There’s a moment. It happens in most people’s lives. A moment when their dreams can come into focus. When the possibility becomes a probability. There are also moments in our lives when our hopes are dashed and it can affect us negatively for eons—sometimes for what seems like forever.
The Chiefs have had one of those moments. It was a seminal game—the longest game ever played in NFL history—and it was the last game ever played in Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium.
In simple terms, it was a playoff loss to the Miami Dolphins. However, the length, the energy and the agony of that game—for the Chiefs organization—was incredibly devastating. The game was played on Christmas Day, 1971, and has been a “gift” that keeps on giving. To this day, for older Chiefs fans, it is hard to erase from the memory or the heart.
However, the ghost of Christmas past may have been exorcised this past Sunday, Sept. 23rd, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
There’s something eerie about the facts surrounding these games and teams.
It was in New Orleans (Tulane Stadium) that the Chiefs won their last championship in Super Bowl IV.
Also, the Chiefs lost that longest game ever in double overtime to Miami who eventually lost in the Super Bowl that year, increasing the sense among Chiefs faithful that if the Chiefs had played in that Super Bowl, the game would have turned out differently. And, their future may have forever been altered.
There’s something that breaks your spirit when you lose a game like that. Even for husky men with iron wills. The Chiefs were 10-3-1 in 1971 but, following the loss to Miami in 1971, the Chiefs didn’t win their division again until 1993. They also only had two winning seasons in the next 10 years—and those were the following two seasons: an 8-6 record in 1972 and 7-5-2 in 1973. Then, Hank Stram left town, seemingly taking the fortunes of the Chiefs along with him.
When the “will” is broken it can leave a gaping hole. Boundless possibilities are replaced by ifs and limitations. What was once energy unending turns to hopeless endeavors and uninspired efforts.
It’s that hopelessness which I believe the Chiefs organization has been carrying with it for decades. The players and coaches may all be gone, but the fans remember. The city readily recalls. Even more than that: the fans know of the decades of losing since then—and it’s lasted long enough for them to forget why it may have all begun in the first place.
In my recent post called “Chiefs And Saints = Curse Vs Curse” I suggested that the Chiefs or the Saints might possibly break a curse they have both experienced — as organizations — with a win on Sunday. In the dramatic fashion that this game unfolded I would affirm that the Chiefs may well have done exactly that. Broken the bonds. Changed the course of the tides that have seemingly been flowing against them.
In another such game—I recall the very day, I remember the timing of it all—I was watching the Raiders-Steelers game almost a year to the day after the Chiefs’ participation in the longest game ever. It was Dec. 23, 1972. A contest now commonly referred to as the Immaculate Reception game. In those days the Steelers were merely wannabes. They hadn’t done anything. No Super Bowl victories. No championships. Nothing. On the other hand, the Raiders were the toast of the league and perennial contenders.
That game had evolved to a desperate focal point. It was a defensive battle all the way and the score was 7-6 Raiders with 22 seconds left in the 4th quarter. QB Terry Bradshaw was doggedly pursued on the play and finally got off a pass meant for Frenchy Fuqua, who was met simultaneously as the ball arrived, by Raiders safety Jack Tatum. It seemed that the ball had ricocheted off of one of their helmets because it looked like it had been shot out of a cannon. The ball was falling to the ground when out of the blue RB Franco Harris appears and snatches the ball off the turf—before it hits the turf—or so legend says. None of us who saw the game could say for sure what really happened because there were just as many fans who thought it didn’t touch the ground as those who thought it did.
The point is, moments like these can propel a team beyond their own visions of grandeur, just as much as they can break your heart.
One legacy is as likely as another. Since then the Steelers’ story is well-known and leaves decades of success in its wake.
However, for those who are participating in these contests, their lives are intrinsically altered in ways that can only be understood by actually being a participant in these events.
I don’t know about exorcising demons from games that are decades past but, it appears the Chiefs’ young and emergent group of pigskin pugilists are learning the lessons of open-ended possibilities. It’s that biochemical process that players experience when they cross the bridge from, “I think I can do it,” to, “I actually did that.”
Every game in the NFL is meaningful. Some are more meaningful than others. This game could, over time and depending on the way the Chiefs continue to play, turn out to be a hallmark game. Not just for this season but for seasons to come. No matter what the Chiefs do with the rest of this season, this game will be remembered as one of the most dramatic in Kansas City sports history.
It can also be said that this was the greatest comeback in any Chiefs game. Ever.
If the Chiefs gain the confidence and moxy that a hard-fought victory like this can provide then Chiefs fans everywhere may have just witnessed the organization turning a corner and coming of age. More importantly, the team may have solidified themselves as a force to be reckoned with and will now be a very difficult out—for whomever they face.
Mitch Holthus said this week of Jamaal Charles, “39 touches in this game, the guy’s a warrior. And if this season turns into something, Jamaal Charles ignited it.”
The 91-yard TD run by Charles was a shock-and-awe moment. As a fan, I‘ve been on the other side of the field to witness a number of those shock-and-awe moments when another team’s star made the Chiefs look hapless and helpless.
However, this run—and this victory—might just be a crowning moment.
Following the game you could hear the “evolved” language. In the sports world, there is a lexicon of losers and a vocabulary of victors.
Were these just excited utterances of players long overdue? Maybe.
As he was running off the field, Stanford Routt could be heard yelling,
We ready now, we ready now — watch out.
There were primal screams in the locker room and Clark Hunt was there to shake every last man’s hand.
This game wasn’t just about one excellent and inspiring long TD run. It transcends that. So many players came through, it’s hard to single any one person out because this was ultimately a team victory.
Now, every player knows, that every other player on their team will never give up.
Now, every player knows, they can and will come back from any deficit—together.
Now, the trust between team members has skyrocketed.
Now, everyone knows they are playing on the same team with a superstar, an inspirational leader who has overcome an injury, that for others, has been career ending.
Yes, this game will always be remembered in Chiefs lore as a great comeback win. But, what happens next may change the meaning of this game—and the way this organization is globally perceived—by quantum degrees.