People often ask me (I wonder why people always think I have all the answers….) why we Americans are so deeply in love with and so fanatically fervent about our favorite professional sports teams.
Well, after thinking about it for about 40 years, I’ve decided that it has to do with self-esteem. The average meat-and-potatoes American (I don’t know exactly what that means, but it sure sounds good) invests his time and affection in a particular sports franchise because that franchise—and its success—says something about him, or her, or at least something about how he or she would want to be perceived. In a perfect world, that is.
Accordingly, pro sports teams tend to stand for something. I know it’s that way with my two favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Bears. The Bears stand for toughness, historical continuity, a reverence for the past, and a no-nonsense way of going about one’s business. And the Giants, for me at least, stand for self-belief, coolness under fire, and never, ever, giving up. How else could that ragtag, unsung, punchless bunch of scrubs have just won the World Series???
You get the idea. Let’s take a look at a few other franchises, and what they stand for. Take the Patriots. Don’t the New England Patriots stand for precision, intelligence, and always outsmarting their opponents rather than physically overwhelming them? Take the Yankees. Don’t the Yankees stand for a relentless commitment to winning, no matter what it costs? The Pittsburgh Steelers stand for an aura of angry strength and often brutal intimidation, the Jets stand for dash and swagger no matter how bad they are, and our own local Lakers are all about glitter and glamour. The old Brooklyn Dodgers stood for community. So did the old Baltimore Colts. Even the adorable Chicago Cubs stand for something. They stand for class, self-deprecation, and a boundless illogical joy, said joy flying in the face of over a century of losing and bottom-of-the-barrel haplessness which will never again be duplicated as long as men are free….
So now we come to the crux. What do the Kansas City Chiefs stand for?
I mean really.
About a week ago on Monday Night Football I witnessed the most embarrassing, nauseating, and hard-to-accept shameful exhibition of football I have ever witnessed, and that, my friends, is saying something.
The embarrassing thing isn’t that K.C. lost. In fact they only lost by 3 points, against Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are still an angry, brutal, intimidating force and still one of the best teams in the league. No, it was the way the Chiefs accomplished their inevitable sojourn into the “L” column that vexes me.
I can tell you three things the Chiefs don’t stand for. Common sense, intellect, and humility.
Going into last week’s contest the Chiefs were 1 and 7. They are arguably the worst team in all of pro football. How do I know this? Well, going into the Steelers game the Chiefs, through eight weeks and 32 quarters of NFL play, had never at any time held a lead during a game. At least during regulation. Their only win (and only “lead”) came against the Saints in sudden-death overtime on, obviously, the last play of that game. The only other team in the 93-year history of the National Football League to ever get into the 9th week of a season without ever having held the lead on somebody was the 1929 Buffalo Bisons. Any time your favorite team, Chiefs fans, is historically linked with the Buffalo Bisons, well, it’s not good. (The ’29 Bisons crashed that very year, just like the stock market, they folded their tent, closed up shop, never to rise again. Like a lot of businesses in 1929.).
Anyway, last week the Chiefs jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead. A lead? Zounds! Gadzooks! Odds bodkins! And they made it look easy! They don’t look so bad, the Sports Philosopher said to himself, certainly not once-every-80-years bad. Then I looked at their roster. Jamaal Charles, one of the best running backs in the league. Dwayne Bowe, one of the best wide receivers in the league. Several all-star players on defense. Even their quarterback, Matt Cassel, isn’t too bad. I mean he’s not gonna remind Chiefs fans of Len Dawson, but at least he’s better than their quarterback of last year, the immortal Tyler Palko. “So how come these guys are once-every-80-years bad?” I asked myself again.
I soon found out.
The Steelers rallied and tied the score but then the Chiefs drove right downfield and scored again. Except that as Bowe was heading into the end zone he turned back, slowed down, and held out the ball in the direction of the Pittsburgh defender with one hand. He mockingly, tauntingly showed him the ball! A guy on a 1-and-7 team! Taunted a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers! In Pittsburgh!
Yeah, that’s right, this was a Steelers home game. So this would be the equivalent of a small-town kid barging into the house of the town bully and sticking his tongue out at him. The equivalent of walking up to the toughest guy on the block and pissing on his shoes. And forget for a minute how dumb it is to taunt the town bully, what if the ball had slipped out of Bowe’s hand before he crossed the goal line? After all, it was raining during the game. And remember, this is a 1-and-7 team! Didn’t Bowe’s parents teach him how to behave himself? I mean if he was on a good team and suffered a testosterone-driven need to showboat that’s one thing, but this is the worst team in the league! My theory is that Bowe suffered temporary amnesia that night. Rather than being a talented albeit underachieving pass catcher on a horrible, horrible Chiefs team, he hallucinated and thought it was 1969, when the Chiefs were the best team in football, and he was the great Otis Taylor showing that ball one-handed to a Pittsburgh defender when Pittsburgh happened to be the worst team in the league. Yeah a lot has changed since 1969.
The football gods were watching, and they were not amused. Some whimsical referee flagged the Chiefs for holding on the play. The flag came in very, very late. Replays showed that the Chiefs’ guy didn’t really hold his man at all. My thinking is that the ref was as outraged as I was and was determined to do anything he could to take the Chiefs’ touchdown off the board. (The Chiefs were lucky they weren’t flagged for taunting as well. There is a penalty for that. Really.). Anyway, I’m starting to think no wonder this team is 1-and-7….
