claimed by the Tide. I’d heard the Bear Bryant quotes about what hicks they were down on the plain, and how he would never play at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, which was Auburn’s name until 1960. My first Iron Bowl was an unbelievable experience, and this annual contest is everything that it is advertised.

Auburn won that first Iron Bowl in Auburn and I got to witness  another Iron Bowl victory a few years later. Most memorable from that second game was the time I spent with my brother-in-law Rusty and Sandee’s dad and uncle in the “A-Club,” which is Auburn’s letter club. The A-Club has a pre-game get together in a suite that is tucked inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. I remember vividly Rusty and I munching on snacks while former Auburn TE and then Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas (the "Big Hurt") made an appearance in the suite.

While my fondness for Auburn grew, I returned to Missouri as a resident and employee. But the city in which I landed, Harrisonville, had little tolerance for Jayhawkers. When I drove my moving van across the stat line from Olathe, Kansas, it was as if Bloody Bill Anderson had invaded Bushwhacker territory anew. The ribbing I took for attending Kansas was mostly good natured, but its intensity and the taunting that followed a Missouri win over Kansas made it harder for me to rekindle any dormant loyalties to the Black and Gold.

So I have these ties to Kansas and Auburn.  Add to these ties a bit of a distaste for the way the Mizzou alums in the Missouri General Assembly handled the transition of my alma mater, Southwest Missouri State,  to D-I sports and name change to Missouri State, and it’s a wonder I'm in much of a dilemma at all today.

But something strange happened this year, I started watching Missouri football again. I enjoyed their style of play and I enjoyed seeing them win against historically great teams from the SEC.  I think Missouri was the only team I watched on TV for any length of time all year. The program’s move to the SEC made it seem palatable to watch them and enjoy them, if not all out root for them.

Another thing tugging at me this morning is the scattered comments I’ve heard this year about Mizzou not being Southern enough to be in the SEC.  As a Missourian, that bothers me a bit as it demonstrates a bit of ignorance about the state as a whole. Trying selling that notion in Poplar Bluff or Sikeston or even as far north as Fulton.

So today I throw in a blender all of my history with Mizzou, Auburn, Missouri State and Kansas and all the thrills and memories and baggage that goes with each of them. Affecting the mix greatly is that I am a son of Missouri. Also tugging are all the childhood hurts from losses to Oklahoma and Nebraska and near misses of Big 8 Championships and Orange Bowl berths.

I've polled my wife and children and they are leaning solidly Auburn's way. The lone exception is my oldest son, Davis, who told me he wasn't sure who he was going to root for. He said he was just going to watch the game and "walk by the spirit."

I think I'm going to take Davis's approach and simply see what happens, enjoying the game for the earthly pleasure it provides.

Sometimes when you have too many dogs in the fight, you simply sit back, enjoy, and wait to learn which pack of dogs you love the most.

But whoever wins today, I'll be watching from a distance, not really in anyone's inner circle. But I'm certain I will in the end be happy for many people that I know well and love much.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nick Saban and the Fragile Kicker Psyche

Nick Saban may be considered a great football coach, but his special teams decision-making was abysmal in the Crimson Tide's 36-28 loss at Auburn today.

Since the game ended a couple of hours ago, there's been much discussion about Auburn's game ending 109 yard field goal return and the three previous Tide field goals that were either missed or blocked.

The misses and losses weren't Saban's fault, but in my opinion the play of the game was the field goal that Saban elected not to kick. With 6:19 left in the game, and Alabama nursing a 28-21 lead at the Auburn 13, Saban elected to go for a first down instead of trotting his kicker back out for a 30 yard chip shot that would have given Alabama a 10 point, two possession lead.

The CBS commentators acknowledged that Saban might have lost faith in his kicker, Cade Foster, after missing previous attempts from 44 and 33 yards. But in my opinion, kicking that field goal is your only viable option in that situation.

As a head coach, the worst thing you can do to your kicker is to communicate you have lost confidence in him. After a shank or a pull or any other critical miss, the coach simply must send him back out there at the next opportunity if the game situation calls for it. And a FG at the 6:19 mark was exactly what the game situation called for.

