Most of my existence is owed to football — the Kansas City Chiefs in particular.
My parents met at a bar owned by former Kansas State quarterback Lynn Dickey, and my dad popped the question in the nosebleed seats at Arrowhead Stadium. As soon as I was born, I was stuffed into a white-and-red onesie and toted to Chiefs training camp.
Each fall, as the air became less muggy and dense, my mom hoarded McCormick spice packets to prepare for long Sundays of chili cooking in the Crock-Pot and football blaring in the living room. We always muted the ESPN announcers, preferring the talent on our local radio station — the warm astonishment of Kevin Harlan’s, “Oh baby, whatta play!” and the roaring excitement of Mitch Holthus’ cry, “Touchdown, Kan-sas Cit-y!”
The Chiefs weren’t especially good when I was little, but they were good enough to make me fall in love — hard. Maybe too hard. Even as a kid, I was an overly loyal fan. When the Bengals beat us one year, I attempted to boycott a dance competition I was supposed to attend in Cincinnati the following month. (I lost that argument very quickly, but remained bitter through all three days of the trip.) Even after the 2006 season, when we lost Trent Green and Tony Gonzalez and only won two games, the Chiefs were my guys.
I couldn’t help it. That team had always been inextricably, permanently part of me. Even my first crush was connected — a boy with shaggy blonde hair named Robbie, who I deemed to be the cutest sixth-grader alive. He also happened to be Kevin Harlan’s son.
The thing I’ve learned since moving to Los Angeles is that not everyone completely understands what it means to be a fan. It makes sense, really, that in a city privileged with the wealth of stars like Kobe Bryant, with a torrid history of NFL teams that came and went only to return a few years later, fandom would be a casual thing. Los Angeles is a tourist city and its fans’ perspectives follow suit, coming and going like fads, following the ebbs and flows of winning and losing seasons.
But folks from the Midwest know it’s different. Don’t get me wrong, our teams normally aren’t all that good. We suffer through losing streaks, losing seasons, losing decades. The sports gods giveth and taketh away heartily in the heart of America — just ask anyone from Cleveland if you don’t believe me — and most of us know that all good things with our teams will come to an end.
That’s why, last Saturday afternoon, I didn’t believe that the Chiefs would win. I grew up through year after year of the same old disappointment — a stellar start to the season followed by a dramatic crumble into postseason failure. The possibility that the Chiefs could step up and dominate another I was stunned, rewinding the moments with my mom in a series of clipped, all-caps texts.
And it meant that I had to face a very real, overwhelming possibility — that, with one more win, the Chiefs will play in the Super Bowl.
I’ve never watched the Super Bowl as an actual fan, instead enjoying the annual excuse to eat a ton of pigs-in-a-blanket and, if need be, shout insults at the Patriots. I’m not even sure how I’ll react if that happens. (Cry? Laugh? Name my first son Patrick, after the Chiefs’ quarterback?)
I didn’t get much time to consider that prospect before one of my friends asked the pessimistic counter — what would I do if they lost? — but my answer was immediate. I won’t care. I mean yes, I’ll be crushed, but it won’t be the type of loss that destroys me as a fan.
As a pessimistic fan, part of me will expect the loss from the first snap. But the rest of me simply won’t care. The team taking the field in Arrowhead this season is one of the best we’ve seen in Kansas City in awhile and, for once, we feel that we might have the upper hand for awhile — the best tight end in the league and a baby quarterback who’s changing the way the position’s played. Regardless, I’ve lived through two-loss and two-win seasons, and I’ve loved this team long enough to know that things will be okay.
A lot can be said about what it means to be a fan. Yes, fandom makes people do crazy things — paint their chests, stand knee-deep in snow on a Sunday, travel thousands of miles and name their children after strangers.
But to me, being a Chiefs fan runs deeper. It means a quiet Sunday afternoon in Kansas City with a bowl of chili balanced on my lap, my dad holding his iPad up inches from his nose to read off stats. It means nonsensical texts from my mom — “Did you see that?” and “PAT!!!” were two of the most recent — that I automatically understand.
Most importantly, it means that no matter what, each season, my family and I can count on the same game, the same field and jerseys and colors that feel like home no matter the record or year. Win or lose this Sunday, and every Sunday after that, the Chiefs are still that something I can count on.
Julia Poe is a senior writing about her personal connection to sports. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs weekly on Thursdays.