Katie Sowers’ childhood passion for football has carried her from Hesston, Kansas, to Miami — and the Super Bowl, where she’ll be the first woman to ever coach in the title game.
Sowers is an assistant coach on offense for the rival San Francisco 49ers, and will be in the skybox with the other coaches strategizing against the Kansas City Chiefs, and the city she loves so much the skyline is tattooed on her left forearm. She’s also the first openly LGBTQ coach in the NFL and, thus, Super Bowl LIV.
“I’ve never been one to try to be the first because I think when you’re trying to be the first you’re racing other women,” Sowers told reporters this week during Media Day in Miami. “I think what’s most important is I’m not the last.”
It’s a dream matchup for Sowers.
“I couldn’t have had a better idea of a Super Bowl in my head,” the 33-year old said. “I couldn’t have picked better two teams to play. I’m so excited for Sunday. It’s going to be a fun one.”
Katie’s twin sister, Liz, was in the stands as the 49ers warmed up ahead of the Jan. 19 NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. She wanted to let Katie know results of the AFC Championship between the Chiefs and Tennessee Titans.
“On the sideline, I was looking at Katie and I did the Arrowhead chop to make sure she knew that the Chiefs won (35-24),” said Liz Sowers, who will also be attending the Super Bowl. “Then she nodded at me and that was our signal, ‘Let’s take care of business.’”
It had finally sunk in for Liz Sowers when time ran out at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers did take care of business, beating the Packers, 37-20.
Home on the range
The Sowers twins grew up about 35 miles north of Wichita in Hesston, the heart of Chiefs country. Their dad, Floyd Sowers, was a basketball coach at Bethel College in North Newton. His coaching influence made an impact on Katie Sowers.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher, a coach or a counselor,” she said. “I kinda got all three.”
But, instead of concentrating on basketball like their dad, the Sowers twins gravitated toward football. Since elementary school, Katie Sowers idolized Deion Sanders and she met him in Miami this week.
“I wore his jersey all the time. That’s what I was so passionate … that’s what I loved. That’s what led me here,” said Sowers, glancing toward the crowd at Media Day in Marlins Park.
Katie Sowers also made the right connections, oddly as a fifth-grade basketball coach at Pembroke Hill in Kansas City, Missouri. There, she coached the daughter of Scott Pioli, who had lost his job as Chiefs general manager the year before.
“I certainly wasn’t thinking ahead to that she would be coaching in the NFL someday,” he said with a smile.
However, there was something about her voice, he said.
“She had a teacher’s voice. She had a caring voice, a demanding voice,” Pioli said. “She knew what she was talking about. She knew that she was doing. She was experienced and she just did a terrific job.”
Pioli’s time in Kansas City didn’t end well: In his last year, 2012, the Chiefs finished with a 2-14 record. So, while figuring out what was next in his life, he talked to Sowers, who at the time was an athletic director for the Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Recreation Department.
“It’s funny. When we met, she was coaching my daughter and other friends’ daughters, she wore me out,” he said good-naturedly. “After practice, after games, she was asking me about football. She says, ‘I know what you used to do.’”
Sowers wasn’t just a grade-school coach and a city employee. She also was the general manager, offensive coordinator and quarterback of the Kansas City Titans pay-for-play football team.
But her big break came when she got an internship with the Atlanta Falcons, where Pioli landed. Atlanta had an assistant coach who’d play prominently in Sowers’ future: Kyle Shanahan, the eventual 49ers head coach. Sowers joined San Francisco in 2017.
Chiefs vs. 49ers
The 49ers won’t have the full support of the Sowers family come Sunday.
“My older sister (Steph) is a Chiefs fan,” Liz Sowers said. “She has made it clear that she will remain a Chiefs fan. I support her remaining loyal.”
Katie Sowers’ dad is unable to travel to Miami because of health reasons. Bonnie Sowers, her mother, will also watch the game from the family’s home in Overland Park.
Last week, Hesston College named a building after Bonnie — the Bonnie Sowers Nursing Center — to recognize her 30-plus years as the school’s director of nursing.
The Sowers family would like for Katie to have her own moment of glory Sunday. But in an area that’s rabid for a Chiefs Super Bowl title, they know they’re vastly outnumbered.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR. Find him on Twitter at @GregEchlin.