America has an empathy problem. Nowhere is this more prevalent than politics, where people seem as divided — and as content to remain in their echo chambers — as ever before.
Naturally, this has bled into sports, and football, in particular. While fans crush high-paid players (i.e. Earl Thomas and Le’Veon Bell) for holding out in an attempt to maximize their salaries in a cutthroat sport, others crush those fans for ripping said players, with little understanding that a person making $45,000 a year might have a tough time sympathizing with a guy haggling over millions.
It’s a nasty, unfortunate cycle, and it should come as no surprise that people’s increasing inability to see another viewpoint in this country has also led to a complete lack of understanding about the sports suffering many fanbases have gone through.
I’m not talking about Cleveland Browns fans, here. Hell, everyone can sympathize with a fanbase that recently suffered an 0-16 season. But the truth is, there are many other suffering groups out there — Minnesota, Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit and Cincinnati, for starters — all of whom are often overlooked.
One franchise that has been secretly cursed is the Kansas City Chiefs. You might scoff at that notion because the Chiefs have actually won a Super Bowl (unlike any of the aforementioned teams), but arguably no fanbase has had its guts ripped out more over the past 25 years than the Chiefs.
Decades of frustration losing to elite QBs
Prior to moving to Kansas City in 2006, I had little understanding of the scars that had been left on Chiefs fans. As a Lions fan, I’d put my wounds up against anyone’s, and Detroit hadn’t gone 0-16 by then — that would come two years later.
But over the past 12 years, I’ve gained a serious appreciation for everything Chiefs fans have been through. That Super Bowl victory? It came in January 1970. You know who wasn’t even born then? Patrick Mahomes’ father, Pat Mahomes, who was born in August of that year.
So yeah, whatever Super Bowl grace period the Chiefs got from their fans has long expired. Fans who, by the way, have stayed unbelievably loyal along the way. Despite being in one of the NFL’s smallest markets, the Chiefs are consistently among the league’s best in attendance. Their payoff for that has been null and void, as the list of playoff horrors inflicted upon the Chiefs by opposing franchise quarterbacks over the past 25 years is borderline sadistic, like a football version from the mind of Eli Roth.
The Chiefs were one of the winningest team of the 1990s, only to see their good fortune immediately run out — Wile E. Coyote-style — immediately upon entering the playoffs.
From the 1994-2017 seasons, the Chiefs went 1-10 in the playoffs, losing in a whole manner of brutal ways. A missed last-second field goal in 1995. A 38-31 loss in 2004 to the Colts in which neither team punted. A blown 28-point second-half lead in 2014 against, yep, the Colts. And most recently, a squandered 18-point second-half lead last postseason to the Tennessee Titans.
Guess who some of the quarterbacks who beat them were? Dan Marino, John Elway, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Marcus Mariota. All, save for Brady, were first-round quarterbacks.
So yes, when the Chiefs maneuvered 17 spots up the board to select Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in April 2017 — making him the franchise’s first first-round quarterback since 1983 — Chiefs fans reacted with the same shocked-but-giddy enthusiasm that Dave Chappelle’s character had in “Half Baked” when he and the gang found out Sir-Smoke-A-Lot had written a song about them.
And when the Chiefs, in turn, dealt their previous starting quarterback, Alex Smith, to Washington in January — thus clearing the way for Mahomes to take over — Mahomes-mania had already descended upon Kansas City.
Why Monday’s performance was so critical
His killer performance in the regular-season finale against Denver last December only heightened anticipation. And while some rushed to say that wasn’t indicative of what he could do as a quarterback, what Mahomes accomplished through the first three games of the season — 66 completion percentage, 944 yards, 13 touchdowns, zero interceptions — was enough to vault him into the early discussion for league MVP.
Then came Monday night, a prime-time showdown against an AFC West rival, the Denver Broncos. Many rushed to call this the perfect setting for a coming-out party or coronation, but what the Chiefs really needed was an exorcism.
For 16 seasons, this was the place where Chiefs fans were tortured by a gunslinger, a man had an obscene arm and made unfair throws and had a knack for bringing his team back late.
Elway, a former No. 1 overall pick, was the embodiment of everything Chiefs fans wanted in a quarterback, but seemed cursed to never have. While the Chiefs trotted out retreads, castoffs and reclamation projects from other teams, Elway was the homegrown, elite star quarterback, someone who always tilted the odds in the Broncos’ direction, no matter what.
But on Monday night, Mahomes conjured Elway’s famed “Mile High” magic and refashioned it in red and gold. Guiding the Chiefs from a 23-13 second-half deficit, Mahomes ran away from Broncos defenders, slung the ball with heat and accuracy from various angles — even converting one third down with a left-handed flick straight from The Brett Favre Collection — and willed the Chiefs to a 27-23 victory that left an entire nation stunned, and officially on alert:
The Patrick Mahomes era is here, and it’s glorious.
“A star is born in Kansas City!” ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore bellowed afterward.
And the Broncos were eager to crown him, using the phrases tinged with the same odd mix of appreciation and frustration that the Chiefs used to say about Elway back in the day.
“We had good pressures, again — good, called pressures that he hadn’t seen — and they worked, but he escaped,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “He made some plays to beat us.”
“He’ll run all day, buy time … I’m talking like 20 yards deep and then he’ll throw the ball 40 yards,” outside linebacker Von Miller said. “He’s a great quarterback. He did a great job tonight.”
“He made us scramble in coverage the whole game — we couldn’t sack this man,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “He’s a hell of a player, he’s a hell of a quarterback.”
This was a virtuoso performance against the league’s 11th-ranked defense in total yards, one so moving that by the end of the evening, a slew of Chiefs fans posted belligerent “THAT’S OUR QB!!!” takes on Twitter that probably annoyed the 95 percent of NFL fans across the country who were, all of a sudden, comparing their quarterbacks to Mahomes and left wanting more.
If you fell into that percentile, you’ll have to forgive Chiefs fans. They have no idea how to handle their new reality, as the supporters of a franchise guided by a superstar at the game’s most important position.
The tweets you read last night were the relieved exultations of an aggrieved fanbase, one that finally has an elite, homegrown franchise quarterback of its own to go to war with.
And while football, like life, is unfair, every once in a while, poetic justice is offered up on a platter. When that happens — just like in life — there are fewer things sweeter, as perpetually tortured Chiefs fans will tell you after Monday night’s conquest of the Broncos.
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