Glittering in the sun as they flipped through the air, a dozen or so red and gold paper plates flew over Arrowhead Stadium’s mostly empty parking lot about 45 minutes after Sunday’s game. Swept up initially by a sturdy south breeze, the trash rose to impressive heights, gained speed as it swirled toward I-70 and left behind a much bigger mess.
Around that time, Kansas City Chiefs tackle Eric Winston told media if they ever wanted to talk to him again, they had better report his anger with fans who cheered Matt Cassel’s injury.
They did so, and it did exactly what anybody would think such a rant would by opening the door to conversation ad nauseum about fan behavior; so much of it, in fact, that ESPN even pushed Tim Tebow to the side for a brief moment.
There are so many levels to this, so many cards in play, that it is not possible to have a simple, all-encompassing conversation about how things evolved to this point. A new player in a new town rants about fans finally reaching a breaking point in their now years-long, battered relationship with a once proud team. And, some of those fans finally let it all go on a play that involved the Chiefs’ lightning rod getting injured. That deep dish needs rent on a psychiatrist’s couch.
But, it is Kansas City’s unfortunate conversation to have, and that’s my rub. Twice in the same calendar year, national audiences have been allowed to take a fuzzy, badly-lit, two-second cell phone photo of Kansas City’s fans and make it a characterizing mural.
It wasn’t good that anybody cheered Matt Cassel’s injury. But, you know what? Given the chance, many of those who did would tell you, truthfully, it wasn’t about the injury. It was about something, anything, finally forcing a change. Those cheers were more the release of pent-up exasperation than glee. This isn’t Philadelphia.
Kansas City is tired of being painted as some backwater, sleepy village where people “just don’t understand” all of these made-up-on-the-spot, ridiculous nuances of being a fan that larger cities want to hold above this town in a condescending way. Kansas City is tired of that. IT. IS. TIRED. The energy, time and money invested by folks here is legendary. So, too, is the being asked — no, check that, being told — by your teams that the price of your fan loyalty will continue to rise regardless of the product on the field.
But, even with that in mind, you know what Kansas City fans are tired of the most? They are tired of being told by completely oblivious outsiders what they should feel, when they should feel it, and how they should act; that we somehow don’t “get it”; that we’re stupid; that because the teams have settled comfortably into back-page material for decades, we should sleepily fall in line.
The fans won’t buy into keeping their mouths shut, paying more, expecting more and receiving less. Not anymore. Sunday’s cheer debacle wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t called for. It will never be right, even in revisionist history. But, had things not reached a boiling point between the team and the fans, it never would have happened. It takes a long time to push Kansas City fans to the absolute edge as they are now. It took decades, in fact. That’s what is missing here in every national narrative and some local ones. That’s what a new guy like Winston misses when he hasn’t been here.
Kansas City fans aren’t like this. Fans are out of character right now because they are desperate for their teams to give them something after having been subjected to nothing for far too long. They’re tired of asking. They are tired of 1985 marketing campaigns and a Super Bowl won when Clark Hunt was about to turn 6 years old. They’re tired of hearing what a terribly hard place this is to sell to free agents and having to defend themselves to East Coast snobs and West Coast indifference. They’re tired of having to try and explain that here, yes, the teams are woven into the culture in a way that New York or Miami or Houston or Los Angeles or Phoenix will never understand.
They are tired, man. They are so tired.
They also are willing to talk about it, if you show a little respect. That’s how it works here, national people. Stop with the condescending tone, and find out what really has gone on for more than one generation. Do that, and you’ll see this place for the fantastic, hospitable, sports-loving place it is. Until then, however, with as much Midwestern respect as we can muster at this point, Kansas City offers the following: