Thanks, Kansas City Chiefs: You turned me into a die-hard football fan at long last | Opinion
Here we go again: Another football season coming to an end. For me it’s bittersweet, because for the first time in a long time, I care. Coming from a football household, I managed to grow into my adulthood with little or no real interest for America’s sport.
My younger brother Stephen played ankle-biters through high school, where he lettered as an offensive tackle and guard for the Bishop O’Connell Knights in Arlington, Virginia. Games were the Friday night thing. I never dated a player nor was I a cheerleader, but I was a semi-regular, if only to hang out with my friends. We met at the Washington and Lee High School stadium, since our field did not have lights at the time. Our team was quite good, winning more than a few divisional championships, thanks in large part to the athleticism and inherent gifts of Eric Metcalf, eventual Cleveland Browns player and son of Washington’s legendary Terry Metcalf.
Growing up in Vienna, Virginia, we were all about the home team. My dad had season tickets and if the team lost, well, it was best to give him some space.
“Now’s not a good time,” my mother would say when I called home on a late Sunday afternoon. My German mom is also a fan of the sport — forget soccer.
After my dad died, my brother kept the tickets, but the drama of the new owner became too much. The seats got worse, the tailgates among family friends grew smaller and less frequent, and the parking was just a nightmare. The tickets were given up and my family remained true to the home team from the comfort of a warm family room.
My husband Mike, a die-hard football fan from the Show-Me State, played offensive wingback and inside defensive linebacker for the Marceline High School Tigers, conference champions two years straight (1959-1960). He was recruited by Central Methodist College — now Central Methodist University — in Fayette, Missouri, for a partial scholarship. He received a letter from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy expressing interest and signed by then-head coach Otto Graham. He declined both so that he could attend college with his friends. He kept the letters and became an engineer and a pilot serving a tour in Vietnam. In a nutshell, Mike likes a cold beer or a nice Barolo, and his Friday night lights or Sunday afternoon football.
To someone from the East Coast, Missouri is practically Texas. They like their football. When Mike and I moved to Easton, Maryland, in 1993, the Ravens hatched as the new home team, but we did not feel the love. One game in an old stadium left us cold — literally. Free agents and what seemed like a lot of individual professionals playing for money, sponsorships and endorsements only added to a building antipathy.
But coming home from errands one Sunday, there was my husband watching a Kansas City Chiefs game. Silently protesting and fearing I might miss an episode of “Downton Abbey,” I joined him on the sofa, albeit with my laptop open to peruse shoes, and semi-watched. Before we knew it, it became a habit — and that became a Sunday ritual that involved snacks and special dinner menus. In no time, I was hooked. Really.
Andy Reid seemed nice, never losing his cool with his players. And the players, in turn, performed — in some instances like a ballet or Disney on Ice with their acrobatic twirling and fancy footwork. I found myself yelling at bad calls and offering the most common advice of all: Why doesn’t he throw the ball more? He has such a good arm.
The team’s joy is palpable. They look like they love to play. In victory, they shine and in defeat they are gracious. And having been to Kansas City several times over the years, I know the people. After all, I married one. They’re nice — genuinely kind. And so Kansas City remains our team.
The deftness of Patrick Mahomes and the cohesion of the players are pure magic. Travis Kelce is amazing. Juju Smith-Schuster has the best name in the NFL and the talent to back it up. Marquez Valdes-Scantling! Isiah Pacheco! Mecole Hardman! Harrison Butker! L’Jarius Sneed! The list goes on. Yes, I do know their names and cheer them on as if they are close friends. The team vibe is akin to that of a band versus a group: A band is about the music. A group is about selling tickets and making videos.
And so we say: Go Chiefs! If Kansas City can turn this Sunday night PBS-loving girl into a full-fledged fan who understands most rules, surely Congress can get its act together. One can only hope.
God, I love football. My dad would be proud — and probably a Chiefs convert.
Kristina Henry lives with her family in Easton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Washingtonian magazine, Food52, Edible Delmarva and U. S. Masters Swimming’s Swimmer magazine.