Clayman's Corner: Sticking With It

The last time I was at Tony P's, the Chiefs took an easy one from the Texans. They improved to 6-4. It looked like an impossible climb to the playoffs. For the surprising number of Kansas City fans who showed up in the Marina last Sunday, it may once again seem like it is.

Hey, I've been here before. How many times did a brilliant L.A. Rams team sail through the regular season, only to struggle in the cold of December, where a Minnesota or Dallas or Green Bay licked its chops?

Forget the sunny Los Angeles December day. Forget the tasty spinach and artichoke dip with tortilla chips. Forget the yachts bobbing peacefully in the marina outside the windows.

This was the advent of the brutal, frozen conclusion to the season-long NFL war. Every battle with dire playoff implications. Every turnover blown up to ten times its normal size. Every inexplicable letdown against a weaker team registering on the Richter Scale. The bittersweet agony of being a fan. Especially when your team loses an important late-season game that it should have won.

I mean, why did Surtain bite on the flea-flicker? Why did Green have to fumble that ball with a minute left in the half, right into the hands of what must be the fastest fat guy on the planet? Was Surtain thinking of the earlier mistake when he took his eye off the ball and didn't clamp onto the easiest interception he'll ever get?

My goodness, how did Tynes miss that field goal?

Green's fumble was arguably a 14-point turnaround. So would have been Surtain's pick and unimpeded touchdown romp. That's a 42-17 win, folks, even with Wesley's phantom penalty.

Then again, so what? That's sports and life, too. Some days the old ball just bounces the wrong way. Even though the Chiefs are clearly the better team and every bit as well-coached as the Tuna's minions.

Do I sound like I'm cheerleading? Well, maybe I am. If you recall, one of the first things I noticed about you Chiefs' fans was a sense of fatalism. Combined with a gentility not often found in the followers of the pigskin.

The latter is especially notable when you find yourself in a sports bar full of fans of the opposing team. In this case, Dallas. And, most of all, one loud-mouthed moron who seemed to think everyone was there for him rather than the games.

My big boy and I had played some basketball in the morning. We ran home, showered and got down to the "Dockside Grill" just before the game began. The large room was jammed, but I quickly noticed a couple with Patriot caps on and their to-go food wrapped up in front of them. Noticing that the Pats game only had :44 left, I stationed myself strategically near.

Voila. Within a minute, we had two seats. As we ordered our sodas and dip, the guy next to me asked if we were Stanford fans. It seemed such an odd query that for a second I thought I understood why the New Englanders had been so quick to exit. Then I realized that my son was wearing a Stanford tee-shirt. Don't ask me why.

No, I replied. The conversation seemed over. But, about the time Kennison was dropping his second wide-open throw from Green, we'd established that, although this fellow had accompanied his Cowboy-fan friends, he was much like me. An L.A. native who had grown up a Rams fan, following in the footsteps of his dad. He had even played soccer with Merlin Olsen's son, and had spent time at the home of that Hall-of-Famer.

Unlike me, however, he'd never found another team to take to heart. As our salads were delivered (my 17 year-old basketball stud and I are on The Zone Diet, thank you very much. Hey, I'm 18 pounds lighter and don't have half the headaches I used to, so there), I was entrenched in selling the Chiefs to the guy. I was talking up Trent Green, Dick Vermeil, Jared Allen and especially Larry Johnson.

Alas, I don't think he was convinced. I sensed that malaise about the league which seems so prevalent here. The one which won't ever allow the locals to vote in a tax referendum to bring a new team. Why, when we get one, unlike Houston or St. Louis, someone else will pay the bill.

Of course, the excitement will rise when Tags looks down from on high and grants us an expansion squad, even if his only motivation is to keep Tom Benson from trading New Orleans for Southern California. Then, when the team struggles, we'll go back to the beach.

The guy's Cowboys friends clearly understood what was going on in the first half. In order for the home team to win the game, it would have to be a combination of odd plays, fortunate calls and just plain luck. Even when Fujita forced the fumble and Dallas scored to take the halftime lead, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

In fact, they left. That's another thing about Los Angeles sports fans. It's got to be pretty compelling stuff to keep you there until the conclusion. I mean, with the sun, the water, the boats, the shopping, the food, there's got to be a real reason to stay in your seat. Apparently, the chance for an undeserved win wasn't enough for these fellows.

As the second half got underway, a new couple took the neighboring positions. Well, actually, I should say a familiar pair, because after few seconds, I realized these were the same two Chiefs fans I'd sat beside at the Texans contest. I suppose if they had worn their Holmes jerseys like at that first game I'd have recognized them sooner. But, as we all know, Priest is quickly moving into the category of Retro Chiefs Stars.

Six straight 100-yard games by the other guy will do that.

We got our hot fudge sundae (all right, I don't always stick with The Zone, okay? But at least I did have the salad, and I got the sundae without the brownie). The Cowboys' fans sitting right behind me asked if they could have some. Feeling guilty about having ordered it in the first place, I agreed. Thank goodness they were kidding. If one of those guys had stuck his spoon in there, that would have been it for me.

The Chiefs' fans were surprisingly quiet. As I went to the restroom, I noticed that there actually were quite a few in red. All together they weren't making as much noise as any single Dallas fan. This struck me as curious, since Arrowhead is renowned as the loudest stadium on the planet. Must be that Midwestern politeness. When you're in someone else's house, you don't cause a fuss.

This didn't apply to Mr. Moron, however. As the games wound down, he took it upon himself to step up in front of everyone. "I told you my Cowboys would take it! And the Eagles are gonna win! Over the Giants! The Eagles! The Cowboys are going all the way!"

And so on. Even the other Dallas fans seemed embarrassed. He pooh-poohed the challenge on Wesley's hold, which once again handed the Cowpersons an opportunity. He screamed and jumped at the game-winning TD. He quieted a bit at Green's heroics to get the Chiefs into tying field goal range. After the miss, we departed without having to hear anything else from him. Although we were happy to hear the Giants had prevailed.

As I had watched the endless promos for "Survivor: Guatemala" during the game, it occurred to me that it might be more fun if, on a disputed play, there wasn't a replay challenge but a tribal council.

We could have used one in that sports bar, for sure. And there's no question who would have been voted off.

This is the fifteenth 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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