For Kansas City Teams, Home Field Not Always An Advantage In Postseason
Twenty years ago, a sports team captured the heart of Kansas City. This squad blazed through the regular season, earning the league's best record. As a result, it claimed home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Its postseason games would be played in front of enthusiastic, boisterous fans hungry for a title.
Sound familiar? As Royals fans gear up for Thursday's postseason opener at Kauffman Stadium, some can't help but recall other times in the not-so-distant past when a Kansas City sporting franchise has not necessarily taken advantage of home-field advantage.
In January 1996, the Chiefs — pegged by some as the best team in franchise history — lost 10-7 to the Indianapolis Colts at a raucous Arrowhead Stadium that turned deathly silent once Lin Elliott missed a potential game-tying field goal in the final minute (his third missed field goal of the game).
Joel Thorman was 11 at the time. His family, including his brother, parents and uncles, gathered at his family's home in Brookside. He even remembers one of his uncles had rented a big-screen TV (in a time when people did things like that.)
"It was horrible. They were one of the best teams in the league that year with one of the best defenses and to lose because of missed field goals. Just awful," Thorman says.
It would be one thing if this was a one-shot memory, a painful but isolated event. But no.
"The January '98 loss to the Broncos stings because, you know, it's the Broncos. And you never want to lose to John Elway," says Thorman.
Two years later and the near exact same scenario for the Chiefs: best record in the league, home field advantage throughout the playoffs, a postseason loss at Arrowhead. This one ended 14-10 to dreaded rival Denver.
The pattern, alas, persisted into the new century.
"By 2003, I think, I was just conditioned for it. Of course, the 'No Punt Game' was incredible. It didn't feel as painful as the others," he says. "You understood you were a Chiefs fan and something horrible was going to happen. That was the lesson I took from the 1990s."
Yes, the 'No Punt Game'. Best record, home-field, yadda yadda yadda. At the end of the 2003 season, the Colts (again), this time quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, were never forced to punt in a 38-31 victory at Arrowhead.
Thorman, who now runs the popular Chiefs blog arrowheadpride.com with his older brother Chris, says his postseason 'conditioning' does not extend to the Royals.
"Home field advantage is still a positive thing for me. If I could pick having a home game or a road game in the playoffs, 100 times out of 100 I want to play at home."
Other Kansas City fans who split their allegiance between the Chiefs and Royals agree, or are at least putting up a brave face.
"We have to separate the two," Mark Powell wrote in an email. Powell is part of the online Chiefs fan community Chiefs Crowd. "Royals fans were jubilant when they clinched home field throughout the playoffs."
Powell thinks his complex towards the Chiefs does not blend into the joy he's had for the Royals the past two seasons.
"Chiefs fans will always feel like their team is cursed but having home field advantage isn't what bothers us. It's the lack of overall playoff success. We have a constant feeling of 'what will go wrong next?'"
Thorman concurs. Though the two teams share a facility at the Truman Sports Complex, bad playoff memories at Arrowhead should not bleed into Kauffman, he says.
"We love to think Arrowhead is this great place for a home field advantage. We think that, frankly, because we don't have much else to hang our hat on (as Chiefs fans). I mean, we haven't won a playoff game in more than twenty years, so we have to get amped up about something. And those losses were a real hit to our pride in Arrowhead."
Bitter Chiefs' memories aside, Thorman says he's ready to once again enjoy a Blue October.
But the point must be made, as Royals manager Ned Yost did recently, that the only postseason series Kansas City lost during last year's memorable October, was the only one in which they had ... you guessed it ... home field advantage.
Kyle Palmer is a newscaster and reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter, @KCURkyle.