Football cards, Tecmo Bowl, and the Nigerian Nightmare: A Chiefs fan’s tale

A Chiefs fan’s story of card collecting, video games, and the Nigerian Nightmare.

I wasn’t born a Kansas City Chiefs fan.

It actually took many years for me to arrive at the point I’m at now, where thoughts of the Chiefs roster consume my waking hours. It was a winding road that even has a dark and shameful point—(more on that later—but the end result was a journey that created a passionate fan since the Marty Schottenheimer days. I’m 42 years old and the Chiefs have now been a major part of my life for three decades.

While being a Chiefs fan may not have been a legacy passed down to me by my parents, I definitely inherited my football obsession from my Dad. He was a graduate of the University of Iowa, where he was a football manager as an undergrad. He grew up a Hawkeyes fan, and to this day, he follows them with every bit of the passion that I now follow the Chiefs.

When I was growing up in Topeka in the 1980s, there weren’t a lot of Iowa football games on national television and this was before the internet. (Gasp!) On Saturdays, my dad used to listen on this old stereo with a built-in radio to listen to the actual Iowa broadcasts coming all the way from Iowa. As you can imagine, the signal in Topeka, KS was not good, but my dad would pace his room trying to make out what was happening through the static, hoping to hear the late, great Jim Zabel celebrating an Iowa touchdown.

I still remember sitting downstairs playing with my G.I. Joes and hearing him cry out “ALRIGHT!” usually followed by a few thunderous claps. The whole house knew a big play had come through the static. I’d love to tell you that I sat up there and listened to the games with him, but I didn’t have the patience for it at the time. I loved going to a game with him when we had a chance for a road trip up there, but otherwise, I would wait to watch with him when they had a nationally televised game. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that my Dad is the reason I became a huge football fan, and it’s definitely where I learned what a diehard football fan looks like.

The next thing I should probably explain is that I’ve always loved collecting things—from He-Man action figures to G.I. Joes. As I got a little older, it was baseball cards. I obsessively collected 1987 and 1988 Topps baseball cards. Then, on a whim one day at my local card shop, I picked up the 1989 Kansas City Chiefs team set. I thought, “They’re my local NFL team and I want to know who their players are in case I want to watch a game.”

I pored over those Chiefs cards and had two questions. First, who is Steve DeBerg and is he any good? Second, could the rookie card for the Chiefs first round draft pick, Derrick Thomas, end up being valuable some day? I knew of Thomas from following college football with my dad and thought that if he could be great in the NFL, I might have a valuable card on my hands.

That 1989 season was the first time I regularly tuned in to watch NFL games. While I was quite excited to see Derrick Thomas look like a star in the making, he wasn’t the player that most caught my attention. That was Christian Okoye. Okoye was a massive man who had these huge shoulder pads and would just obliterate defenders. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen watching football. I was instantly a fan.

1989 was Okoye’s best year, and while he played three more seasons after that, they weren’t quite the same. Still, the impact that watching him had on me is what really drew me to want to tune in each week. I remember my best friend had Okoye’s “Nigerian Nightmare” poster on his wall (the one where he had the Freddy Krueger glove and defenders were hiding under the bed covers) and it only helped to raise his “coolness” in my eyes.

Here is where I have to address the deep dark secret I’ve been ashamed to admit. I’ve never put this out in writing before, but here goes. As my NFL interest grew in 1989, there was one other team I was interested in watching. As a Kansas City Royals fan, I wanted to watch Bo Jackson play. So I decided—cringe—that the Los Angeles Raiders would be my “other team”. Please understand, I was 12 years old and I hadn’t been raised on the NFL. I didn’t understand yet that they were hated rivals. They had Bo Jackson, their gear was popular at my school, and I thought their logo was cool. I didn’t know any better!

Sigh…

I think there were three seasons where I cheered for the Raiders against everyone except the Chiefs. I was going to abandon them after Jackson’s injury, but then they drafted Iowa’s Nick Bell at running back (who reminded me a little of Okoye) and I followed them for one more year (and quickly learned that Bell was no Okoye). Thankfully, the more I followed the NFL, the more I began to learn about the Chiefs/Raiders rivalry. I heard stories of how Marty emphasized “Raider Week” and I began to understand that cheering for both teams was a conflict of interest. By the time I entered high school, the Raiders were no longer my “other team.” They, along with the Denver Broncos, were the enemy.

I’m not proud of those years. All I can say is that I didn’t really understand how morally wrong it was at the time, point out that it was a Kansas City connection in Bo Jackson that drew me to them, and remind you that we all do stupid things in our middle school years. Regardless, it was part of my journey to becoming an NFL fan.

The other major influence that drew me to the NFL, if I’m being honest, was video games. I was a Nintendo kid. I played games like Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda for hours. I also loved sports games. I had the original Nintendo football game, 10 Yard Fight, but it was so basic that it’s almost embarrassing to think about now. Tecmo Bowl changed things. The original Tecmo Bowl was good, but it was Tecmo Super Bowl that became the game I spent the most hours playing of any video game ever. I played that game for hours on end until my parents would yell at me to turn it off and go outside.

I loved that I could play as Christian Okoye. Even though his career was almost over when the game came out, he played like that dominant force that I fell in love with when I first watched the Chiefs in 1989. I could throw bombs to Stephone Paige and J.J. Birden. I could terrorize the quarterback with Derrick Thomas. My favorite trick allowed you to take the nose tackle (Dan Saleaumua) and pull him straight down and hit tackle; he would dive past the center and sack the quarterback before the opponent could get the ball off.

It was that game that got me hooked on knowing the rosters of all the different teams. It sounds stupid, but I wanted to watch Barry Sanders play on Sundays because he was so amazing to play as in Tecmo Super Bowl. From that point on, I was now a full fledged NFL football fan. I’d watch college football with my dad some, but I was an NFL guy and the Kansas City Chiefs were my team. It’s been a long road since those early days. I still remember the Marty years with great nostalgia. Yes, I remember the heartbreak of the Lin Elliott game and the tragedy of the Monday Night Meltdown, but overall those Marty years are what made me a Chiefs fan.

There have been a lot more ups and downs since those Marty years. We all know the frustration of Dick Vermeil’s teams that were so amazing on offense and a train wreck on defense. I remember going to my first NFL game with my stepbrother, Cory (the same guy that had the Nigerian Nightmare poster). It was the last game of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars the year that the Chiefs snuck into the playoffs under Herm Edwards. I’m a little embarrassed that it took me that many years to go to a game, but as the only real NFL fan in my house, going to a game wasn’t something we did as a family. I was a fan before going to that game at Arrowhead, but getting that experience—from the tailgating to the in-stadium atmosphere—is when it went to a whole other level.

It was soon after that when I started obsessing over the Chiefs so much that I took to blogs to start sharing my thoughts. I posted some stuff over at Arrowhead Pride that got a good reception. Shortly after that, an Arrowhead Pride regular named Patrick Allen said he was taking over a Chiefs blog called Arrowhead Addict and looking for regular writers. I decided to give it a shot and was brought on shortly thereafter. That was almost 10 years and 500+ posts ago. The rest as they say, is history.

Being a Chiefs fan and now writing about them has been a huge part of my life and that’s why last season’s Super Bowl win was so satisfying and special. So that’s my story on becoming a Chiefs fan. Please feel free to share your story in the comments below as we spend this entire week here at Arrowhead Addict celebrating Chiefs fans and our stories that have shaped our fanhood.

Next: The challenges of repeating as Super Bowl champs
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