Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
I grew up in Independence, Missouri; which is to say I grew up in Kansas City. The Metro is one of those places that seems so delightfully homogeneous that you could hail from anywhere in the bi-state 5-county area and call yourself a Kansas Citian. A big part of that sense of ownership is the sometimes painful relationship with area sports teams.
The heartbreak of Chiefdom and Royaldom haunts everyone on either side of the Missouri River, but because we still love them even when they lose (or because we have developed a rather disturbing psychosis) we still treat each new season with that same ill-fated optimism. This affliction becomes even more acute for those of us who worship from afar.
I left the KC area for good thirty years ago this year. Since then, I've planted my feet in 48 other states and 22 foreign countries. I've walked the streets of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. I've motorcycled through the mountains of Colorado, the deserts of Arizona, and the forests of Pennsylvania. Yes, you could say I've lived an interesting life. Yet, for reasons I can't explain, nothing stirs my heart like the view of Arrowhead and Kaufman from the George Brett Freeway.
That I live 800 miles away in the middle of Big Ten country has not diminished in the least my passion for Mizzou, or my...intolerance, shall we say?...of anything Kansas. Case in point. Last winter, I was in a mall near Annapolis, Maryland. Like many men in such places, I was the custodian of the purse, as my wife and daughter-in-law busily boosted the health of the local economy. I was leaned against the wall outside the Victoria Secret (sorry, I just can't go in there), when a man approached on the concourse wearing a bright blue sweatshirt emblazoned with "Kansas" across his chest. I was also wearing a sweatshirt, but mine was black with gold letters proudly proclaiming "Mizzou Tigers." As he approached, he took note of my attire. His face hardened, his pace slowed. I stood upright, returning the glare. I was Earp, he was Clanton, under the bright sun in Tombstone. Had we been wearing a pair of Colt's, we might have squared off then and there. He continued past, finally breaking the eye contact and disappearing into the holiday crowd.
Thirty years away should have softened such passion, but in that moment, we might as well have been on opposite sides of a goal line stand at Faurot Field. I've had similar encounters wearing a Royals hat when I'd meet a wearer of red from across the state, one memorable face-off in Pusan, Korea. It doesn't matter where we are or how long we've been away, those passions remain strong.
But being a far-off fan, following the teams becomes a challenge. The Chiefs make rare appearances on eastern television, but thankfully 101The Fox still streams their games, something you have to pay MLB for if you want to listen to the Royals. Mizzou is available on satellite, provided you buy the sports pack. But you can't even listen to the games on the Internet because the Big 12 discovered a revenue stream. And once you lose a big game, ESPN spurns you like a bespoiled lover.
Next week, the Tigers and Jayhawks square off at Arrowhead. And that game is available...nowhere. So I will be left with updates, cheated out of the glory of the play-by-play by the fecklessness and greed of corporate America.
Yes. I know. Get a grip. The economy is a mess, we're at war, Mexico is coming completely unglued, and America is on the verge of the deepest political schism since the Civil War.
And I'm upset about a football game.
But it's the love of the game that helps us to keep our sanity in these complicated times. Venting our passions in a stadium, in front of a radio or computer, or before a television is a form of mental health. We can't straighten out the politicians, we can't seem to find jobs, and now we find out that China may have launched a submarine missile literally under our west coast noses. But when our teams take the fields, whether pro, collegiate, or Pop Warner, there we can yell to our heart's content and feel like we made a difference. The world, with all its tensions and worries, goes away for a few hours. And we are cleansed.
They're not just games, after all. They're a part of who we are.