Clayman's Corner: Growling Again

The Chiefs are back, although I'm still not sure many of the team's fans believe it's possible. Personally, I knew it was true when Mitch Holthus began to growl.

Let's go back to Sunday morning. You know I'm trying to get as deeply as I can into this Chiefs thing. I've watched the broadcasts in several different venues. But I'd never experienced Chiefs Radio. I purchased the broadcast on NFL.com, which shows how dedicated I already am to the boys in red. Really. It's not my fault they insisted on giving me a Free Trial.

I decided to imagine myself on the road, tuning in with endless miles ahead of me. I wanted to fantasize those endless miles as in Missouri, but since I've never been to Missouri, I decided to choose something I supposed to be similar. Like the 15-hour drive I took across southern Saskatchewan one day.

You know, flat in all directions. Farms. A straight road. Crop dusters. An occasional thunderstorm. Lots of coffee. More coffee.

In other words, the perfect place to enjoy what late Lakers broadcasting legend Chick Hearn used to call "a word's-eye view" of the Chiefs game. I had never had the pleasure of meeting the K.C. broadcasting team (by the way, can anyone tell me if K.C. is considered a slur by Kansas Citians? Like "Frisco" for San Francisco, "South-Central" for South L.A., or "Home of Al Davis" for Oakland?)

The festivities began with The Len Dawson Show, the core of which was, "Hurray, Willie Roaf is back!" I also learned that Trent Green is traditionally a slow starter (some traditions deserve to be ended), that I should look for Tony Gonzalez to be thrown to more (I've been looking for that since watching my first Chiefs game at Hooters), and that the Chiefs defense needs help, since "the four down linemen need to be able to get to the quarterback" (I assumed Dawson meant the opposing QB).

Next, the intro by play-by-play man Mitch Holthus. His day's story line was that it had been 24 years, way back in 1981, since Dick Vermeil and Joe Gibbs had faced one another on the opposing sidelines. Holthus called it "a retro version of the NFL." I thought it would be interesting to hear how this perspective on the contest would play out. Too bad neither Vermeil's nor Gibbs' names were ever mentioned again. Really.

All right, let me give you a little perspective. I grew up in L.A., home through the years of some of the most magnificent sportscasting voices to ever surf the airwaves. Chick Hearn, Dick Enberg, Al Michaels, Keith Jackson. Not to mention the greatest of the great – Vin Scully. There are two things I've become accustomed to in my play-by-play guys. Firstly, perhaps inspired by Vinny, they're never homers. In his case, for example, you will never ever hear a "we." It's always "the Dodgers." And he's only been with them for 55 years.

Secondly, none of them ever sounds bored. Or negative. Not for a second. Which is why I was immediately struck by a defeatist undertone to Holthus' voice. Professional, yes, but flat. Almost beaten. And the game was just starting.

As the contest began, I was drawn by Dawson's obvious disgust. "Where was the linebacker? That man (Portis) shouldn't be open like that." Well, at least he seemed engaged. After Jared Allen stripped Brunell at the end of Washington's opening drive, it became apparent that the coach/quarterback headphones were not working. Dawson: "Trent Green calling his own plays might be a good thing."

Rather than the play-by-play announcer and color man, it was beginning to sound like I was listening to a couple of fans. Both disheartened by the season, both resigned to a poorly coached game, both ready for a loss. One with flat energy, the other with flat criticism. "Oooh, Trent… Where is the defensive line?... If Brunell is going to roll out, it's gonna be to the left. You've got to know that."

When the Time Warner All-In-One Fanline ad came on, I could see the appeal in "react(ing) to game situations as they happen." And "hear(ing) myself on the post game show." I mean, somebody needed to stop the whining.

Then everything changed. As Allen forced another fumble, a new, heretofore unheard (by me) side of Holthus sprang forward. Like Joanne Woodward in "The Three Faces of Eve," the calm, quiet spinster abruptly became the town floozie. Allen was "Tuggin', bitin', pullin', pinchin'!!!" Now we're talkin'!

