The Kansas City Chiefs lost their voice on Saturday.
Since Bill Grigsby passed away a few days ago, not long after his 89th birthday, there have been any number of tributes, as there rightly should be, ranging from several vanilla, if sincere, platitude-filled statements to touching pieces full of insight and humor from people who truly knew him well, none more so than Joe Posnanski’s beautiful remembrance.
I have one personal memory of Bill Grigsby, one near, slight brush with his greatness.
I was at my friend’s house. It was summer. It wasn’t football season. And I don’t remember which video game we were playing—I’m guessing maybe Legend of Zelda, since this was the mid-to-late ‘80s—but it was intense enough that we didn’t even look up when my friend’s dad walked into the living room with another, older gentleman. But as the two of them discussed their business, there was something about the man’s cheery voice. I was pretty sure I had heard it before, or that he must have been some kind of actor or newscaster.
“Who was that?” I asked, after he had gotten what he’d come for and, from the door, shouted farewell to us where we remained, somewhere on Level 7.
Yes, that’s it. Not exactly an indelible moment. It’s not like I have a signed picture of “Grigs” with his arm around me proudly perched among other Chiefs memorabilia.
I don’t remember the days when Grigsby did the regular play-by-play for Chiefs games. I wasn’t around for the moments when he became part of sports history, broadcasting Super Bowls I and IV, and before that the first nationally televised NCAA Final Four basketball championship game, the triple-overtime thriller between Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks and the North Carolina Tar Heels at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
All of Grigsby’s other accomplishments and side jobs, from his early broadcast days with the minor-league Joplin Miners and Mickey Mantle to his role with the woeful Kansas City A’s to his stints as a fertilizer salesman and a professional women’s wrestling promoter, I’ve mostly learned about in the last two days.
And when Mr. Grigsby passed briefly through my life (well, briefly through my friend’s family’s living room), I wasn’t even really a Chiefs fan yet—or at least I hadn’t realized it (the forces that would tie me to this team forever were already at work, but the John Mackovic era wasn’t exactly the most popular time to rush the Chiefs’ bandwagon, especially while the team across the parking lot was winning the World Series).
By the time the radio (more specifically, the internet audio live stream) became one of my main sources of Chiefs game coverage, Grigsby was no longer a full-time presence in the booth; his unofficial title with the broadcast team was “man-about-town,” a duty which took him to the sidelines, the locker room, and into the stands, from where he added his insights. These mostly came as wonderful streams of pre- and post-game quips, both highly anticipated and completely unexpected, including his famous regular admonition, when things looked bleak, to “don’t go home and kick the dog.”
His enthusiasm was infectious, whether it was his trademark sign-on (“It’s a beeeeeeeee-yoo-tiful day!”—with which he lead off no matter how bright or how dismal the weather and/or the Chiefs’ prospects might be) or his growling endorsement of the team’s sponsor (“Prrrrrrrice Chopper!”). The fans listening already had plenty of passion and intensity. But he made the games fun.
And still, I was a little surprised by how noticeably bummed I was to hear that, less than a year after he had retired from the airwaves/internet feeds, he was now really gone.
But it’s simple: I now realize that Bill Grigsby, whether I had ever been in the same room with him or not, was one of those few figures outside members of my own family who gave me an authentic connection to the Chiefs. Even though I was just a fan who would never be familiar enough with Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson to call him “Ol’ Pardner” (or, even better, “Leonard”), Grigsby made me feel like the Chiefs really were “our” team—my team as much as theirs.
After I read that he had passed, I found myself searching the web for examples of his liveliness and enjoyed “reliving” some old conversations (I suggest here and here) that I was never a part of in the first place.
Maybe that’s a source of the disappointment, too. I realize just how much fun it would have been to talk to him. And even though I was only about 10 years old, I missed an opportunity. I really wish I had gotten up, and gotten to know Mr. Grigsby.