Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Couey
It can be difficult to be an NFL ex-pat fan, to live away, sometimes far away from the team of your passion. Such is the situation with me.
The path of my life has taken me to many places; 49 states and 28 countries. My formative years, however, were spent in the Kansas City area, Independence specifically. I was an A's fan when my heroes were players like Rocky Colavito, Mike Hershberger, "Hawk" Harrelson, Ed Charles, and Dick Green. Baseball was my passion then. However, when the Chiefs arrived in 1963, my interest in football began to grow. 1966 was fun. 1969 was exhilarating, setting the bar of excellence that hasn't been repeated in a time span approaching a half-century.
Like a good father, I passed this passion on to my son. Although he hasn't lived in the KC area since he was two years old, he is unmatched in his ardent support for the Chiefs.
We now live in Virginia, he a Navy Chief Warrant Officer, and myself a federal employee. We still follow the Chiefs online and on television when the opportunity presents. So it was with glee that my wife announced in mid-October that she had scored tickets for the Chief's visit to Washington DC.
The Redskins have fallen on hard times, and it is difficult not to feel sympathy. As the Kansas City Star columnist Mr. Mellinger so poignantly articulated, only a year separates the Chiefs disastrous past from the 'Skins awful present. The only thing missing over FedEx field has been an airplane-towed banner. In fact, the unwanted attention brought on by the two teams' nicknames only adds to the shared empathy.
Game Day dawned cold, wet, and miserable. The forecast was the dreaded 4-bagger, snow, sleet, rain, and freezing rain. But being Midwesterners by experience and attitude, we just shrugged and bundled a few more layers. DC freeways being a hot mess on a good day, we took the Metro, the area's light rail. Any new arrival to the Capitol region quickly learns that the only good way to get around is the Metro. Even as crowded as it gets during rush, it still beats crawling on the freeway for 25 miles at 10 mph. We boarded at the Vienna station, surprised to see several people in Chiefs gear waiting on the platform. But the real shocker came when we passed through the Metro Center stop. There, a horde, yes a horde, of Chiefs fans boarded. The car was already well-populated with Redskins supporters, so the good-natured trash-talk was immediate and loud.
"How many Superbowls have the Chiefs been to? The 'Skins have done five, and we had 6 NFL championships before that!"
"Aww, c'mon! The last time you went, Reagan was in office!"
"Say whatever you want, but your team better not come here and lose to the three-and-ten Redskins, or it's gonna be a loooong train ride back!"
It was a fun ride.
We all exited at the Morgan Boulevard station, and began the mile-long hoofer to the stadium. It was snowing heavily, but our spirits were high. We passed through the gate, having to empty our pockets for the metal detector, a sad comment on the days in which we live. As we walked along the concourse to our assigned section, we were pleasantly shocked by the sheer number of Chiefs fans in attendance. Those jerseys were everywhere. Smith, Thomas, Allen, Dante Hall (the wearer wanting everyone to know she wasn't wearing Bowe's jersey), and of course, Charles. We shared big grins and high fives along the way. Arriving at our seats earned my wife, and his mother, a couple of warm hugs. Lower level, 50 yard line, 17 rows up. The view couldn't have been any better. The best part was that we were seemingly surrounded by Chiefs fans. The guy in front of us, who had obviously been into the adult beverages for a good while, grinned crookedly and proclaimed, "Y'all are in Arrowhead East today!" And it sure seemed that way. We stood and sang the national anthem with pride, ending lustily, "...and the home of the CHIEFS!"
The game started with the snow falling. We shouted. We cheered. We shared fist bumps and high fives. Every time the Chiefs hit paydirt, we responded with a chorus of "TOUCHDOWN! KAN! ZAS! CITY!!!) By the time the third quarter came around, the Chop was going, although the coordination of the music was lacking.
For Chiefs fans, it was a great day, especially after the misery of the previous three weeks. In the last 60 seconds, a couple of the players turned around and Chopped with us. That was gratifying, as we weren't sure they knew we were there in force. As the seconds ticked down, we flowed down as far as we could go, some surrounding the runway the players would take back to the warm locker room. By this time, it wasn't hard to spot the Chiefs Nation; we were the only ones left in the huge stadium. The Redskins fans had been abandoning ship since halftime.
It was a great day. I discovered that, as a Chiefs fan, I was far from alone here in the Capital Region. We had seen our heroes close up, marveled at how big they looked compared to television. We had watched the Chiefs play their best football since...well...since 1969.
We walked back to the Metro station along the icy sidewalk, sharing that moment of undeniable victory. To the few Redskin fans remaining, we commiserated, reminding them that it could all turn good in a year for them, the same way it did for us.
This morning, the local media is full of stories about the game. The head coach, at war with his owner and quarterback, is on the hot seat. And while my empathy extends to the players and fans, it stops at Mr. Shanahan. In my mind, he was, is, and always will be, a hated Bronco. The game was described in terms like "embarrassing loss" and "humiliation." Some journalists claimed the players just quit. For a Chiefs fan, there was a disturbing sense of deja vu in these reports. For we know all too well that for every NFL team there rides with them, like the Roman conquerors of old, a quiet voice, holding a golden crown, and saying "All glory is fleeting."
It was an unforgettable day, one shared with two of the most important people in my life.
And, of course, the unsinkable, undefeatable, and unshakeable members of the Chiefs Nation.