Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Sports Can Often Times Remind You Of a Punch to the Solarplexus, Exhibit A: This Weekend

There are those of us who woke up Monday (or Tuesday, if your team played on MNF, "played" being an interesting term) and all was normal. Your team had done what it's been known to do throughout its illustrious history. The Bears had used a dominating defense to bounce back from a 20-3 late 3rd deficit. The Steelers had shown that they are, as usual, the class of the AFC, or at least on their way back. The Rams may have dropped that game to the Seahawks, but surely, they are close to elite status an easy schedule to comfort them. The Patriots had the bye this week, but I'm pretty sure they won, too. Maybe Tom Brady got a free subscription to Hustler or something.

The same can be said with the NCAA. USC slipped away from another possible defeat to an inferior team from the Pac 10. Ohio State blasted someone else, as did Michigan and Texas. Florida can't even feel bad, the SEC is too tough to win all your games.

Then there's the rest of us. Lost in the ESPN frontpage headlines and NFL Films presentations are the rest of the teams.

If this sounds like a bellyache, it is. If this sounds like whining, you're right on target. The rest of us have no option. And believe me, I'd like nothing more than to not be a part of it. But in reality, I only have two choices. Express unhappiness for my plight (and those like me), or quit watching sports. Because I've started to lose faith things will turn around.

I've been a Chiefs fan since I was born. My grandfather was a Chiefs fan. My Dad was a Chiefs fan. I learned swear words from Sundays at 3PM. Tenants for existence have been established by that idenitity.

Nothing good should ever happen to the Raiders.

Mike Shanahan sold his soul to the Devil for his blocking scheme.

Len Dawson is the nicest guy since that Christ dude.

Marcus Allen is the most underrated running back in NFL history.

Rich Gannon has sex with rustly toolboxes.

I started paying attention when the Chiefs defense was fearsome. It wasn't just impressive, it was awe-inspiring. It obliterated the turnover margins of other teams. Sacks weren't a once a game occurance to jump up for, they were the expected result. You cheered to egg on a defense that was going to stop an offense from getting 5 yards into an offense that was going to lose 5 yards. They had Marcus Allen. They made the playoffs. This was surely a great team.




Marty Schottenheimer couldn't losen up enough to win a playoff game. He played not to lose (as he continues to do), and never to win. He never went for the kill. And he never, ever let quarterbacks try and have memorable games, because a turnover was possible. And so our rotation as a good team passed, and Denver got good again and won two Superbowls. And then Oakland got Jon Gruden and started making the AFC Championship every year, and finally the SuperBowl, before getting crushed by the same Gruden that had brought them to the dance.

Okay, awesome. So the Chiefs have Dick Vermeil and a great offense and we'll be good again, right?

Um. Kinda.

And hey, we did make the playoffs. Once. And we scored a lot of points. Only punted once. Unfortunately, Peyton didn't have to punt at all.

And then failure after failure as the defense somehow managed to get worse. I watched the same team that I grew up watching terrify quarterbacks allow record days for them. I saw an offense that could score at will, but had to, because the other team was going to score more. I took solace in the usual things you do.

"We've got a lot of talent."

"LJ is going to be a star."

"The defense is improving."

"We always have a chance to win the game. We're always competitive."

The last one is a big one for teams that don't have a history of winning. Just being close, knowing that one day, you'll put it together and start winning those games, and keep winning.

It's important to note at this point that I'm not even looking for a Super Bowl. That's one of the things that I hate most about winning franchises. The fans come to expect Super Bowl wins. It's not enough to make it there, you have to close.

I just want to see it. I want to have a Superbowl mean something more than a big sports weekend, or a reason to have friends over in February. I just want to know what it's like to be a fan of the AFC Champions. If we lose, hey, we won two playoff games and made it to the big dance. We're competitive.

