King: Shared Struggles

Two proud franchises stumbling to the finish line intersect in Kansas City today. Also intersecting is Steve King's long career as a Browns writer and a family of Chiefs fans he found himself amidst. Here's Steve's unique perspective on the game...

Maybe they should move Sunday's game between the Browns and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium to some neutral site that would not be that far away from either city – oh, I don't know, maybe brand-new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

After all, the Colts won't need it that day, for they played in Jacksonville on Thursday night.

Forget about what it might – or might not – do for the teams, for they don't matter at this point. Their seasons are long-since lost.

Instead, think about what it might do for the fans of the clubs. They could meet halfway – or somewhere near halfway, at least – and, in the warmth of a beautiful domed stadium, have a big, communal group hug and commiserate about the sorry, sad state of their proud franchises.

In having married the daughter of a man who was born and raised in Kansas City – and proud of it – back in The Great Depression, I used to get a weekly dose of discussion from him about the Chiefs and Royals, whether I liked it – or wanted it – or not. He hated – hated – Charles O. Finley for moving the Athletics from Kansas City to Oakland. He loved the Chiefs and Royals, and, because he was an international business executive, got to know on a personal, first-name basis the founding owners of those two teams, the great Lamar Hunt and Ewing Kaufmann, respectively.

He would talk with me about all the success those teams had through the years. He recalled the time that he thought he was going to get divorced on Christmas Day in 1971 as he kept telling his wife, "Just a minute, just a minute, I'll be right there for dinner as soon as the game is over," as the food kept getting colder and colder while the Chiefs and Miami Dolphins played an AFC divisional playoff game that lasted two overtimes. At 82 minutes, 40 seconds, it's still the longest game in NFL history.

At 77:54, the 1962 AFL Championship Game, where the Dallas Texans, the forerunner of the Chiefs, outlasted the Houston Oilers 20-17 in two overtimes, is the second-longest contest in NFL history (the records and statistics of the two leagues were combined when the AFL and NFL merged following the 1969 season).

And no, my father-in-law didn't get divorced, just chastised – heavily – and served cold mashed potatoes and gravy, yams and turkey. It went down extra hard because the Chiefs lost to the Dolphins 27-24.

The Browns, incidentally, played the next day in the AFC's other divisional contest, losing 20-3 to the Baltimore Colts at Cleveland.

My father-in-law talked about how Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Hank Stram and the Chiefs outplayed, outcoached and thoroughly embarrassed the heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV following the 1969 season. More on that in a minute.

Incidentally, a former Browns wide receiver from the 1950s, Darrel "Pete" Brewster, was an assistant coach for Kansas City that year.

Every Sunday during the football season, even though he was far removed from Kansas City, living in a suburb of Akron, Ohio, my father-in-law would wear his Chiefs sport shirt or sweatshirt and revel in their success, or lament their failures, when he would catch the scores of their games on the crawl across the bottom of his TV screen.

I remember how giddy he got through the 1990s when former Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer went to Kansas City and revived the Chiefs big-time.

A great, great man who was a success himself with everything he touched, rising from meager beginnings, he died right at the end of that Chiefs run. A part of me died with him.

But in his honor, I remain a Chiefs fan to this day. I root for them along with the Browns. I want the Browns to win on Sunday, but only by a point.

Having been a football fan growing up, I already knew a lot about the Chiefs, but when I met my father-in-law, I grew to know what it was like to be a fan of the Chiefs. He was the first person I ever met who rooted as hard for another NFL team – and another major league baseball team – as hard as I rooted for the Browns and Indians.

If he were alive today, then he'd be sick to his stomach – physically ill, really, no kidding – on what has happened to his Chiefs, just as Browns fans are sick to their stomachs – physically ill, really, no kidding – about what's happening with their team.

Back to Super Bowl IV. Just as in the 1971 playoffs, when the Browns and Chiefs came within a game of meeting in the AFC Championship Game, they also came within a game of meeting in that Super Bowl following the 1969 season. While the Chiefs were defeating their arch rivals, the Oakland Raiders, 17-7 in the final AFL Championship Game – really, the AFL's final contest, period -- before the two leagues merged, the Browns were losing 27-7 to the Vikings in the NFL Championship Game.

In the 1986 AFC divisional playoffs, the Browns almost met the Chiefs. But Kansas City lost 35-15 to the New York Jets, and the Jets went on to lose to the Browns 23-20 in double-overtime in the next round in the third-longest game in NFL history, 77:02.

The Browns almost met the Chiefs in the 1994 divisional playoffs, but both clubs bowed out in the wild-card round, Cleveland losing 29-9 to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City falling 27-17 to the Miami Dolphins.

However, the Browns and Chiefs of 1994 – or of 1986, 1971 or 1969 – are a fry cry from the Browns and Chiefs of today. The Browns are 2-11 and – well, shoot, you know their story.

And as for the Chiefs, they're 3-10 and need binoculars to see the top of the AFC West. This isn't new, either. Like the Browns, they've struggled in recent years, too. After going 9-7 and squeaking into the playoffs in 2006, they went 4-12 and 2-14 the following two seasons, causing head coach Herm Edwards to get fired. The once-great Chiefs defense gave up a whopping 509 points last year, including 54 in one game – to Buffalo.

Buffalo?!

As the Browns this offseason were hiring Eric Mangini, Edwards' predecessor as head coach of the Jets in 2006, as their head coach to hopefully turn things around, the Chiefs were hiring as their head coach Todd Haley, whose father, Dick Haley, was a longtime personnel man in the NFL, including with the Jets and, for two decades during their heyday, the Steelers.

The fact that the clubs are a combined 5-21 this year indicates that both coaches have a long, long way to go to turn things around.

Meanwhile, the fans are getting disenchanted. Just as there are empty seats now in Cleveland Browns Stadium, there are, too, at Arrowhead Stadium, where seats used to be as hard to come by as vegetarians in the cattle and beef country of Missouri and Kansas.

Thus, blackouts, which, in Kansas City, used to mean only when the power went off, now has a much different connotation.

And it's not good, either. No TV. No lights.

No fun.

The names of the Chiefs' great players, and coaches, are still on display at Arrowhead – Stram, one-time Brown Len Dawson, one-time Browns assistant coach Buck Buchanan, Jan Stenerud, Willie Lanier, the late Derrick Thomas, Bobby Bell, Emmitt Thomas, Abner Haynes and so many others.

Now, Chiefs fans need to buy a souvenir program so they can hunt up the roster to learn the identify of the players wearing those classic uniforms. It's doubtful any of those guys will someday have their names on the facade of the upper deck of Arrowhead Stadium.

So the Chiefs fans sit and wait for the glory days to come back, looking through all the gloom for a shred of hope.

And in Cleveland, the fans do the same.

Wouldn't it be nice if they could do it together on Sunday in Indianapolis, where the Colts once again this year are chasing the lofty dreams that their teams used to pursue.

I might even have gone to represent myself and my father-in-law.

He would like that.


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