Wait a second. After the offense failed, you could see Dawson shaking his head right through the speaker. "Everyone else has to work as hard as Allen… So here it is, they come up with a terrific play on the fumble and lose ten yards." Even nature complied with the fatalism. According to sideline guy Bob Gretz, it was starting to sprinkle.

Holthus and Dawson were appalled that Dante Hall wasted 17 seconds at half's end trying to find a lane downfield, losing two yards. Holthus kicked to the network halftime show. "The Chiefs are in a dogfight at halftime." I knew it was a dogfight. I just wish he hadn't made in sound like a doghouse. Time for some coffee.

The second half began. After a Green run, Dawson showed a sliver of hopefulness. "They need something. They need something to get this offense going." Then, instant tonic. The Chiefs scored their first touchdown and I was introduced to what I suppose is Holthus' signature TD call. "Touch (growled) down Kan-sas City!" After Boerigter's two-point reception, the growling continued. "You're list-en-ing to (normal voice) Chiefs' football!"

Moments later, when John Browning sacked Brunell, Dawson almost gushed. "That's what I'm talking about, a three man presentation!" But after the Skins' 78-yarder to Moss, the old quarterback was back in the doldrums. "What a letdown."

The growling had stopped. Despair was creeping back. When Holthus tried to pick things up by proclaiming that "John Browning and Jared Allen are having terrific games," Dawson took a long pause. Then, "Jared Allen is really playing well."

There seemed no hope. Until Sammy Knight streaked 80 yards with a fumble recovery and, again, Holthus was in full growl. "It's a (growl) defensive touch (deeper growl) down! Touch (growl) down Kan-Sas-City. (staccato growls) All the way to the mo-tor pool." (Did I get that right? What the heck does that mean?)

Dawson still wasn't thrilled. He's tough. But now, instead of the entire team (except Vermeil, whose name never came up, not once, I mean is he like The Godfather or something, if you criticize him you wake up with your horse's head in bed beside you?), Len went after a far easier target, Dexter McCleon. It seemed McCleon had been called for something on every other play. After McCleon's second illegal contact nullified an interception, "Oh my, oh my, that was nowhere near where they threw the football. The second time. That's pitiful."

Washington tied it. Dawson: "You have to be in the face of the quarterback. Surprised he rolled to his left, huh?" Yet again the negativity was short-lived. Green threw his beautifully set-up screen to Holmes, who ran like a younger man for a 60-yard TD. Holthus, growling all the way, "Touch-down-kan-sas-city!" And Dawson, his voice rising to a register unheard on this day, "Was that a thing of beauty or what?!"

Now Holthus exposed the truth. It hadn't been just he and Len who were despairing. "This crowd for the first time this season is having an effect on this game! This is a ‘90s Arrowhead crowd this afternoon!" Wow, the ‘90s? I didn't realize you all had been down for so long. With ten minutes left, the Chiefs had a fourth and inches. Holthus was in full overdrive. "By the nose of a football – and I'm not talking Jimmy Durante's nose. I'm talking Paris Hilton's nose."

I couldn't help thinking that if he'd chosen another part of Hilton's anatomy, the Chiefs would have to punt. They made the first down but went nowhere. Fatalism again reared its head. Re: Jared Allen, Holthus opined, "Every Chiefs fan'll tell you about the game Derrick Thomas had against Seattle. Didn't help much that day." At least Mitch didn't add "either."

Gonzalez made a rare catch, to the 41. It was then that I knew the Chiefs had not only beaten the Skins but had won back their announcers. Because Mitch Holthus actually laughed. Okay, chuckled. For the first time all day. "It's getting better."

That's right, all you fans of Warpaint Illustrated. From here in L.A., where there's not a single pro football thing to despair about and just maybe I have a clearer view of your Chiefs, I can tell you and your radio team I agree.

It's getting better.

This is the seventh in a season-long series chronicling a Los Angeles native and lifelong sports follower's mission to become a Chiefs fan. After all, he doesn't have a football team of his own, does he? Richard Clayman may be contacted at rjclayman1@yahoo.com

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