CLAYMAN'S CORNER: The Red is Getting to‘IM

Oh, right! That's why you follow a team all year through the ups, downs and sidewayses! This was a December heavyweight battle with punches firing from the opening bell with your guy standing at the end.

That's why the Hooters, the Tony P's, the Portland sports bar, the Torrance fan's house, the drive with Sean Farnham, the Star, Mitch and Len, guacamole at the neighbor's.

That's why you plan ahead to give a part of your Sunday almost every week to something other than the wife or the kids or working at home.

That's why you run back and forth from putting up the Christmas lights on the house so you don't miss a single Larry Johnson run or Patrick Surtain interception or yet another Dick Vermeil successful challenge. Even though you finish clipping them on in the dark.

That's why you're proud to realize that you've put on a red tee-shirt even though you didn't do it intentionally. Why you call your neighbor's attention to it as he's putting up his Christmas lights, and also to the strange fact that for some reason he's wearing Bronco orange and blue even though he didn't even know the teams were playing.

That's why you frantically call your wife to get back from her Christmas shopping which has somehow extended two hours beyond what she told you it would to watch the baby so you can juggle the game and the lights. And maybe even grab a bite to eat.

That's why you get on IM with your freshman son at college a thousand miles away who's incredibly in the mood to just chat and keep typing in a play-by-play of the game's final minutes. With a lot of exclamation points. And curses. Especially when Vermeil takes out L.J. on a third and one with five minutes to go and Brown loses three!!!

(Okay, that's my only complaint. And it worked out fine. So forget it. No one's perfect.)

That's why you become a team's fan. In the increasingly distant memory of the Los Angeles Rams, a note was struck. Of a time when the NFL mattered here in L.A. Not for dirty carpetbagging Raider reasons, but for a team a decent fan could call his own. A dim recall of a bygone era was relit this weekend by the flame of a glorious Chief victory.

This was a game where you remember when you truly wished you were not in the cozy comfort of your own home but in, say, the frigid, uproarious confines of a place like Arrowhead Stadium. Why you wouldn't mind walking out after the game and finding yourself in a Kansas City night rather than a warm afternoon by the beach in L.A.

Why you have to admit that you're really, incredibly, becoming a fan. A Chiefs fan.

It's like magic. I honestly have to say that I didn't expect it, certainly not by the season's twelfth game. But the setting, the contest, the opponent and the stakes were perfect.

I mean, short of The Randy Moss And The Raiders, who exist on another planet, who couldn't despise the Broncos more than any other team in the league? I mean, John Lynch? Jake Plummer? Wild-eyed Mike Shanahan?

(Hey, I just had a thought. How about one of those puzzles where you mix and match different sets of eyes, noses, mouths, except using only parts of NFL coach's faces. You could have Shanahan's bug eyes with Vermeil's grimacing mouth and Gruden's flaring nostrils and Edwards' eyebrows and Cowher's chin and Holmgren's jowls. Throw in Jimmy Johnson's hair and you'd have the scariest Hallowe'en mask of all time.)

Arrowhead is magnificent, even on TV, even a couple of thousand miles away. The sea of red undulates like the Pacific Ocean and I'm happy to report I didn't see a single "wave." (You guys don't do that awful thing there, do you?) The fans on TV are ardent but always seem civil. In other words, I'm sure that, unlike when the Randy Moss-less Raiders were encamped in L.A., a supporter of the other team who comes to Arrowhead hasn't bought a one-way ticket to the ER.

Now, admittedly, this wasn't as huge a game for the Broncos as it was for the Chiefs. So what? It had all the intensity of a playoff. No one relaxed. No one mailed it in.

Because more than a spot in the post-season, more than playing to the crowd, more than even a highlight on SportsCenter, this was about pride. The pride of a Kansas City team which had had its collective head handed to it in a Monday night embarrassment a couple of months ago. A team which, at that time, looked as if it had no business being on the same field as the Denver Broncos. A team which desperately had to show that they haven't been treading water all year, but building towards something.

The reasons extend beyond the obvious coaching sensibilities of Vermeil and Cunningham. The return of half of the offensive line, especially Roaf. The settling in of the newcomers to the defense. And, especially, the way Larry Johnson has grabbed the mantle of Priest Holmes.

I mean, we all knew he was good. But, sorry Seattle, sorry San Diego, Johnson is the best running back in the league. Don't believe it? How about a 90-yard fourth quarter against the Denver defense in a fiercely battled finish? Or five straight 100-yard games since having to take over at the toughest time of the season?

While staying, as Tony Gonzalez said this week on "The Best Darned Sports Show Period," a guy who's a joy to be around. Whose energy and fearlessness inspires everyone. Who you're glad to have as a teammate. And all this while stepping into the shoes of an icon.

Sound like I'm hooked? I'm not embarrassed to say it, but you should have seen me. My wife thought I was watching a Dodger or Laker or UCLA game. Yelling at the refs, at Vermeil, at plays weak and great. Furiously IMing my son in Oregon. "Johnson for 8 yards!" "First down Chiefs!" "Vermeil just won his second challenge of the game!" "First down by a hair! What a TERRIBLE SPOT!!!" "They REVERSED THE FIRST DOWN!!! I don't believe it! Chiefs ball! We win!"

Get the "we?" Yep, I've been hooked. Not gaffed and brought on-board yet, maybe, but definitely hooked. I'm even thinking of going out and purchasing some Chiefs gear, like a hat or tee-shirt. Although I don't think I'm yet ready for a license plate frame or screen-saver. I might even try to talk the boys' basketball coach into scheduling a game in Kansas City next season, to give me an added excuse to visit Arrowhead and the town itself, even if there isn't a Chiefs game going on at the time.

There's a good chance I'll buy tickets to next season's game in San Diego and take my other son. I'll probably go back to my new Chief fanatic friend's house in Torrance and watch another game on his 50" HDTV set, if he'll have me. I'll not only bring the Low-Fat Vanilla Lattes, but some Doritos and guacamole as well.

When the new team arrives in L.A., I'll care more about whether they play Kansas City at home then what kind of squad they have or who owns them or who the new coach is. I'll sit in the half-empty Coliseum or half-empty Rose Bowl or the who-knows-why full Dodger Stadium and think about what it would be like to be surrounded by a screaming crimson forest at Arrowhead.

I'll watch Kobe, as I did last night, and wish he had an ounce of Trent Green's sense for his game, and that Green had a sliver of Kobe's athleticism. I'll hear that the Dodgers have signed Rafael Furcal and think about how the Chiefs can further improve their offensive line and defensive backfield. I'll see UCLA crushed by USC and not despise the Trojans quite as much because I now see the value in red.

Yes, my heart will still be with the Dodgers, the Lakers and the Bruins. No matter how bad they might play at times, they're my teams forever.

And it might just be that I've found room for one more.

This is the thirteenth 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 Top Stories