The first lede I had written walked you, the reader, through each step of playoff agony suffered by the Kansas City Chiefs since that glorious Sunday 7,287 days ago in Houston. But a mere list, no matter how eloquently explained or how pathos-inducing the tone is, falls short. Besides, just about anybody reading this has likely already read Rany Jazayerli’s Grantland piece on the subject, and he provides more-than-enough detail of the Chiefs’ long, agonizing slog of misfortune. Besides, as I trudged from Lin Elliott to Tony Gonzalez’ perfectly in-bounds catch to Eric-Hicks-being-only-two-yards-from-the-sideline the whole process began to reek of overwrought masochism.
Meandering from heartbreak to heartbreak provides ample ammunition for Chiefs fans’ universal fear of the boogeyman around the corner, sure, providing glimpses at the source of the frustration. No matter what the constitution of the team was it wasn’t enough. We* have entered the playoffs in just about every way possible, both as heavy favorites possessing undefeated home records and homefield advantage and as lucky-to-be-there Wild Card teams, and have (obviously) come up short no matter the situation. Dick Vermeil charged into the playoffs behind one of the NFL’s all-time great offensive lines and the best offense to football. Marty Schottenheimer rode Derrick Thomas, one of the NFL’s all-time great pass rushers, and a ferocious defense into the playoffs. Neither approach worked.
- Yes, I use ‘we’ when it comes to the Chiefs. I understand the argument behind never using such possessive language when discussing an organization one has absolutely, positively nothing to do with. I don’t much care, however. I love the Chiefs. I will occasionally use ‘we’ when discussing them. Whoops.
But focusing too closely on the losses themselves sort of misses the point of it all. It’s staring intently at the trees in lieu of the forest, in a way. It fails to account for the mindset of a fanbase, ceaselessly waiting for something to go wrong. It inserts too much woulda-coulda-shoulda, no matter how rational or reasonable (cause, y’know, if Eric Hicks did just get off the field and the Colts had to punt….) in place of the general aura of disappointment which seeps into every season. It fails to really capture the essence of a Chiefs fan.
To steal some research from Rany’s aforementioned article: there are 32 metropolitan areas in the country with at least two professional sport teams amongst the major four leagues. 31 of those areas have had a playoff victory in the past five years-and-change, with San Diego holding down thirty-first on the list having not won a playoff game since January 3rd, 2009. Obviously, Kansas City is last by the size of the Grand Canyon, given the Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since January 16th, 1994 and the Royals haven’t even seen postseason play since 8 years prior to that.
Granted, the stat is slightly misleading given the different nature of the playoff structure in the NBA and NHL, but still; yikes. As a twenty-two year old I truly have no clue what a playoff victory feels like. I’ve watched Kansas win too many NCAA Tournament games to count from my couch and even witnessed Aqib Talib pick-sixing an errant Tyrod Taylor pass in person at the Orange Bowl, but the Royals and, especially, the Chiefs are different animals.
I’ve invested too many hours than I care to admit to receive scant in return. I’ll always remember the 2003 season when, for a time, the universe proclaimed us the NFL’s best and a playoff win seemed a formality. Even while knowing it was a flash-in-the-pan in real time, 2010’s surprise AFC West Championship and, especially, Damon Huard’s out-of-nowhere streak of competence in 2006 were fantastic memories. They all ended in disappointment, however, just the same as every other season of my fandom. No matter how exciting rookies look in spot duty or how incredible our running back is (our running back is almost always incredible, just how it is) some other stupid team with some stupid quarterback and some stupid head coach inevitably ruins our year. The good years, when you can pretend to ignore the inevitably depressing end and dream a little bit, make it all worthwhile, of course. But the process still has a way of slowly beating you down.
It’s the ceaseless rejection, the never-ending return to the morass of teams-which-must-get-way-better every offseason, that is the most grating. While some losses have been harder to swallow than others (and I wasn’t even cognizant of heartbreak when the Lin Elliott Game was played, probably the most agonizing of them all) the same feeling inevitably crops up throughout the summer. Our first round pick will engender some excitement. A couple of choice free agent signings filling holes gives off the faint odor of a complete team. Some straight-out-of-the-textbook quotes about how this team has a different feel will nonetheless get me amped.
I’m a sucker for the Chiefs every damn year and even when they prove me right, it’s all for naught anyways. It’s terrible.
This dichotomy, between one’s awareness of the impending demise and the ceaseless optimism that the downfall won’t occur just yet, defines life as a Chiefs fan. I doubt Chiefs fans, or even Kansas City fans for that part, have a monopoly on this sort of dichotomy, for I feel that marrying such opposing views more or less defines sports fandom, at least at the extremes.
On one hand there’s the hope that this year’s different. I mean, hey, Andy Reid’s been to a Super Bowl before and Alex Smith has actually won playoff games and Justin Houston’s back and Jamaal Charles will be the best player on the field and and and…
…on the other hand, Andy Reid has made a habit of coaching poorly in the playoffs and Alex Smith is inherently flawed and Tamba Hali might not play and last time we rode an awesome running back into Indianapolis this happened and and and.
And so I don’t really know what to think. I’ve been nervous about this game for nearly a month now, ever since the Bengals trashed the Colts and the matchup became something resembling a foregone conclusion. I’ve lost sleep all week. The game starts almost exactly twelve hours from this very moment and I’ve thought so much about it I almost can’t believe it’s actually almost here.
Sort of like winning a playoff game. It’s been 7,287 days since the Chiefs have won a playoff game and those days have more-or-less encapsulated every meaningful day of my life. I’ve probably watched around two hundred Chiefs games at this point, all with the theoretical goal of rooting them to a victory in the hallowed ground of the playoffs at some point. I honestly have no clue how I’d handle a win, really. A loss is safer. I’ve been disappointed before; it’s familiar.
So, no, I don’t really have any idea how today’ll go. Half of my brain is confident that we’re the better team, that we have the better coach, that one of these times the luck is bound to turn our way. And half of my brain is already bracing for the impending disappointment, expecting the worst and already rationalizing the loss by remembering how genuinely awesome and fun this entire season has been.
All I know is that I’ll hardly sleep in the hours remaining between now and kickoff. I know I’ll be on pins-and-needles all day. I know I’ll watch the game pacing around my living room. I know I’ve waited too long for this and I know that because of this tomorrow will feel disproportionately enormous. I know I love the Chiefs more than the Royals or the Jayhawks or my alma mater or any musician or anybody, really, outside of my closest friends and family. I love ‘em and all they ever do is disappoint me.
So, please, for the love of god, just once, can’t we just win one fuckin playoff game?