You see, kickers' egos are proxies for all that is fragile about the male psyche in general. Kickers are microcosms for all that is insecure and tenuous about our gender.  We are forever wondering if we are still loved after failure. We are constantly questioning our worth as thinking we are only as good as our last success. These assessments, while tongue-in-cheek, are closer to the truth than we might want to admit.

Before the game even starts, kickers walk around wondering if they are really football players. Many of their teammates don't think they are, and it usually takes a tackle or block or fumble recovery or two to prove you are and to gain their peers' respect. Their practices are often spent in isolation working on their craft. The labor day-to-day in relative obscurity, practicing kicks like a PGA Tour pro might knock in 100 three foot putts on the practice green.

Few head coaches understand the kicker and how he ticks.  Placekicking is a mental game that is more like golf than football. Kicking takes place during and within a football game, but it has more in common with chess or skeet shooting that it does with a zone read or cover 3. And the thing about chess and golf and skeet shooting is that you don't have tens of thousands of people screaming while you're trying to focus.  You don't have to rely on two other people (snapper and holder) to execute their jobs perfectly before you can attempt yours. And you don't have to rely on eight other guys to keep up to 11 hostile opponents from killing you.

So with all this baggage the kicker is carrying around, the last think he needs to be wondering about is whether or not his coach thinks he can still succeed. When the game is on the line, when you really need that fragile little almost-football-player to win the game for you, you don't want him wondering whether or not you believe in him.

But Saban erred in two ways today. He lost confidence in Cade Foster, and this lack of confidence in his kicker caused him to make a bad football decision.  Kicking the FG at 6:19 was the only reasonable call to make.  If he gets that call right, then there is no game-ending 109 yard field goal return.

But I'm glad Saban made that call. I wanted Auburn to win and as Nick Saban said, "First time I've ever seen a game lost that way."

First time I've ever seen one won that way either.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Wonder Anew

When a man pledges his allegiance to the Kansas City Chiefs, he embarks upon a gut-wrenching journey of heartache and despair.  He is relegated to a nomadic existence amid a Narnian curse, where it is always winter, but never Christmas.

But it was not always so. Great loss may be experienced only after fully tasting the sweet nectar of success (this sentence was written in homage to Mitch Holthus).  And success indeed marked the Chiefs first decade in Kansas City. And it was the Chiefs’ first decade in KC that closely correlated with my own first decade on Earth.

For my generation, growing up with the Chiefs beget a sort of a Wonder Years love affair with the team. It was a love forged on successes surrounding first and fourth Super Bowls and refined on playgrounds and backyards as we chased and tackled each other while wearing jackets and stocking caps of red and gold. It was a love that blossomed as we learned who we were and from where we had come as we began to understand our place in the cosmos.

We learned simultaneously in those days about two evil forces—perhaps the only two evil forces—in the world: the Viet Cong and the Oakland Raiders. But we learned quickly that even though some amorphous villain named Ho Chi Minh was wreaking havoc half a world away, our true wrath should be directed at the evil closer to home.  An evil that invaded our city at least once a year—evil incarnate with names that we would learn to pronounce but never try to spell. Names like Ben Davidson and Fred Biletnikoff and Daryle Lamonica. There were really no bad guys quite like the Oakland Raiders, and pity the poor chump at High Grove Elementary that even hinted at affections  for the silver and black.

At High Grove we had no official school uniform, but an unofficial dress code existed among the males that some sort of Chiefs gear be donned and displayed proudly during football season. Our bedrooms would be virtual memorabilia rooms boasting pennants and posters and every effort would be made cover our mothers’ hideous wallpaper with licensed and non-licensed Chiefs products. For me one relic survives those years—a round wastebasket featuring the Chiefs’  offensive and defensive starters’ headshots, all placed in perfect “X and O” alignment on the can.

Our finest hour was seeing Johnny Robinson sitting on the Tulane Stadium turf pointing his finger skyward as we claimed number one for the first time. Several months later, that same image of Johnny Robinson graced the cover of “Championship,”  a book we all ordered from the Scholastic Book Club catalogue so that we could ever read about that magical season.

For those of us who grew up during those years, there was never any question whether or not we’d be good. No question we’d make the playoffs. Success was assumed and expected, and we had no reason to believe it would ever end.

