Well — yes! — the Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl for the first time in half a century. But why does that matter? Commentator Victor Wishna offers just one reason, in this long-in-coming edition of 'A Fan’s Notes.'
I want to tell you a story. There are thousands like it. On Sunday, inside Arrowhead Stadium, there were about 74,000 stories. But this is mine.
When I was a little kid — that’s how these kinds of stories always start — the centerpiece of our living room was the object we called “Mom’s football.” Encased in Lucite, it perched on the brick ledge of the fireplace, next to the glass bowl that was home to Herman, my hermit crab.
Sometimes when my mom wasn’t home I would take the ball from its case, and study the odd, scrawled names: Mike Garrett, Otis Taylor, Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell. I imagined the importance they must hold to others, or possibly to myself, like distant relatives whose legend I had not yet learned.
In a way, my own history starts the year following Super Bowl IV, when, on Christmas Day 1971, my mother introduced her parents to their future son-in-law. They would later joke — I think it was a joke — that they didn’t remember meeting him. After all, the divisional playoff between the Chiefs and Miami Dolphins, still the longest game in NFL history, had just gone into a second overtime.
My dad, a New Yorker who was more into baseball, was smart enough to cancel their dinner reservation. A year later, my parents were married. But it would be well more than a decade before the Chiefs saw another playoff game.
I grew up during those dark days of the '70s and ’80s. But there was always Mom’s football and Super Bowl IV, the myth on which those of us too young to remember it personally were raised.
By the ’90s, mom and I were averaging about one or two trips to Arrowhead each season. When I moved a thousand miles away, we would talk after almost every game. Sometimes it was just a quick email. Here’s one I got right after the Chiefs had blown a two-touchdown, fourth quarter lead to the Cleveland Browns. I’ll just read the whole thing: “Well … [bleep].”
All of which is to say, I have always blamed my mother for this curious condition of being a sports fan, represented most by a strange, often discomfiting passion for the Kansas City Chiefs. When she passed away in 2008, I also got her football.
As a Chiefs fan, Sunday at Arrowhead was the greatest day of my life — okay, besides, of course, my own wedding day, and the birthdays of my two children (both Chiefs fans, by the way). And as with those milestones, which I lamented my mom hadn’t lived to see, I realized just how close she was. So, surrounded by multitudes cheering the final kneel-down, I savored my own quiet moment.
“They did it, Mama.”
Like I said, this story — my story — is not special. That’s the point: It’s shared.
Fifty years after signing my mom’s ball, Hall of Famer Bobby Bell presented the Lamar Hunt Trophy to Lamar Hunt’s own son. And Travis Kelce captured the relief and joy of generations when he screamed into the mic, “It’s been seven years comin’, baby!” And, well, he was only off by 43 years.
Each year the names on my Mom’s football had begun to fade a little more. But Sunday night, I could swear they were glowing.
Win or lose in Miami, this doesn’t feel like a culmination or even a redemption, but a continuation — a dawning? Perhaps the beginning of a championship era. Another roster of greats to be remembered. A new myth in the making.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.