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St. Louis Finally Gets Something Right — Rooting For The Chiefs

A Kansas City Chiefs fan holds a flag during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Kansas City. The team has picked up fans across Missouri after their 2020 Super Bowl win.(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/AP
A Kansas City Chiefs fan holds a flag during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Kansas City. The team has picked up fans across Missouri after their 2020 Super Bowl win.(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Kansas City and St. Louis are natural rivals, but both Missouri cities are now united around the Kansas City Chiefs.

Despite being connected by Interstate 70, the two largest cities in Missouri sit on opposite sides of the state and often compete for political influence and tax dollars.

St. Louis proper is smaller than Kansas City, but it’s a much bigger metropolitan area.

And then there’s the Gateway Arch.

Many historians would argue the Kansas City-area, where the Oregon, Santa Fe and other pioneer trails started, is the true gateway to the west, but St. Louis is home to an iconic 630-foot tall national monument that says otherwise.

Of course, Kansas City is unrivaled when it comes to barbeque, so it all evens out.

Despite their differences, the cities do have one thing in common: they’re rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2020 Super Bowl.

“In St. Louis, it’s everywhere you look. It’s Chiefs merchandise. It’s just Chiefs fans and people talking about the Chiefs,” says Brian Dorsey, who runs the Facebook group Chiefs Fans of St. Louis.

To understand this, it’s important to look unpack the sad, tortured relationship between St. Louis and the National Football League.

In 1960, both Missouri cities were in the same situation. The Chiefs had just moved from Texas to Kansas City, and a Chicago football team, the Cardinals, set up in St. Louis.

“I grew up a football Cardinals fan,” says Dorsey. “As a kid, I lived for that team. That logo was my home.”

But then the football team deserted St. Louis for sunny Arizona. That was 1987, and the move upended fans like D.J. Gruenloh of Owensville, Missouri.

“I had Cardinal football season tickets," says Gruenloh. "And when they left, I just kind of went to [being] a Chiefs fan."

St. Louis was in the NFL wilderness for eight years.

Racheal Jung was growing up in Rolla during that time.

“My brother and my family were Chiefs fans. Everyone loved the Chiefs,” says Jung. “And then we got the Rams.”

The Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995. But St. Louis football fans had been burned before, so not all of them wholeheartedly embraced the Rams.

“I never did quit being a Chiefs fan when the Rams were here,” says Gruenloh. “When the Rams and the Chiefs played each other for like the Governor’s Cup, I’d actually wear two different jerseys to the dome, and then whichever team was wining was the jersey I put on the outside.”

Fans were right to be skeptical. After two decades, the Rams moved back to Los Angeles after the 2015 season, leaving St. Louis once again without an NFL team.

“When the Rams left town, we kind of just left them on the curb,” says Dorsey. “They didn’t want us, and we didn’t want them."

While the Rams are widely despised in St. Louis, Dorsey says a few other football teams besides the Chiefs are popular. The Chicago Bears have had a significant following in St. Louis for many years.

But Dorsey notes that the relationship is a little more complicated.

“Traditionally, St. Louis is very anti-Chicago sports, so you’ve also got your Packers fans,” he says. “The Cowboys have always had a little foothold here. The Raiders? Those guys are everywhere.

Dorsey says last year’s season and Super Bowl win doubled the size of his Chiefs fan group.

It’s not just St. Louis.

Dorsey, who drives tour buses for a living, sees Chiefs fandom spreading all over the Midwest but especially across Missouri.

“You might see as much K.C. stuff in Springfield as you would anywhere — even in Kansas City,” he says. “Springfield, maybe even more than St. Louis. To be honest, it’s very rabid there.”

So, Kansas City, the underdog town in Missouri, is leading the way on football.

This all makes perfect sense to Kanas City Mayor Quinton Lucas.

“It’s only sensible that all of Missouri is rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. You’ve got this great team. And the Chiefs have a training camp in Missouri. The Chiefs play in Missouri," says Lucas. “So, there’s no reason why Missourians, including those in the St. Louis metro, shouldn’t be a part of our success and our fandom.”

And as long as the Chiefs are faithful to Missouri, it seems like Missouri — all of Missouri — will continue to be part of Chiefs Kingdom.

St. Louis Public Radio's Jonathan Ahl contributed to this report.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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