But it did. One by one our childhood idols left us as their bodies succumbed to inevitable age or were otherwise casualties of the new Arrowhead “turf,” which was virtually indistinguishable from the asphalt paving in the Truman Sports Complex. So the love that had emerged so many years earlier was tested and tried and refined during years of frustration and futility.

Since that time we’ve had years here and there that gave us a reason to hope. Glimpses of past grandeur emerged every now and then, but our hopes were always dashed by a missed kick or an off day or a superior opponent.

The 2012 season marked the low point in the franchise. The season ended 2-14. I was an eyewitness to Romeo Crennel’s last game as head coach as the Chiefs played the Broncos in Denver (see post from December 29, 2012). It was the worst display of football that I ever witnessed in person. The Chiefs looked like they could not wait for the season to end. I believe they disrespected the Broncos by not giving them their best game.

In Denver, I wanted to tear my Chiefs regalia and cry the football equivalent of “blasphemy!” My disgust at what was unfolding before me sent me to one of the bathrooms at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. My misery increased there as I was confronted by a long line and an Intoxicated Bronco fan who defiantly shouted to me: “The Chiefs suck!” I had no retort, and simply applauded his brilliant and insightful assessment of my 2-14 team. They pay big money for such penetrating analysis on the networks, I thought to myself.

Fast forward to last Sunday night. I had not felt great about the Chiefs nine victories during 2013 and was impressed by the Peyton Manning offensive machine that lay in wait for us. I feared a 35-10 defeat, but was pleasantly surprised at several things I saw from the Chiefs and was assured of the mortality of Peyton and the Broncos. So there was in many ways more satisfaction from a 27-17 loss in Denver than in all of the previous nine victories.

But sometimes the fear of success looms larger than the fear of failure. In many ways the loss last week in Denver was as comfortable as an old shoe. I realized I had become accustomed to losing and it no longer was the bitter pill it was in 1971. I had become too comfortable with moral victories. I had become content speaking in platitudes.

So we look to the Chiefs’ next six games with hope. Hope that we can observe a team that continues to gel, continues to get better, continues to compete, and gets back to the business of winning. And let losing once again leave a nasty yet unfamiliar taste in our mouths.

Although not eternal or essential, I would like for my children to be re-introduced to the Chiefs, and to get to know them as Champions. I would like for them to experience a little Christmas in what has been their long Chiefs winter.

Maybe, just maybe, they’ll see the Chiefs on Broadway next February 2.

And all the wonder will begin anew.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pine Tar Memories

It’s nothing like 9-11 or the Challenger explosion, or for others that are older the JFK assassination, but I remember exactly what I was doing 30 years ago today when George Brett made famous a substance called pine tar.

It was Sunday afternoon, a day game, and I was sitting in my grandmother’s hospital room at St. Joseph’s in Kansas City. My grandmother, then well into her nineties, had fallen a day or two before and broken her hip. Many of the family had gathered in her room to wish here a speedy recovery. She, as an avid Royals fan, was undoubtedly supportive of us tuning in to catch the afternoon contest against the hated Yankees.

In the event you don’t know the historical facts of this game, allow me a brief synopsis. The Royals were one out away from losing the series finale against the Yankees by a score of 4-3 when George Brett came to the plate as the Royals final hope.  Rich “Goose” Gossage, the feared Yankee’s closer, had been sent to the mound to notch a save and send the Royals packing. Brett promptly sent the Gossage offering into the right field bleachers for a home run, scoring himself and U.L. Washington to give the Royals a 5-4 lead and a great chance of victory.

Yankee manager Billy Martin had been plotting for several weeks to protest the amount of pine tar Brett applied to his bat. He waited, strategically, however to protest the substance at a time after Brett had done some damage to his team. That time was then, after Brett’s two run shot had put the Royals close to victory.

After the homer, Martin brought Brett’s bat to the attention of the umpiring crew that day, specifically home plate umpire Tim McClelland. After a few minutes of deliberation, measurement (the pine tar exceeded the 18” limit) etc., Brett was called out, the home run being nullified. Game over. Yankees win 4-3.

