Take a bow, Chiefs fans — you’re the most powerful fans in North American sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This one is for you.
You, the long-suffering Kansas City Chiefs fan.
The most powerful fans in sports.
The ones who cheered and cried, then cheered again. The ones who sat through 2-14. The ones who sat through 7-9 and 4-12 before that.
The ones who put up with candy wrappers in the stairwells and Matt Cassel fumbles in their nightmares. The ones who tried to smile, who tried to find the silver lining in cloud after cloud. The ones who weathered Pioli and Haley and Romeo.
The ones who wore black to games because they were too ashamed to pull out the traditional red. The ones who cheered the planes that flew overhead, pleading to the skies for change. The one who handed out flyers. The ones who demanded accountability, demanded change. The ones who said enough was damn well enough.
So this is for you.
The 9-0 start, the Guinness World Record, the general manager who spins straw into gold, the coach who holds his players’ ears and hearts, the quarterback who can’t stop winning, the running back who can’t stop moving the chains, the defense that puts the fear of God into people, the Sunday Night Football games, Al and Cris, the unbridled joy, all of it.
Because you helped to make it happen. You.
“Our fans are everywhere,” coach Andy Reid, the mustachioed center of their universe, said Monday, a day after a 23-13 victory at Buffalo, a place the Chiefs hadn’t won since 1986. “There were a lot of them up in Buffalo. I know that’s not like a resort place to go to this time of the year. It was cold. We appreciate their support.”
This one is for you, Sam Lickteig.
You all remember Sam, right? A Chiefs lifer from Belton, Mo. A year ago this month, he lost his battle with multiple sclerosis at the age of 81.
The opening line of his obituary, when it hit the newsstands, said he’d passed because of “complications from MS, and the heartbreaking disappointment caused by the Kansas City Chiefs football team.”
Hey, his daughter Diana figured at the time, if we’re going to cry, we might as well get a few laughs in there, too.
“It was just like, whenever they took the field, they expected to lose,” Diana Hennessey tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “And now they go out, and not only do they expect to win, everybody else expects them to win, too.”
The Lickteig obit was just one, naughty, seemingly innocuous paragraph in the Sunday paper — but the story took off, both regionally and across the country. Here were the 1-8 Chiefs, breaking a poor old man’s heart, sapping his will to live.
Because here’s the thing: He wasn’t alone. There were hundreds of thousands of Sam Lickteigs out there, sitting in their loveseats every Sunday, fed the hell up.
“We got so much positive feedback,” Diana says.
And now look.
“Oh, he absolutely would’ve loved it,” she says. “He would have laughed. All day, he would’ve had a smile on his face.
“I really do believe that he is watching from Heaven. And I do believe he has a little bit to do with it.”
This one is for you, Marty McDonald.
McDonald was one of the founding fathers of Save Our Chiefs, which started out as a Facebook group but became a civic crusade, a rallying point.
Marty and his compatriots spearheaded the fund-raising efforts to hire planes to fly banners over Arrowhead Stadium during games, handed out leaflets around the parking lots that addressed the specific failings of the troubled regime, and organized the legendary “blackout” game versus Cincinnati last November, in which fans were encouraged to dress for a funeral.
The franchise hadn’t died. But what McDonald and others had loved about it — the noise, the brotherhood, the sense of community, the winning (mostly the winning) — most certainly had.
“We were tired of the poor product, we were tired of the poor coaching and tired of (ex-general manager) Scott Pioli and the poor decisions he’d made over a number of years,” McDonald says now. “It wasn’t one guy, or two. It was everybody having a passion for the Chiefs and going through and expressing (that) in whatever way they did. And now the Sea of Red is back and you see a lot more harmony in the fan base and that is a great thing to see. And we needed that.”
They kicked against the machine, incessantly and angrily enough to be heard. There were a lot of reasons why Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt ultimately pulled the plug on Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel, why ownership swept in, blew the whole thing up and started over.
But what no one can deny is that McDonald and his posse played at least some kind of part in instigating that painful process, either directly or indirectly, a grass-roots movement that became a prairie fire.
“I think we did,” says McDonald, whose “Save Our Chiefs” Facebook page has changed its name to the “The Chiefs Kingdom,” another sign of 2013’s return to harmony. “A lot of people will try to discount our efforts, but you can’t ignore the social media we had then and continue to have to this day.
“We weren’t the sole reason for change — we’ll never take credit for that. But we were a small factor in the change and transition of this ballclub. We were. All the fans were, by standing up and saying, ‘No mas.'”
This one is for you, Tim VanderPol.
Whereas McDonald and his cohorts used social media to help light the torches, VanderPol and his friends used it to bring harmony to the masses, to unite a splintered fan base under one umbrella, behind one cause: To make the loudest sound ever heard at an outdoor sporting event in the world.
“I think we’re an extremely strong fan base,” says VanderPol, one of the engines behind “Terrorhead Returns,” a campaign that sought to get Arrowhead Stadium into the Guinness World Record books as the noisiest outdoor venue in sports. “Whether it be good or bad, I think we’re an extremely devoted fan base that — let’s put it this way — when we’re mad, we let everybody know we’re mad. And when we’re happy, we let everybody know we’re happy.”
Since mid-January (“As soon as they got in and started talking to Andy Reid, it was like somebody flipped a switch,” he says), VanderPol has bounced from happy to giddy to outright ecstatic.
And perhaps never more than on the afternoon of October 13, when his beloved Chiefs thumped the rival Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead, 24-7, and the Kansas City faithful set a new Guinness record — 137.5 decibels, breaking the mark of 136.6 set by Seattle fans the previous month up at CenturyLink Field.
“It’s so awesome,” VanderPol says. And he laughs. “Sometimes, you have to hit rock bottom to truly enjoy being at the top of the mountain.”
Sometimes, you have to rise up.
Sometimes, you have to be heard.
Oh, there are larger fan bases than the ones that tether their souls to the Chiefs, win or lose. There are more storied congregations, allegiances that go back a century or more. But pound for pound, heartache for heartache, triumph for triumph, you won’t find a bunch out there right now that’s any louder. Or prouder.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.