As I watched the Titans take on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon, my natural inclination was to cheer hard for the road underdog, the team that entered the postseason as the sixth seed and had been nothing but the ultimate road warrior through the first two games.
After all, it’s the American way to cheer for the underdog.
But after Tennessee built a 17-7 first-half lead, something weird happened: I started to feel bad for the Chiefs and their fans.
This was a team that had come so close to reaching the Super Bowl so many times over the previous two or three decades—including just last year, in the very same game and in the very same venue, when it lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Patriots.
Speaking of decades, five had past since the last time the Chiefs advanced to the Super Bowl, and here they were, down by 10 points to a team that looked to be one of destiny.
If you were a Chiefs fan at that moment, losing the conference title game at home to the sixth seed had to feel fitting and familiar—like the proverbial other shoe that always seemed to drop for your team each and every season once the calendar had flipped to January.
And with Andy Reid as your head coach? The man who was in his 21st season of building teams just good enough to get close before missing out on that proverbial cigar?
You talk about a marriage made in futile heaven.
But just like that, that 50-year-long fever broke, and Patrick Mahomes, like the savior quarterbacks of his ilk never realize they are until they do it, rose up and put the Chiefs, their fans and all of that misery on his back and carried Kansas City to a 35-24 victory.
The Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl for the first time since Richard Nixon was president. Do you think their supporters care today if people are trolling them on social media by shoving their teams’ Lombardi trophies in their faces? Do you think they will be bothered one bit by the two-week hype machine that is always the build-up to the Super Bowl?’
Just a hunch, but I’m guessing they don’t care one bit about none of that. It’s been 50 years! Can you imagine the agony of waiting so long just to see your team play in that game again?
This is the part where the die-hard fan in you can always relate to the euphoria those of other teams are feeling—and if the Chiefs fans aren’t feeling euphoric after waiting all these years, someone needs to check their vitals.
As a Pirates fan, the thought of them ever making it to the World Series again in my lifetime seems so out there, landing on the moon—something that happened the last time Kansas City made it to the Super Bowl—feels more plausible. Why? People were over the moon about disco the last time (1979) the Pirates were in the World Series.
On that level—the level of a long-suffering Buccos fan—I can certainly relate to what Chiefs fans are feeling right now. Heck, even as a Steelers fan, I can relate to it, because it’s been long enough since their last Super Bowl appearance—nine full seasons—I’m beginning to wonder if I may have to endure another 41 before it happens again.
Fortunately for me, the Steelers have been to the Super Bowl eight times in my lifetime. I remember five of them.
And that’s why I know the two-week hype-machine is a gift that keeps on giving all the way up until kickoff.
So my advice to Chiefs fans—both very young and very old—is enjoy the hell out of these next two weeks and soak up every second of joy they bring you.
You’ve earned it.