Brett’s reaction to the call is legendary. At the time my mother, a modest baseball fan, called Brett “a maniac” and thought his reaction unsportsmanlike. Calling Brett’s actions maniacal after the call might be generous. He more closely resembled the demon-possessed “Legion” in Chapter 5 of Mark’s Gospel.  And although my mother was probably right, Brett’s actions are somewhat understandable given his history with the Yankees and given the historically villainous antics of Billy Martin. And besides, my growing up watching George Brett categorically prevents me from criticizing him for anything.

The next day the Royals protested McClelland call. Four days later American League President Lee MacPhail ruled in favor of the Royals. MacPhail, claiming the spirit of the pine tar rule was to keep from gumming up baseballs, ruled the excessive goop gave Brett no advantage in hitting the home run. The game was ruled suspended, and the Yankees and Royals were ordered to resume play with two outs in the top of the 9th. The two teams eventually resumed the game about a month later in front of about 1,200 fans at Yankee Stadium. After a series of Yankee protests and antics, followed by four straight outs, the game was over and the Royals prevailed 5-4 before flying on to Baltimore  for their next series.

In 1983 the Royals were in their prime. The team was three years removed from its first World Series appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies. Although they lost that Series in six games, many of us were relieved just to have had them there. The real victory, it had seemed, was finally beating the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. By 1980 any true Royals fan was hardened and weary from losing three consecutive AL Championship Series to the Bronx Bombers during the late 1970s.

These were bitter defeats, but the Royals fortunes had turned with the beginning of a new decade. The team would flourish during the first half of the 80s, culminating with its only World Championship in 1985.

So in 1983 we were almost smack dab in between the franchise’s two World Series appearances. And although the bitter defeats at the hands of the Yankees had become less raw with the passing of time, the loathing of George Steinbrenner’s franchise in the Big Apple had not. Simply put, it was impossible to bleed Royal Blue and have any affection for pinstripes.

The Pine Tar Game would not have had the same significance, the same drama, had it been played against the Seattle Mariners or the Cleveland Indians. Such drama was apropos for baseball’s most famous venue—Yankee Stadium.

Further, the game would not have been the same had the almost ten years of history between the two teams not been what it was. Neither team liked the other much. Billy Martin relished the chance to foil George Brett. Brett relished the opportunity to punish the Yankees. He got especially pumped to face the fireballer Gossage. The pine tar home run was reminiscent of a similar shot Brett had hit off Gossage at Yankee Stadium to put the Royals into the World Series in 1980. The stage was set. That sort of drama brought my family together around a hospital television set and for a couple of hours allayed the suffering of my ailing grandmother.

As I look back on that game in 1983 I miss several things. I miss pine tar. It’s still used I guess, but Brett should have had his own brand. Everyone has to wear batting gloves these days. Brett liked the feel of the bat in his bare hands. He questioned the manhood of the guys who were afraid to bloody or dirty their hands.

I miss Brett’s passion. Maniacal?  At times. I’m not sure I want to show the pine tar video at a Little League parents meeting. But, I never saw anyone play harder than Brett and care more about the outcome of the game than did he. That factor appears to be missing in a lot of players today.

I even appreciate Billy Martin. Any good story must have a villain. Billy Martin played the villain, par excellence. He was even a villain among his own team sometimes. But even more than a villain, he was a competitor. His competitive fire might have rivaled Brett’s. The pine tar characters could not have been cast any better from a Hollywood casting director.

What good stories must have even more than a villain is redemption. Sent packing a loser on July 24, 1983, George Brett had hit, what one broadcaster called “the only game losing home run in history.” And although Lee MacPhail acknowledged Brett’s actions that day warranted ejection (some accounts had him watching the resumed game at the airport), MacPhail redeemed Tim McClelland’s call and rightly restored George Brett’s home run—one of 317 in his career—to its rightful place in the record books.

I listened to many Royals games with my grandmother. I fondly remember her repeatedly telling me her favorite player was John Mayberry. The pine tar game was probably the last game I watched or listened to with her. She declined steadily after the broken hip and died the next year.

I’m thankful to George Brett and Billy Martin and Goose Gossage and even Tim McClelland, for giving my family one of the most memorable games in baseball history.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Guest Post--by Sandee Finley

Laces and Threads by Sandee Finley

My husband still tells people he married me because of my spiral pass. You might say it was inescapable.

