On the surface, it is a 1-4 football team and a fan base tired of seeing its emotional and monetary efforts seemingly go for naught. On the surface, the quarterback is the unwilling, inadequate lightning rod stuck in an electrical storm charged by furor at his bosses, who perched him atop the house.
On Sunday, in Kansas City’s 9-6 loss to Baltimore at Arrowhead Stadium, the rod took its biggest hit to date with the strike nearly blowing the Chiefs house apart. And, in Monday morning’s light, on the surface, the storm damage isn’t nearly as easy to assess as the national media is doing from its high-horse, spaceship vantage point.
Matt Cassel went down almost directly ahead of me. Sitting at the second row from the top of the lower level, at the 20-yard line on the Chiefs side, I watched the line break and Cassel get rocked at the 22. He hit the ground. He didn’t get up. The cheers started. Thousands of fans in the end zone to my left weren’t cheering for the 16-yard completion as some have surmised. They weren’t yet cheering for Brady Quinn. Stuck in the energy-sucking mire of a touchdown-less slog of a game, some fans, including some around me, suddenly came to life because they saw Matt Cassel on the ground.
Eric Winston’s rant makes sense for that lunatic fringe. His rant makes for easy headlines and sports talk fodder. Should fans cheer injuries? Of course not. Are fans out of control? No more here than any other place. Is Kansas City a bad sports town? Hell. No. And, I’d be willing to fight any national knucklehead over that one.
That said, it is here that Winston’s words don’t help. They don’t help his team, they don’t help the fans. They don’t do anything but further fracture a rapidly deteriorating relationship that once appeared unbreakable. I don’t blame Winston for saying what he did. It was after a frustrating game. He heard the same cheers I did. But, as a newcomer to this awful situation, which is much larger than he could imagine, he needed to sit this one out because it wasn’t just about Matt Cassel, though it was him, again, in the wrong place at the wrong time, again. It wasn’t Winston’s place to call out a fan base frustrated by watching its loved one destroy itself through bad choices ranging from forced personnel decisions to inexplicable-but-somehow-understood play calling to punting with 12 seconds left in the first half… with the ball on the opposition’s side of the field.
Here, this all now feels like an intervention gone horribly wrong, and the fans are now left to pull away because their efforts at making things change have been met with defensive statements like Winston’s and ridiculous denial in the form of the Chiefs continuing to trot out a not-right Cassel and Romeo Crennel saying in postgame that his team played well.
Cassel’s injury, unfortunate but convenient considering where things are at this point, finally takes that decision out of Scott Pioli’s hands. And, regardless of how Brady Quinn plays, the door is now wide open for Clark Hunt to make a decision. If Quinn is good and the team responds to him, it will be that much more obvious a change was needed at the position, which leads back to the guy who demanded that Cassel play. If Quinn is terrible and the team folds anyways, it will be that much more obvious the whole thing needs burned.
Either way, lightning struck on Sunday, and the fire was set. You just have to hope those who are looking at the thing from too far back realize where the house is actually burning instead of focusing on Winston’s comments.