On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will play for their first Super Bowl berth in half a century. But first, they needed to vanquish the Colts—and all the ghosts—of playoffs past. Whatever happens next, “A Fan’s Notes” commentator Victor Wishna will always remember the day the postseason curse was broken.
On Saturday, as you probably know, the Kansas City Chiefs finally won a home playoff game—for the first time in 25 years!
For fans, it really is hard to overstate the sense of elation, but also relief. On talk-radio postgame shows, grown men cried and some of them were sober. Many compared the Chiefs’ convincing victory over the Indianapolis Colts to the Royals’ wild, wild-card win in 2014.
But this moment is bigger. The Royals, for thirty years, were just bad—hopeless, really. The Chiefs have been cursed, fielding good teams—sometimes great teams—and brazenly daring fans to renew their hopes every year. Yet each promising season was simply a preamble to postseason heartbreak, again and again. Good teams are supposed to win, especially at home. Yet the Chiefs had lost six straight playoff dates at Arrowhead, mostly in acutely painful fashion. I could go into details. Any KC fan could, and often would.
But from the very beginning of this season, something was different. And yes, his name is Patrick Mahomes.
Okay, it’s not Saint Patrick’s day just yet. As Mahomes himself said Saturday night, “It’s great, we won this first game; we’ve got two more to go.” Ha! Two more!
And it’s not just him (though mostly it’s him): Saturday’s win was a showcase for the hugely talented tally of playmakers on offense and a defense that is maybe not nearly as terrible as its reputation, and statistics, would lead one to believe.
In a single night, consternation has given way to cautious optimism, even confidence. There were moments—that blocked punt, the blockheads slinging snowballs, Mahomes’ momentary limp—when it could have all gone wrong, like it always has. Instead, after so many years, it’s all closer than it’s ever been in my lifetime.
I understand that not everyone cares. Not everyone keeps a football signed by the Super Bowl IV champion Chiefs in their home office; or an autographed headshot of Coach Hank Stram; or a commemorative plate of the Kansas City Times headline declaring “Chiefs Champs of the World.” All of these are artifacts that predate me, tributes to a time I don’t remember, ritual objects of the tradition in which I was raised.
My own kids marvel at the notion that our team hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since before I was born—which to them sounds like before the dawn of history. Now that the Kansas City Chiefs are favored to go to the Super Bowl, with just one more win, it all feels a little surreal to me, too.
To get there, the Chiefs and Mahomes will have to overcome the New England Patriots and ageless QB Tom Brady, the so-called GOAT, “greatest of all time.” Indeed, the Patriots may be the greatest dynasty in all of sports, but they haven’t won a playoff game on the road in more than a decade. Anything could happen, but homefield is once again an advantage.
Sunday’s game—the first-ever AFC Championship at Arrowhead—is the most important Chiefs game ever played in Kansas City. The team could claim the Lamar Hunt Trophy, the cup that bears its own founder’s name, for the first time. And saying that it’s all possible no longer seems like tempting fate.
Much like the Royals’ World Series run a few years ago, a win Sunday will underline this truth about sports—and you know, life: that while our past will always be our past, our history can change in a moment.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.