Kloster Files: Three Tiers

Sooner or later we all knew he'd come out from behind the message boards. In his first article for Warpaint Illustrated.com, love him or hate him, we present with one hand over our eyes the great Phil Kloster in his debut column. It's fresh, brash, funny and wait to you read what he has to say about our old coach Dick Vermeil.

Introduction: - My name is Phil Kloster but some of my limited readership may know me as "Phobia". The nickname has been with me since the second grade. Some of you might not understand so I'll explain further – Claustrophobia is a fear of closed spaces.

The pronunciation of my last name closely resembles that of this aforementioned phobia, or at least it did to the second grade playground bully who thought he was insulting me at the time. I'm pretty sure I didn't cry but I may have kissed his girlfriend behind the slide for payback. That's the way we rolled in the Iowa ‘hood.

Some of you already know me through years of discussion and others simply don't care to. Please skip to the Press Box portion of this story if you've already heard enough about me.

Beginning with the Kansas City Star's original discussion board, I've been a part of the small Chiefs online community for nearly a decade. In 2000 a large group broke from that site to form ChiefsPlanet.com. I managed ChiefsPlanet for 5 years. I've also spent time at nearly every other Chiefs related site around the internet including WildBillsChiefs.com, ChiefsCoalition.com, ChiefsHuddle.com, Chiefswarroom.net, and most recently WarpaintIllustrated.com.

I've "met" thousands of Chiefs fans online. I lost count of the in-person meetings of online friends at 300.

One of the associations of which I'm most proud is The 37 Forever Foundation. 37 Forever is a local, Chiefs related charity that raises money to send underprivileged and at risk youth through water safety and swim training. The "37" portion of the Foundation name was the jersey number of Chiefs running back Joe Delaney, who lost his life trying to save three young boys in a tragic event in 1983. Joe Delaney jumped into the water despite the fact he could not swim. Please visit www.37forever.org for more information.

In early December of 2005, I left all my friends at ChiefsPlanet to manage the forums at Warpaint Illustrated and to write a column from a fan's perspective - among other things - for which I'll now have the resources due to the backing of Scout.com and FoxSports. I'm nobody special. I'm a Chiefs fan with an online hobby and a passion for the Chiefs. I'm not a professional journalist as you've surely deduced thus far. But I hope you'll find my writing interesting because I'm looking at the team from your vantage point combined with special access.

Press Box: The final home game of the season lent me the opportunity to view the Chiefs and their opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, from the press box at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs were fighting for their playoff lives in hopes the Detroit Lions would do them a favor. As we all now know, the Lions roared for a half and then fell to the sixth-seeded AFC wildcard Pittsburgh Steelers.

I left the parking lot with anticipation early Sunday morning, earlier than I had ever entered Arrowhead to attend a game before. I tailgated with a bevy of friends that morning, just like every other pre-game ritual for games past, except I (gasp) drank no beer. I rode the elevator to the press box level after going through the pat-down lines. I requested a pat-down from a female. Instead, a large black male security guard who failed to see the humor in my request wrestled me into a submissive hold, ensuring I wasn't carrying any unauthorized contraband. After he confiscated my cell-phone flask, I finally arrived at the press box.

The press box is a large, windowed room with three tiers. The important, highly paid journalists sit in the first tier. The print beatniks get the second tier. With my apologies to Jonathan Rand, the internet geeks and names you've never heard sit in the upper row. The box has a 200 person capacity. On this day, there are over 150 journalists in attendance. I was blown away by the sheer numbers. If you're actually reading my column, you probably follow the Chiefs as closely as I do. I never fathomed it takes 150 people to keep the citizens of Kansas City abreast of developments at One Arrowhead Drive.

The press box stretches between the 35-yard lines and is entirely covered by sparkling clear glass windows. It is akin to watching a football game on a 100-foot wide HDTV. In other words, the view is enviable. Every Chiefs fan should enjoy this opportunity at least once in their lives.