Football brought me to Kansas City when I was nearly two and my dad, a small town Alabama boy and newly signed Dallas Texan, left the South to become a charter member of the Kansas City Chiefs. As I would later write in high school, football was his ticket, and mine, to the big city. That was in 1963 and, these many seasons later, I can't help but wonder how football can mark a life, or at least a memory.

The first boy I ever loved was Chris Faros, the high school player who lived next door and taught me to keep my fingers wrapped around the laces. I was five. I grew up to be the grade school girl playing backyard football who made the boys cry. He grew up to be a college coach and lost his life when his plane crashed on a recruiting trip for Memphis State. Although we were only neighbors for five years and he has been gone for thirty, I still catch my breath a bit when I drive past his house, just down the road from where my boys practice.

When I was seven, Daddy was the starting right tackle for the Super Bowl champions. I watched the game at a family friend's house. I don't remember the game as well as I do the signs and banners that decorated our small ranch home on Red Bridge Road when the team returned from New Orleans . Or as well as I remember the 1971 Christmas game against the Miami Dolphins. Fans still remember Jan Stenerud missing the kick in overtime; I remember listening to Donny Osmond sing "I Knew You When" on my new record player while my mom and older brother, Rusty, were at Municipal Stadium. I do remember other games, at Municipal and later Arrowhead--sitting with the other players' families, drinking hot chocolate from a thermos, wearing baggies inside our boots to keep our feet warm, yelling "charge" in response to Tony DiPardo's trumpet call.

My mother, originally a tap dancer and softball player, became, and remains, an enthusiastic and educated football fan. She can still read a defense better than most quarterbacks. Like her, I became a zealous spectator, and gave up most of my playing to take up cheering for my brother and his buddies in little league, junior high, and finally, high school. Friday night football became more sacred than Sunday afternoons. Sports stories were more glorious than the writers who wrote them, and even I was more excited about a Bulldog win than the Quill and Scroll Gold Key I received for feature writing. Our team was good and fast and confident. Rusty wore number 8 and ran the wishbone offense as the quarterback. He could best be described as the golden boy who enjoyed a little tarnish. A loss to Hickman Mills High kept us from the State playoffs his senior year . The defeat was staggering then and somehow still stings today. My husband, Greg, also played on that team and later that year, lost his best friend and teammate Bill, who died after collapsing at a practice for the Big Brothers All-Star game. I had been cheering for Bill since he and Rusty had played in the little league Super Bowl together as Cy Young Hardmen.

That next winter, I watched Rusty as a Razorback cause a fumble against the University of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and then watched him slowly drift away from, and, for a time, even hate, the sport that had defined him. Had attempted to define us all. Christopher, my younger brother, played in high school as well, and though a quick and lean cornerback, he found more space to breathe on a surfboard.

My dad made a name for himself in the car auction business while I headed to Alabama to discover a new direction among the people and places of my parents. I was a freshman at Auburn, Daddy's alma mater, when I received a call from my mom to tell me that a friend and former Chief had taken his life and that of his wife. I began to understand that these men were not retired, but were rather giving up a life and the light it had offered. I played in the intramural football championship game that year--Greeks vs. Independents-- and also learned that SEC football requires a date with a fraternity boy, a preppy dress, and a deep seeded hatred for the opposing team. I rather quickly made my way back to the Midwest to get serious about a degree in writing and to hang out with the football team at K-State.

Although I lost my bearings and some of my affection for football in my early twenties, I didn't lose my strong, accurate arm and I used it to clinch a proposal from a college kicker who also happened to be my brother's favorite high school receiver. We are now raising five children who, though groomed to be golfers, have come to love the sport of my father. I am now the crazy woman, wearing her son's jersey and snapping pictures on the sidelines, cheering in the end zone. I cried the first time I saw my oldest son in full pads. I can't really remember what I did after I watched my younger boy kick the winning field goal at a football tournament in Florida with his grandfather in the stands. I might be most proud that my three girls can throw a better spiral than mine, make an open field tackle, and kick an extra point.

