Chiefs fans wear black, keep feeling blue
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — By the third quarter, Section 305, Row 31, shouting distance from the nosebleeds at Arrowhead Stadium, was as lifeless as the game below. As Brady Quinn was sliding helplessly into a fetal position, Eric Granell looked up and surveyed what he had wrought, the dots of black shirts, the rows of empty red seats. He shook his head.
“I feel bad,” the Wichita resident and longtime Kansas City fan sighed as his Chiefs were manhandled by the Cincinnati Bengals in a 28-6 loss Sunday, the franchise’s seventh straight defeat. “This is one of the longest-standing relationships (in my life), and here I am, having a public slap-fight with them. And it hurts. It really does. I don’t enjoy this. I receive no joy from doing this.”
He spoke with the tone of a mother sending a child to his room without supper, the conflicted pain of lashing out against something you love, even if you know it’s the right thing to do. Granell is one of the engines driving “Save Our Chiefs” (or SOC), a grassroots movement of fans who would like general manager Scott Pioli, coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback Matt Cassel out of their collective lives. As of early Sunday evening, the group had received 14,197 likes on Facebook and had 69,872 followers on Twitter.
Eric wore black to Sunday’s game, and asked fans to do the same, assuming if they planned on coming, in order to mourn a wounded club, a dying regime and a dead season. By the count of SOC founder Marty McDonald, who was in Section 114, roughly 11,000 were here in black, and at least another 15,000 weren’t here at all.
“Those fans in black and what have you, when contrasted against those empty seats, (it) really made them stand out even more,” said McDonald, a Kansas City native who now lives in greater Phoenix. “I think it reveals that the Chiefs have a problem, and I hope (CEO) Clark Hunt would realize (Sunday) that he’s got far bigger issues on his hands than he had before.”
It has come to this for pro football in Kansas City: The state of the franchise whose founder, Lamar Hunt, whose name adorns the trophy given to the AFC champion, is to the point where things are far more interesting in the stands and around the football than the actual football itself. What was promised by Pioli to be Foxboro West is instead Berkeley East, a curious sideshow of protests, angst, and barbecue.
SOC again hired an aircraft to fly a banner over the stadium asking for Pioli’s dismissal, its third flyover in the last three home games. The group has raised nearly $4,600 so far, Granell says, with any excess funds earmarked for a donation to the Boys and Girls Club of Kansas City.
“I mean, I have paid $40, $50 dollars over face (value), just to get into this stadium,” said Granell, who’s been coming to Chiefs games since 1992. “I love this stadium … I love what the crowd used to be. And it hurts to see this.”
Chiefs management, for their part, have not publicly acknowledged SOC’s repeated demands — but they know they are there. Franchise officials told FOX Sports Kansas City.com that they’d heard a certain group of fans had tried to hand leaflets to people in their cars near Arrowhead’s entrance gates, but were stopped because it was impeding the flow of game traffic.
Granell contends that club interference went further than that. He brought to the game 5,000 fliers with the words “Fire Pioli” on one side and a list of unflattering details about the general manager’s stormy reign on the other. (Example: “The Chiefs have been blown out by 14 or more points under Scott Pioili 19 times (before Sunday) in 58 games. The team he put together gets blown out more often than the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have been blown out 18 times within the same time span.”) Granell said he distributed 4,000 in the parking lots adjacent to the stadium before being stopped by police.
“He said, ‘You’re soliciting,'” Eric recalled. “(I said), ‘We’re not soliciting anything. We’re not selling these items, we’re just giving them away.'”
Granell said that he recalled the officer informing him that they were told before the game “not to allow fliers to be passed (out)” in the parking lots.
“So, in the end, apparently,” Eric continued, “our First Amendment rights end at the gate, once we pay for parking.”
When asked about the incident, a Chiefs spokesperson said no one, security or otherwise, was specifically instructed to suppress fans from handing out fliers in parking lots. Regardless of which side you choose to believe, it’s clear: Things are starting to get a little, shall we say, chippy.
“It’s surprised me — it really, really surprised me that they’re scared of a banner, they’re scared of a flier,” Grannell said. “If you look at the flier, all it is is containing statistics. And it’s fact. It’s absolute, unequivocal fact. It’s irrefutable. So, apparently, we’re not allowed to pass out information containing truth about the state of the organization, so we can’t inform people of what’s been going on.”
It has come to this for pro football in Kansas City: An obituary in Sunday’s paper, in remembrance of Loren “Sam” Lickteig, led off with a paragraph that described the 81-year-old as having “passed away on Nov. 14, 2012 of complications from MS and heartbreaking disappointment caused by the Kansas City Chiefs football team.”
So now it turns out that following this team may, in fact, kill you. Or disappoint you to death.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers: “I definitely understand the frustration. I mean, come on. This is their team they love, and they love watching, and they’re not winning. Who wouldn’t be upset? We’re not babies. We understand.”
Tackle Eric Winston: “You see it (on other teams), and you’re like, ‘Man, I can’t imagine what 1-9 would feel like, or 2-10, or whatever it might be.’ Well, this is what it’s like. And either you’re going to shrink from it, or you’re going to find a way to deal with it and face it head-on and do something about it.”
The players aren’t dumb. Well, OK, they’re not blind. They’re noticing the discontent, too. When asked about the proliferation of black in the stands, safety Travis Daniels offered this:
“I just thought that Cincinnati traveled well. Because the other week, when we played Oakland, there were a lot of people wearing black, and they were cheering for Oakland … all the black, I just put that with Cincinnati. Why? Was it something different?”
Um, yes. Yes, it was.
“It’s just a shame that ‘The Patriot Way’ didn’t work here,” Grannell said. “Ultimately, ‘The Patriot Way’ is stumbling over Tom Brady in the sixth round.”
With that, he grimaced. Sometimes, love hurts. Come to think of it, so does the truth.