Sunday was the first time I've ever turned off a Chiefs game. I've had to miss them occasionally for whatever reason, usually because I no longer live in a place that shows them, and can't afford going to a bar to watch. But when I sit down to watch them, I watch them. I maintain that we can win. Sunday, I turned off the TV. I couldn't watch it anymore. It was like every ounce of joy had been sucked from watching sports. The Steelers completely embarrassed the Chiefs in every way possible. The offense was inept, the defense was laughable, and the special teams were mediocre. It wasn't competitive after the coin was flipped. It was absolutely no fun. There are losses that hurt because you were so close, but you know that, and it drives you. It makes you root harder, makes you want the management to sign players that much more, makes you more bonded because you share the team's disappointment.

Then there are games like Sunday. Sunday was the first point in my entire life where I have not wanted to be a Chiefs fan. I saw the expansion Panthers pull out another win, as that franchise continues to cement itself as elite. I saw the elite teams continue to dominate, San Diego taking their turn on the top of the AFC West wheel, while Denver continues to beat mediocre teams and stroke its ego because of it. And what's worse, I saw the Saints, historically one of the worst teams in NFL history, a joke, a disgrace, beat the Eagles in dramatic fashion. They have a great core of players and a lot of potential.

We have a coach we gave a second round draft pick for, who thus far has proved he's really good at downplaying losses. We didn't get beaten by the Steelers, we got destroyed. That's the only word for it. There was nothing positive to take away from the game. Nothing.

And this year it's like so many others. The Bears, a dynasty in their own right, are looking like the frontrunner to add to their massive trophy case. The Patriots are still leading the AFC East. St. Louis is even a factor again. Teams who's fans have enjoyed saying "We're the champs." Who have watched their teams in the biggest game. I don't think most of them understand what it's like to be on this other side. To be eternally tied to a team that breaks your heart year after year. That leaves you in February desperately looking forward to a Draft two months away and training camp in two seasons. "Wait 'till next year!" Call it Cubs disease.

In a poll Deadspin (hallowed, be thy name) led me to, the Chiefs were ranked the second best fanbase in the NFL, following only the Browns, and ahead of the Eagles. Those three teams are a combined 1-3. The Chiefs have that one win. The Browns have never seen the light of the SuperBowl. I can't even begin to imagine what that would be like. Yet, Philadelphia has been a playoff contender year after year, as recently as two years ago appearing the Super Bowl.

Yet through all that, this weekend was the first time the fear really hit me. I've lived with the "I may never see my favorite team even PLAY in a championship game my entire life" the same way you fear a suspended highway collapsing and your car being thrown to the swampy depths below. Usually, you just keep driving and aren't even aware of the fear. Sunday made me stare down, see the cracks in the foundation, see the depth markers, peer into the murky nothingness below. It was the first time I went from "My Grandfather may never see the Chiefs win another Superbowl" to "My dad may never see the Chiefs win another Superbowl" to "I may never see the Chiefs play in the Superbowl."

And as long as you keep perspective, if that's the worst thing that ever happens to me, awesome, I'll take it. Sold.

But as a sports fan, I'm left petrified, my eyes wide, shaking, muttering to myself about how last year we could have been the Steelers, and starting to realize that the sound I hear under Herm Edwards' positive attitude and Larry Johnson's fantasy stats, over Trent Green's positive doctor's report, and the defensive rankings...

is the sound of the bridge starting to fall.

So what do you do? You get back on the horse (to mix metaphors, cliche ones at that, and do it badly), and get ready to talk yourself into why they can beat the Chargers on Sunday.

After all, even if things go horribly, as badly as they could possibly go, there's still next year?


1 comment:

dyoung said...

Matt, if you really want to know what it's like to root for a team that routinely gets embarrassed, ask Pursch what it's like to root for the Cubs. Almost a 100 years since they won a World Series. And as much as you might make of the Bears impressive history (and you're right, there is a lot of it that is quite impressive), they have had four good seasons in my life time and 3 of them came before I really knew what football is about. Everybody loves the Superbowl Sufflin' Bears, but when they were the team, I couldn't have told you what made them great. So, while you bemoan the Chefs and how terrible they are right now, remember that the Bears had the 4th pick overall in the draft two years ago. The NFL is a league about ups and downs and they tend to swing very quickly. Unless your a Cardinal fan. Then, all I can say is courage.