Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
In the weeks prior to last Sunday, I experienced the growing realization that I faced a dilemma of major proportions, trapped between two competing loyalties.
I grew up in the Kansas City area, becoming a Chiefs fan when the team arrived in 1963 from Dallas. I was passionate in my support of the team, remaining loyal even during the crushing poverty the team experienced in the ‘80’s. The Chiefs began winning in the ‘90’s, but it was still annual exasperation and heartbreak as they never made it past the AFC Championship game.
In 2004, I moved to Pennsylvania, where I found myself unable to resist the Pittsburgh Steelers. I suppose it was natural. The Steelers and the Chiefs share some common attributes. Both are family-owned, The Rooneys and the Hunts beloved in their respective communities and supported by a fan base whose passion approaches religiosity at times. Both have a rich history and tradition. But the Steelers have won the Super Bowl twice in the last four years. The Chiefs haven’t even been to the Big Game in forty years. And the last three years have been exquisite agony.
So I am a guy who sports both Black and Gold, and Red and Gold with a clear conscience; you could call me ambi-teamdrous. Up until Sunday, it wasn’t a problem. The two don’t play in the same division, and due to the vagaries of the schedule, there never seemed to be time when I had to root for one against the other. But Sunday changed all that.
When this game popped up on the schedule last year, I knew I was in for it. My colleagues all worship at The Church of the Blessed Steeler, and knowing my history, they wasted no time in demanding that I declare my loyalty.
But as much as I have come to love the Steelers, you never ever forget your first love. I’ve tried to change; I even bought my first Terrible Towel. (From the reactions of my friends, you’d have thought I’d graduated from rehab.) I couldn’t, however become monogamous.
I went into Sunday, braced by the reality born by the evident disparity between the two teams. I fully expected that the Steelers would have at least a four-touchdown lead by the end of the first quarter. The Chiefs have been that bad. It would be, I decided, a very dark day.
With the runback of the opening kickoff, however, a sliver of sunlight began to peek through the clouds. But almost immediately afterwards, Big Ben got rolling. I sat back and grimly awaited the slaughter to follow.
But something happened on the way to the butcher shop. The Chiefs, bumbling and stumbling through the first half, refused to go away. A brand-knew utterly unknown linebacker named Studebaker was revealed as a Cadillac, intercepting two passes. Matt Cassel got…not hot…perhaps lukewarm, completing some crucial long plays in the second half. And by the end of the day, this team that had been kicked to the proverbial gutter by the rest of the NFL and ESPN, rose up, stood tall, and wonder of wonders, beat the defending Super Bowl Champions. For a brief, wonderful time, the sun shone.
I know this won’t last. The Chiefs go to San Diego next week, a team that crushed Denver on Sunday. The Chargers, looking like a team on a mission, will be ready to deliver a butt-whuppin’ of epic proportions. The Steelers, suffering two straight humiliating defeats and facing a playoff Alamo, will go to Baltimore seething for a win. I will admit to a twinge of sympathy for the Ravens. The dust will settle, the stars will re-align, and things will go on as they should. Pittsburgh will prevail, and Kansas City will likely retreat into the natal womb of a rebuilding team.
But for one glorious afternoon, hope arose from the ashes; the light of a better future shone, if briefly, then brightly. And we fans were reminded that football, like life, is an arena where anything can happen.