It was the ideal set-up. Since Kansas City was playing the Chargers - our nearest NFL team at 120 miles due south - the game would be broadcast locally on CBS. The perfect time to gather the neighbors on the block and tune in.
But first, I had to make sure none were already Chiefs fans. After not being able to find a single K.C. sports bar in town, nor even one for the Chargers, I shouldn't have been surprised by what I found.
That the decade-long absence of the NFL in L.A. has turned the fans of my city into nomads. Folks without a team.
Oh sure, Real Estate Guy from down the street still has a slight attachment to his hometown Bears (must be easy to keep that one slight). Big City Robinson next door doesn't love any team, but hates the Rams. The guy across the street is so consumed with UCLA that the pros don't move him. And the TV Star to the east never showed for the game so I don't know what he thinks.
But basically, where pro football is concerned, there are a lot of guys like me around here. Fellas who will tune into a big match-up, go to a Super Bowl party. Who care more about their internet fantasy team or office pool picks than any real squad. See, the machinations of Georgia, King Al and the tithe-demanding NFL have truly made us a town without a team (unless you consider our two major college squads are currently 16-0). So what would you guess happened when I tried to gather the troops for a Chiefs-in?
That's right. The only guy who showed was the one in whose house we watched the game. Even though I brought the tortilla chips, mango salsa, guacamole and a case of Sierra Nevada Ale. Only Big City Robinson, between trips to the other room to check on the net how his horses were running, gave it a shot.
Oh yeah, and Real Estate Guy made a courtesy appearance during the second quarter. He said he'd walk back down the block if the game got interesting. Either he was putting us on, or it never did. I imagine a touch of both.
So there we were, Big City and me, joined occasionally by his 10-year-old daughter, 16-year-old son and Very-Young-year-old wife. We broke out the grub and just before the opening kickoff; Big City gave me a warning.
"The only thing I know about the Chiefs is that I don't like Vermeil."
I asked why.
"Because he cries and he won a Super Bowl with the Rams. Oh yeah, and Gunther. But I don't remember where I know him from."
At that moment, the 10-year-old daughter handed me an envelope. In it was a Halloween card with a Jack-O-Lantern on the front and the message, "When I think of you my whole face lights up." It struck me that the pumpkin's grimace was startlingly like Vermeil's. Dick must've known something I didn't.
From the onset, it was clear that the extra day of practice hadn't helped the Chiefs at all. Their offense was flat and their defense was porous. I mentioned to Big City my theory that perhaps the less practice with the current coaching staff the better, as proven by the last two games. Not to mention the extra day for Monday night in Denver.
At that moment, we were told it was Vermeil's 69th birthday. I felt sorry for saying bad things about him. Then I thought about Joe Paterno. And I didn't feel sorry for Dick anymore. Heck, he's a youngster. Perhaps, like Joe, a return to greatness is just around the corner. Like in 2014.
I was just extolling the virtues of Tony Gonzalez when he dropped an open-field pass right in his hands. The network immediately put up a comparison of Tony's last season with this one. I decided to change the subject.
Trent Green wasn't the one to talk about. I thought about Willie Roaf, but then the Chiefs tried to run to the right side and Holmes got stuffed. I told Big City that he was just coming back from a hamstring and began to reminisce about what a nice guy Willie was when I worked with him on "The Jersey."
I switched to the defense. New guys Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight and the return of Eric Warfield would make them much tougher than last… whoops. Why wasn't anyone within five yards of Antonio Gates? Again? And was that another off-sides call?
Three in one half? Is that an NFL record? I guess I won't bring up Guenther.
Back to the offense. There's no one better than Priest Holmes inside the ten… wait a second. Is he hurt? Uh-oh. Hope we don't have too many first down and goals from the nine or ten. Well, three points gets us back into the game, as long as we don't let them march down the field and…
Okay. If UCLA could come back from 21 down with 7 minutes left yesterday on the road, the Chiefs could certainly do it from 18 with a whole half to go. Bonnie Bernstein had a little chat with Vermeil on his way to the locker room. He was relaxed and seemed on top of how to fix things. Big City commented, "He should quit coaching and go back to announcing." Don't get upset, now. I think he said it because he was impressed with Vermeil's poise in a dark moment. I was, anyway. I felt at least we had something positive around the corner.
As we walked down the block to check out the open house of a neighbor who had just finished adding a room and bathroom to his house all by himself, thus forever humiliating those of us who are proud to have changed a light bulb, I tried to keep a positive face on things. I told Big City that since I've been watching, Green has never played poorly for an entire game. Gonzalez has to get on track. The defense isn't that bad. After all, Warfield's back and there's this guy named Jared Allen. And let's not forget one especially known for special teams - Dante Hall.
We returned just as the half commenced. And, lo and behold, it was like watching a different team. Green hit everything in sight. Gonzalez was up, down, over. The defense stiffened. Allen was a Pro-Bowler. Hall was quicker than a politician's tongue.
Yet, unfortunately, we had three first downs inside the ten and ended up with a grand total of three points to show for them. The one guy we needed to take this game, the one person on the team with an irrepressible nose for the goal-line, was injured on the sidelines. Trent Green is extraordinary at moments, mediocre at others. Larry Johnson has flashes of brilliance, especially with a bit of open field.
But the guy the Chiefs needed out there to seal the deal was unable to perform. Priest Holmes would have gotten in once, maybe twice. The Chiefs could see the Chargers trying to hand them the game, but without their heart, they just couldn't clamp onto it.
So Real Estate Guy never came back. Which, since it did become a rather exciting game, meant he probably wouldn't have anyway. Big City had finished a couple of beers and I had done tremendous damage to the chips, salsa and guacamole. The Chargers had broken the hearts of Chiefs fans, especially those few here in L.A. who had made the 2-hour trek to Qualcomm and now had to endure a solemn return trip in traffic.
Yet, as I moped my way home, I had, for the first time, a sense of what it is to be a Chiefs fan. And it echoed distant memories of cheering on the Los Angeles Rams, under the likes of Knox and Allen.
A solid team with a few holes and several wonderful players. A team which, if they can stay healthy and play consistently, could make the playoffs. And then, with guys like Allen, Hall, Holmes, Johnson, Colquitt, Tynes, Roaf and Green, not to mention a grimacing old guy on the sidelines who's been there before – well, who knows?
This is the eighth 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 email@example.com
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