I come to the game now as the daughter of a retired NFL player, a sister of brothers who both embraced and fought against a legacy, a wife of a straight-on kicker, a mom of passionate players, and a mostly grown up version of that five year old who wanted to play but mostly wanted to be noticed . Daddy has been inducted into two Halls of Fame, but has lost some of the fire that makes football fun. He reminisces most, not about college ball or the pros, but about his high school days and the greatest coach he ever had. We lost Rusty a year and a half ago, not to football, but in some ways I believe he was a casualty of the sport. However, in the last few football seasons before he died, he paced the sidelines with Greg and talked a little trash as he watched my boys take the field. He was at his best in those moments and he finally seemed at ease being himself under the lights.

Football isn't a metaphor for my life--but rather a frame or a reference point for the wins and losses that have shaped me. All roads lead back to a football field in a mill town in Alabama where Daddy first wore leather helmets that didn't have face masks. Or maybe to the backyard across from the Methodist Church where I learned to decipher plays drawn with Chris's finger in his palm. I've lost some speed in my step since then and my moves aren't really moves at all any more. But if I get my fingers around the laces just right and I plant my foot, I can still throw the ball.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rocky Mountain Sigh

For the first time in several years, I did not attend a Chiefs' game this season at Arrowhead Stadium. There was no particular effort not to attend a home game. I didn't, like many others, decide to boycott the team because of its dismal play. I didn't turn down opportunities to use a friend's ticket, nor did I leave tickets on the dash of my car hoping they would be stolen. It just didn't work out for me to attend a game, and given the team's 1-7 home record this season, I suppose I should consider myself fortunate.

Most people would breathe a deep sigh of relief for sparing themselves a close encounter with the football train wreck that has been the Chiefs' 2012 season. Almost everyone would be relieved that, when asked to choose their favorite 2012 Arrowhead play, they didn't have to choose from among one of Dustin Colquitt's punts. (Football Sidebar: If you are a really good football team, you NEVER have to punt. It's a bad thing to punt alot, unless your offensive strategy is to punt on every down in hopes of coaxing a roughing the kicker penalty). Still others would have been happy that by avoiding all eight Chiefs' home games, they saved themselves enough money to put their first-born through college.

But I'm not any of those people. I don't resemble them at all. I instead am now in Denver preparing  to watch our 2-13 Chiefs take on the playoff-bound Broncos tomorrow afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. I guess I figured since I'd missed out on so much abuse in the stands this fall at Arrowhead, I would travel 600 miles west to allow 75,000 Coloradans make fun of me in my Chiefs' regalia as Peyton Manning puts on a clinic. As my friend Clay told me, "this will be a lesson in humility."

One might think that in making the decision to travel to Denver that I had availed myself of too much of Colorado's newest cash crop (not cantaloupe). One might think I had already been spending too much time in oxygen-depleted air. Or, one might think I had been invited by my pal John Elway to sit in his private box (okay, maybe not that last one).

But I'm not going to Denver for any of those reasons. I'm going to watch the Chiefs play the Broncos because my sweet daughter Phoebe asked me to go with her. She asked if we could go with her friend Aleana and Aleana's father, Tom (both devout Bronco fans) for a memorable father-daughter weekend culminating with the Chiefs-Broncos game. How could I say no? Public humiliation, private frustration yielding to public anger, and the risk of physical harm are small prices to pay for a lifetime-enduring memory with your daughter.

And after all, this is an NFL football game for pity's sake. It's not like Phoebe wanted me to attend a father-daughter ballet. It's not  like Phoebe wanted me to watch 24 hours worth of Project Runway with her. Phoebe, as her high school football team's statistician, knows football (she can even accurately attribute passing and receiving yards for a hook-and-ladder play). She knows good football and she knows bad football, and we will together enjoy every minute of it--unless we end up not speaking to Tom and Aleana for some reason.

And, in a Jim Carrey-Lauren Holly-Dumb and Dumber sort of way, the Chiefs actually have a chance of winning the game. Wouldn't that be a fitting capstone to a great father-daughter weekend?

So watch for us tomorrow as we risk life and limb to experience football at 5,280 feet. The air will be thin, but the drama thick as we rep our boys from K.C.

We hope to return alive. We hope to return victorious. And we hope to still catch a ride back with Tom and Aleana.  But if we don't, we'll still have each other, and a great non-ballet father-daughter memory.