There was a moment during Sunday’s game in San Diego—well, there were several, but this one in particular will make the point—when nothing else about the Kansas City Chiefs’ woeful 2011 season mattered: With a minute-and-a-half left, the Chiefs had just tightened the score to 20-17, and the Chargers—having just failed to convert a third-and-eight—decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches, on what they hoped would be the last meaningful play of the game. But San Diego and Philip Rivers forgot the whole “sneaky” part essential to a successful quarterback sneak. The Chiefs saw it coming from a mile (actually, inches) away, and even an overly generous spot and the fickle imprecision of an official chain measurement couldn’t deny them a huge stop.
The Chiefs, only down by three, now had the ball, the momentum, decent field position, and—thanks in part to the fact that Rivers hadn’t run nearly as many seconds off the clock as he could have*—plenty of time with which to work. A quick 23-yard pass to Leonard Pope into San Diego territory underlined just what was happening here: the Chiefs weren’t struggling to set up a tie game and overtime, they were driving toward their first win of the season.
*No, there weren’t any well-coached teams out there this day.
But the fact that it would be their first win was—in the moment—completely irrelevant to me. There was no context outside of the scoreboard and the game clock. It didn’t matter that even three points might still be a tall order for a team that in three games so far had been outscored 109-27. It didn’t matter that the Chiefs were going to have to finish this drive without Jamaal Charles or Tony Moeaki. It didn’t matter that last year, with those players, on this same field, the soon-to-be-playoff-bound Chiefs had been wholly embarrassed 31-0 (albeit with Brodie Croyle filling in for Matt Cassel). It didn’t matter either that this year, until the last few possessions, Cassel had looked shakier than Croyle at his worst.
So what? The same pieces of this puzzle that had completely fallen apart on us the first two weeks appeared to be coming together. Even the same blank sideline expression of head coach Todd Haley (overcompensating for last week’s strawberry/melon-colored velour hooded blouse with a slightly more bad-ass black windbreaker) now seemed less clueless and more confidence-inspiring. Despite everything—again, because nothing else mattered—it looked likely that the Chiefs could beat the Chargers, in very dramatic fashion, and announce themselves as the champions of this game on this day. This was the Super Bowl.
This moment, this dose of adrenaline, was precisely the kind of fix that had lead to our addiction in the first place. The reason we are Chiefs fans, and stay Chiefs fans, is for the ever-present anticipation of the next one of these moments. As I’ve tried to deal with the opening debacles of this season, I’ve pointed out that I (merely) expect to be entertained. On Sunday, the Chiefs fulfilled that expectation. Even their last play on offense—as stultifying a way to lose a game as Cassel’s interception was—was still another moment: it felt good to be angry, to care.
With no disrespect to what goes on here on this site and around the lesser virtual water-coolers of the web, this midweek reflection isn’t the truly fun part, as meaningful as it is. On a Sunday afternoon, with the clock ticking down and the score within reach, all is clear: there is only one kind of victory for which to strive. But on a weekday morning, we are left asking the bigger(-picture) question(s): If this team wins four or five games and heads into 2012 with no major shakeups or real hope of improvement, what then? I’m as “guilty” as anyone of contemplating short-term sacrifice for long-term gain. When Crocker posted his mock-up of Andrew Luck in a Chiefs uniform, I immediately downloaded it. Who knows—if and when the Chiefs are still losing in December, I may need to make it my profile pic.*
*With appropriate attribution given, of course.
Ultimately, we are fans because we crave the ultimate moment. Despite what I wrote above, Sunday’s game was not the Super Bowl. Outside of the moment, things look very different. The long view prevails. This is, after all, a contest of endurance. Do we want to watch our Chiefs win a few sprints while falling farther behind in the pack?
As others have pointed out, that will be the most difficult aspect of this season: trying to find the balance somewhere between the moments and the marathon. We need both perspectives. I’m sure all of you are thinking what I’m thinking: this is precisely what Stephen Sondheim was trying to express with this lyric in the 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods:* Oh, if life were made of moments / Even now and then a bad one / But if life were only moments / Then you’d never know you had one.
*Not to be confused with the shocking, unauthorized, tell-all biography by the same name of former Chiefs Pro-Bowl safety Jerome Woods.
So how we feel about what might be “best” for the Chiefs in the longer run will continue to evolve as this season unfolds. But I know that so long as the team offers moments like it finally did on Sunday, I will have no choice but to suspend any outside judgment and lose myself in the immediate indulgence of being a fan.
As Sondheim’s colleague in the lyrical arts, Eminem, has articulated it: That’s why we seize the moment / Try to freeze it and own it / Squeeze it and hold it / ’Cause we consider these minutes golden.