It got worse. Later in the game two Chiefs sacked Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and knocked him out of the game. Ben is hurt bad, he’s gonna miss a couple weeks of action at least. And yet, the two Chiefs guys started celebrating! Right next to Ben’s crumpled body! Now it’s bad enough they were celebrating a simple sack, bad enough celebrating on a play where one of their football brethren got injured, we’re all used to that. But it was the celebration itself which was disturbing. It was a mutual high-stepping, toe-tapping, shared patty cake of an Irish jig that looked like either the two guys were not-so-secret lovers or that they were trying out for the chorus line of Michael Flatly’s Lord Of The Dance. Troubling, to say the least.
Don’t these Chiefs guys read the papers? ONE AND SEVEN!!!
But the Chiefs’ next flight from humility was their worst yet. In the 4th quarter Roethlisberger’s replacement at quarterback, Byron Leftwich, who hadn’t played in a game in two years (and who is about as mobile as a fire hydrant) was sacked by half the Kansas City team, fumbled, K.C. picked up the ball and the whole defense rolled into the end zone like an out-of-control juggernaut. Touchdown. Game/set/match, right?
Except for three little things.
One, the Chiefs were flagged for an unsportsmanlike “group celebration” penalty. In the NFL, if one guy celebrates a touchdown by flexing and thrusting his pelvis suggestively like he’s trying out for a job as a lap-dancer, that’s fine. But if a whole bunch of guys do it as if it’s a pre-planned ritual (which of course it is), that’s considered a “group celebration”, it’s a no-no, and it’s 15 yards. That’s 15 yards which is usually enforced after the ensuing kickoff. So the touchdown wasn’t affected….
….Except for the second problem. Upon further review Leftwich’s fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, nullifying the touchdown. And of course the Steelers got to keep the ball as well. So for the second time in the game, the displeased football gods took a Chiefs touchdown and with a defiant blast of their collective nostrils made it go away.
And thirdly—and you just gotta love this one—the penalty for unsportsmanlike “group celebration” of the touchdown that wasn’t….was enforced anyway. Fifteen yards, which moved the Steelers from out of the shadow of their goal line and into great field position. So that meant the Chiefs were assessed a HUGE penalty for celebrating a touchdown that didn’t even wind up counting!!! It was a major penalty for celebrating virtually nothing!!! For celebrating a touchdown that didn’t exist!!! Have you ever seen that? I haven’t. It was beyond embarrassing. I felt a pang of sadness for Chiefs fans everywhere.
By this time I found myself almost rooting for the Steelers. I said almost. I cannot bring myself to actually root for the Steelers…..unless of course they are playing the Packers.
Finally, late in the game, still tied, with the Steelers in K.C. territory but still slightly out of field goal range, Leftwich threw an incomplete pass on third down. Which meant that they would have to attempt a very long field goal in order to take the lead, in the rain, on fourth down.
Except for one little thing.
Some idiotic Chiefs guy (perhaps in the middle of an LSD flashback and thus thinking he was a member of a street gang and not a professional football team) speared the statuelike Leftwich in the head with his helmet for no particular reason, yet another 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and three plays later Pittsburgh made the shortened, chip-shot field goal. Sheesh. The Chiefs kicked a field goal as time expired to tie it (a field goal which should have won the game, not tied it), which gave them hope, but of course they threw a dumb interception in overtime and lost. That’s one-and-eight. One-and-eight, Chiefs fans. Yeah, I’m talking to you.
Normally I am very critical of teams that panic and fire the head coach prematurely, or unnecessarily, or unfairly, when things go bad. The Lakers’ recent firing of Mike Brown comes to mind. Brown got screwed with his pants on. But truth be told, that was a borderline call. Laker brass had been contemplating the move for awhile. But usually its some temperamental owner overreacting and canning his coach way too early, by way of identifying a scapegoat for his overpaid, underperforming players. Owners almost always fire the coach too quickly, or fire a guy when he shouldn’t even be fired at all.
But if I am the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs (is that job open?), and I am made to witness such an embarrassing, cocky spectacle of unwarranted braggadocio and hubris, I am firing my head coach and looking for a new one the next day. If you didn’t see this game (and judging by the ratings, you probably didn’t) I assure you the conduct of the Chiefs players was beyond embarrassing. It was more akin to the unchecked, serial bragging and bad manners of a family of spoiled, badly raised children. If a head coach can’t do any better of a job than that of controlling the cockiness and arrogance of his young gladiators, conduct which not only costs his team points and games but also reflects poorly on the organization as a whole, and makes it a laughingstock, and I am the owner, he simply cannot be my head coach for one more single, solitary day. The Chiefs’ head coach is a guy named Romeo Crennel. Nice guy, lousy head coach.
And judging by the Chiefs players’ behavior, a lousy babysitter as well.
Moral of the story? Well, children—Listen to your parents, learn respect, and practice good manners. You might not wind up growing up and becoming a laughingstock on national TV. Or rather not growing up and becoming a laughingstock on national TV.
And please, NFL execs, no more Chiefs games until they all grow up.
And while they’re at it, they should pass a law that you can’t even be an NFL head coach if your first name is Romeo.
I mean really.
MEET THE SPORTS PHILOSOPHER
Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, a film buff, an undiscovered literary savant,and a tireless crusader for humility in Sports . Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’. His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’. Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.
*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack (and of triumph and utter despair) entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com. And then order it. And then READ it. And then tell everyone about it. And then read it again. And then post your praise on Facebook. And then order a dozen more copies to use as Christmas presents. Okay? Okay??? For all this he thanks you…..