These longtime Kansas City Chiefs fans remember when the team was terrible. ‘Then Patrick came along’
The Chiefs begin their 60th year of football in Kansas City as Super Bowl favorites, but many longtime fans still remember the days when wins were much harder to come by.
Yet again, the Kansas City Chiefs will start the new NFL season as favorites to win the Super Bowl.
But among the people who will pack Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday for the first regular-season game, there are plenty of fans like Gary Mitchell, of Kansas City, Kansas, who recalls the Chiefs’ leaner years.
“In losing seasons, it’s really hard to get everything together, spend money to come here, and knowing that they might not win,” said Mitchell before last month’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns.
Mitchell remembers 2012 as a particularly painful campaign, when the Chiefs finished the season 2-14.
“Then Patrick came along, and look what you have,” Mitchell said.
Indeed, as the Chiefs embark on their 60th year of football in Kansas City, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid seem to have pushed those bad memories into the distant past.
Reid’s first season with the team ended with an 11-5 record, and they’ve made the playoffs every year since 2015. Since Mahomes took on starting duties, the Chiefs have played in three Super Bowls and won two, including last season, 38-35, against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Chiefs unfold the 2023 season on Thursday against the Detroit Lions, who haven’t won an NFL title since the late 1950s.
“It’s been an amazing run these last five or six years,” said Mahomes the morning after his second Super Bowl victory, in Phoenix. “And let’s keep it rolling.”
Fans like Mitchell couldn’t agree more.
Not since Pro Football Hall of Famer Len Dawson’s arrival in ‘63 have Chiefs fans seen a comparable quarterback — Mahomes has taken the position to another dimension.
The Baker family, from Independence, have followed the team’s rise from the very beginning.
“When they came up to Kansas City, my uncle bought the tickets,” said Dan Baker, from his Arrowhead Stadium tailgate spot. “My dad bought tickets from my uncle, I bought tickets through my dad and we’ve been here since.”
Dan’s 90-year old father, Dick Baker, now foregoes those weekly trips to Arrowhead due to his age, but he confirms “it has been pretty big in our family, and, when the game comes on, (we’re) pretty much sitting in our living rooms if we’re not at the games,” he said.
Remembering those years when wins were harder to come by helps Dan Baker appreciate the Chiefs’ current success, he said.
“I’ve gone through a lot of very miserable games out here when we had 18,000 (fans) or something,” he said. “I was one of them.”
His outlook has completely changed in recent years.
“Every game, we expect for Mahomes to pull off some magic, or for Reid to design a whole new offensive play that nobody’s seen and prepared for,” he said.
Staying close to home
Gary Spani played linebacker for the Chiefs during some of those darker days, after his time at Kansas State University. The Kansas native retired this year as the Chiefs’ director of community engagement, after close to 45 years with the organization.
Spani said if the team’s founder, Lamar Hunt, were still around for these heady days, he’d be out there mingling with tailgaters on game day — the American Football League founder, who died in 2006, loved nothing more than being a part of everything.
“Knowing Lamar, he would be more excited and focused on how he could make it better for the fans, how he could make it better for the community, how he could continue to see the sport grow,” said Spani.
Chiefs fan Gary Mitchell, a season-ticket holder, said he’s on board no matter what, but going to a game feels different now that the team is consistently flying high.
“It gives us a little bit more ‘gump,’ so to speak, to come out and see them play, because their chances are good,” he said.
So good, in fact, that a shot at playing in next year’s Super Bowl has become routinely realistic.