More Than Just A Team

I was asked the other day why I'm a Chiefs fan. On this particular day, the question was asked by a Steelers fan, but in past years it has also been asked of me by Patriots fans, Rams fans, Cowboys fans, 49ers fans and fans of pretty much every team except the Saints, Cardinals and Jets.

For some reason, the people asking this question are usually wearing new jerseys and can't name their backup quarterback.

My answer to this person was the same as usual: pepper spray to the face, followed by frenzied kicks and punches while yelling "LIN ELLIOTT! LIN ELLIOTT! (THUMP) WAS THAT KICK WIDE LEFT? HUH? HUH? HOW ABOUT THIS ONE (THUMP)?" But after I ran away, the question gave me pause. Why am I a Chiefs fan?

To derive the answer to this question, we must go back to the groovy era of the 1960s, when Camelot ruled and Vietnam was a hit TV show and Goldie Hawn was taking the first steps on the moon. The first thing to note about the 1960s, which most of you know, is that they happened a long time ago. By most estimates, the 1960s took place sometime before 1975, and most Americans born after 1980 do not even remember them.

I barely remember them myself. I was a child of the Sixties and did some of my best thinking in that era, but when I look in the mirror today, I see a middle-aged man staring back, which really freaks me out until I recognize that it's me and not some insane guy tunneling around inside my walls.

Other than some recognizable bone structure, a funny little mole on my left cheek that will probably kill me someday, and a lingering pre-molar baby tooth, I don't really have a lot of connections any more to the decade of my birth.

In fact, I can think of only three. First, there's my family – my mother, father and older sister - who have been around pretty much since the beginning, barring the discovery of new evidence to bolster my theory of being the abandoned bastard child of English royalty. Three years later, the blue Ford pickup arrived. It's a 1966 model, baby blue, with an AM radio and plastic seats that get blistering hot in the summer.

That pickup has been in my parents' driveway for 40 years now. I've been slapped in that truck, thrown up in that truck, and rode in the bed back when telling one's kids to "hang on when I hit the highway" was sufficient evidence of guardianship.

The third and final connection to those bygone days is the Chiefs.

I don't recall the first Chiefs game I watched, or even the first time I heard about the wonderful game of football. No one in my family was a sports fan, so I undoubtedly discovered football on my own whilst searching for Sunday morning cartoons and recognizing that Davey and Goliath was nothing more than blatant propaganda put out by heaven's public relations firm. But I do remember encountering my first opposing fan.

It was in first grade in late 1969, at Lafayette Elementary School in Joplin, Missouri. Her name was Roberta, and she was a Packers fan then and probably a Steelers fan now. She smugly informed me that the Packers had once won a game by the score of 10-0, which was staggering to hear since the number 10 is pretty much the largest number in the universe to a six year-old. And then she uttered the words that I've come to know quite well.

"Why are you a Chiefs fan?"

I don't recall my answer, and at the time the Lin Elliott response wouldn't have made a lot of sense. Perhaps I kicked her and said something about Max McGee. I don't know. But I somehow defended my position, I guess, because I didn't become a Packers fan and I learned to stay true to my team.

Even with that early loyalty, it was in 1970 when all of the pieces came together for me. First, my parents bought a color television, one of those enormous console TVs that had a built-in phonograph and radio and weighed more than Junior Siavii on Thanksgiving. The Chiefs, I discovered, wore red. Bright red. That was way cool.

Second, I was in a grocery store with my dad, and for some reason he bought me a pack of football cards. I got back into the baby blue Ford pickup with the hot plastic seats, ripped open the pack, and a new world opened before my eyes. They kept statistics on how players performed, and you could buy them on the backs of these magical cards.

This was amazing! I could even find out how tall the players were, how much they weighed, and where they went to college unless they were Tom Dempsey. This was so mind-blowing it didn't even matter that the first pack contained no Chiefs. Just learning about Verlon Biggs (270 pounds) and Brig Owens (#23) and Larry Brown (888 yards rushing) was enough to hook me.

And the third thing that happened in 1970 was that my dad's friend Larry learned my dad had a color TV. Larry had been a bread delivery man with my dad for a while, and in 1970 he started a tiny, tiny restaurant just outside the doors of the bakery. He was also a Chiefs fan. There was apparently some big Chiefs game taking place early that year, and he asked my dad if he could come over and watch it in living color.

I sat on the floor in front of the television that day, my football cards spread in front of me, and Otis Taylor made a great catch and run against some guy in a white uniform, and just like that I had a favorite player. I didn't learn to appreciate defense until it disappeared a couple of years later. I think it's one of those developmental brain things.

From that point on, the Chiefs were a regular part of my life. On the playground, I played football and pretended I was Otis Taylor or Jim Lynch. On Christmas Day of 1971, I pleaded and cajoled and cried and demanded we not leave my aunt and uncle's house until the game ended, even though it went into double-overtime and all the other relatives had long left and my aunt was cleaning up the place.

Thirty-five years later, my most vivid memory of a childhood Christmas is sitting in their house, a long-overstaying guest, fending off Tuffy, the irritable toothless Chihuahua they had released upon me, trying to convince a group of adults that pulling me away in double overtime was child abuse.

The Chiefs followed me everywhere. In junior high in the late seventies, while bigger kids were picking on me, bigger teams were picking on the Chiefs, and we understood each other's pain. In high school, my big splurge each week was going down to the nearby greek restaurant and getting an order of spaghetti, Texas toast, and Boston Cream Pie (they didn't serve Greek food, but apparently embraced other geographic fare) as I sat down to watch the Chiefs do battle.

I went off to college while Marv Levy was writing the Chiefs' fight song, and when I got my first job in St. Louis, I had a TV and VCR on the floor of an otherwise empty apartment, and I bribed my mother to videotape the Chiefs games and mail them to me since sports bars at that time were still being tested on laboratory monkeys.

At the age of 28, I left Missouri for good, and my family and the blue pickup stayed behind. The Chiefs went with me. I got married, went to grad school, switched careers, moved to Denver of all places, bought a house, and started up my own business.

Through it all, I watched Chiefs teams with good offenses and no defenses, Chiefs teams with good defenses and no offenses, and at least one team that somehow snuck into the playoffs with only special teams. I watched games at home, at sports bars, read game summaries in a hotel in Bombay, and one occasion, followed a game live on the NFL web site at midnight in Paris. I saw careers rise and fall, I saw miracle finishes that made me scream with delight, and I saw losses that pulled my heart out of my chest and stomped on it. On two occasions, I saw the team pick itself up and move on after its biggest star died.

I'm 43 years old now, and there's not much child left in me. I'm bald, I work 80 hours a week, and I have descended into the great abyss of middle-class America that is both revered and scorned in our society. I see my Sixties-era family and that blue pickup maybe once every other year.

I have a new family now, one that I found and created, and overall I'm very happy with the life I have chosen. But on 16 Sunday mornings a year, I can get my spaghetti and Texas toast and sit on the floor in front of the television and I'm a child again, and all things are possible, perhaps even a Super Bowl.

So when people ask me why I'm a Chiefs fan, I can only smile. If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand. Why am I a Chiefs fan? We grew up together. They're the closest kin I've got. Top Stories