As Kansas City Chiefs fans, today is the first day of the rest of our lives.
While the NFL labor mess ultimately melted away as so many of us have been expecting it eventually would, this still feels like a new beginning. After all, a time when football’s future wasn’t endangered by the players and owners’ bickering was becoming difficult to remember. Before the lockout finally came to an end yesterday, it had persisted for 143 days. The entire 2010 NFL season—post-season and Super Bowl included—lasted 147. Soon enough, hopefully, this will all feel like a cruel joke.
But so what? Let’s schedule a group therapy session in a few months and see how we feel then. Right now, it’s time to focus on the present (and near future).
Speaking of focus, I’ll be honest—before joining AA early last year (around Halloween, whatever that might imply), I had been a diehard during-the-season Chiefs fan, and remained interested but much less obsessed in the months when there were no games. Fall and winter Sundays were sacrosanct and I would feed on pre-game hype all week long. But if I wasn’t the first person in the world to know about a summer free-agent signing, it didn’t exactly ruin my day.
All of that changed this February, when it was made clear to me by Dear Leader that while the NFL’s work was done for the season (or longer), mine here was not. Coming up with something new to write about the Chiefs every week* during a normal NFL off-season is insane enough, but during this off-off-season? For so long, it felt almost a little disingenuous, as if there was an unwritten caveat to every conversation-starter: “How tough is the Chiefs’ 2011 schedule (you know…assuming they wind up playing it)?” “Which free agents should KC go after (you know…if they ever get the chance to go after free agents)?” “Just how big of a jackass will Clark Hunt prove himself to be (you know…if…well—pretty big, actually)?”
*What ever would possess someone to do it every day, I cannot possibly understand—it’s Arrowhead Addict, not Arrowhead Nutjob—but I’m glad such a person exists.
As the days crept and then flew by without a deal, we started to think the unthinkable. My close college friend, a Buffalo native, had been considering flying in for the Bills-at-Chiefs season opener. But before he had bought his ticket, we had to face the fact that we just weren’t sure there’d be a game that day. I realize now that I had subconsciously started to accept the idea that we’d miss a game, or two, or perhaps many more. I started to embrace soccer—yes, fútbol—just to stave off a reality without football. Hell, even fantasy football would be sacrificed. Talk about crushing our dreams!
And, of course, what would we tell the children? Think of the children…
But then, yesterday at 2 p.m. EDT, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith uttered those immortal words—“Okay, fine”—and the long national nightmare was over. Best of all, at least from a forward-looking perspective, we haven’t lost a thing. Training camp and preseason games* will proceed as planned, and the season will indeed open on schedule. Yes, we can gripe about how much the lockout disadvantaged our young, reviving Chiefs team (and happily, we will!). And we shouldn’t simply forgive and forget.
*Also, let us at least pause for a moment to reflect upon what was lost: the 2011 Hall of Fame Game. The Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams were set to clash in Canton, Ohio, on August 7, to determine, once and for all, the winner of…um, the 2011 Hall of Fame Game. Now, we will never know the outcome. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced on Thursday that, despite the fact that the owners were on the verge of unanimously approving the new CBA, the game had to be dropped “because the teams wouldn’t have ample time to prepare.” I’m not sure how many of you have watched the HOF Game year after year, but if there is one word I would never use to describe the teams who have participated in this annual precursor to the preseason, it might be “prepared.”
But that said, I am going to look at this lockout, after the fact, as a small blessing. Besides leaving the league and its players (and definitely its owners) in a better state for having hashed out their differences—and I really do believe that—it has given me a new appreciation that I didn’t think I’d allow myself to feel. It isn’t all just going to be ponies and gum drops and rainbows and chicken spiedini from here on. Some very bitter and lingering truths about the owners and the players (but mostly the owners) came to light, and as ticket prices and team profits continue to rise, much of the same fan frustration will remain.
But the fact of the matter is, we love her, this game of ours. And even though she strung us along, she finally said “Yes,” and now we can be together forever (or at least for 10 more years, until this CBA expires). For now, let us concentrate—lock in—on why we’re all here, rejoicing in the return of football and reveling in our immediate reward: an entire, active off-season packed into six short weeks.
Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, free agency at last!