The press corps conducts themselves professionally during the game. That means we aren't contributing to the noise at Arrowhead, but it's for the best. Most of the journalists are scribbling notes, whispering into a recorder or speaking into a radio microphone. Some of them are on laptops, utilizing the wireless internet setup in the press box to monitor the score of the Lions game. I am the only idiot sharing my experience via text posting with my friends on the internet.

From the third tier of the box it is impossible to see the jumbotron. We are at the mercy of the CBS feed that is being shown on 19-inch monitors scattered throughout the pressbox.

At halftime, Chiefs sponsor Sheridan's Custard provided custard to the press. After Star columnist Jason Whitlock held up the line for nearly the entire half, I took what few crumbs remained back to my seat and enjoyed the Chiefs trouncing of the Bengals. I surely wish that same team had traveled to Ralph Wilson Stadium to play the Buffalo Bills in early October.

At the game's conclusion we were all given packets of the final stats and whisked below to the depths of Arrowhead, to participate in Dick Vermeil's final post-game press conference. I was amazed to see the 60-by-30 foot room bursting at the seams with 13 television cameras, countless still cameras and dozens of sweaty scribes. A post-game press conference is no picnic, especially one billed as "Dick's Last Sob." It didn't take long for Vermeil to start sniffling. What you don't hear during the televised portions of a Dick Vermeil press conference is the hundreds of shutters opening and closing trying to capture the perfect snapshot of Vermeil in mid-cry. When he's smiling or simply speaking those same shutters are silent. These observations aren't an exaggeration, unlike the burly security guard pat-down depicted earlier.

Dick Vermeil's Legacy: As you can tell by now, I intend to keep my coverage of the Chiefs rather fun. I bring levity to my life daily. Laughter is a key ingredient to my sanity and that of my family. I think most people covering the Chiefs take themselves and the team far too seriously. I planned to inject some of my personality into my writing by offering a different twist. The final portion of my article will not be like that. I am reporting on an impression that I had and a lesson 5 years in the making. I hope that you'll learn it more quickly than I.

For most of Dick Vermeil's tenure, I considered his press conferences to be lip service. I developed a healthy dislike for his seemingly scripted answers and endless excuses for his players and staff. During Trent Green's first season, I coined the spelling "TrINT". I was an embittered fan. Rufus Dawes might have suggested I had been afflicted with listening to sports talk radio disease. Bob Gretz would have labeled me "classless and deranged".

Despite the predictable tears ten seconds into the press conference, I felt a genuine passion in Vermeil's words. There was a lot of emotion in that room and it wasn't flowing unidirectional from the podium. It was pouring from the Hunt family sitting in reserved seating on the second row, from Carl Peterson standing near the doors and from various Vermeil family members scattered around the room. Even Mrs. Peterson wiped at a tear during one portion of the presentation. There is a lot of love for Dick Vermeil within the Kansas City organization, and I even felt some of my own.

Towards the latter portion of the conference, Vermeil was asked about some of his fondest memories over the past five years in Kansas City. For five years the man has preached his relationship mantra in the media and to anyone who would listen. You can't listen to Dick Vermeil speak passionately without some mention of the word "relationship". His relationships built and further cultivated in Kansas City were his high point, he explained.

Most people would presume the high point of his tenure would have perhaps been a record-breaking performance by Dante Hall, a specific victory, winning streak, or records broken by a special running back. Not Dick Vermeil. He said that nothing can take his relationships away, no matter how well or poorly the Chiefs perform on the field. Until today I had largely ignored those words. Finally, they've struck a chord within me.

Therefore, in my mind, Dick Vermeil's legacy in Kansas City isn't his 13-3 season and playoff flop. It's not the Super Bowl expectations and super playoff failure. It's not even his NFL record busting offenses (or defenses) over the years. Dick Vermeil's legacy in Kansas City – Dick Vermeil's legacy in the entire NFL - is his relationship-building.

In the end, whether you loved him or hated him, you should take a lesson from the man. He's built an entire career – and a legacy – upon relationships and family. You may not have his checkbook or Porsche, but you can emulate the effort he places in maintaining his relationships just the same. That's my plan.

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