KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This time of year in these parts, certain Fridays are not plain old Fridays. They are Red Fridays. A high percentage of humans and many dogs and cats wear red on those days, the official color of the Kingdom.
But Kansas City fans are sufficiently true that our city has been called the Green Bay of the American Football Conference. Arrowhead Stadium holds the Guinness World Record for the loudest sports venue on Earth. In full roar, the Kingdom has been clocked at more than 142 decibels — comparable to a screaming jet engine.
It’s a club one wants to be part of — glue binding a city that otherwise struggles to cohere. Kansas City straddles two states; its greater metro area sprawls across nine counties, five in Missouri and four in Kansas, and is sliced and diced by the convergence of multiple winding rivers. Folks around here were waging the Civil War among themselves years before Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard fired on Fort Sumter. There is not much you can say without risk of touching a raw spot, but you never go wrong with “Go, Chiefs!” I say it with gusto.
I have a deep and painful secret, however, an inner rawness that was inflamed one recent Red Friday. The Chiefs were once again on the path to the AFC championship game, number five in a row that Kansas City has hosted. While grabbing some groceries, I noticed that the cashier was not dressed in scarlet. The logo on his shirt stopped me cold. “Are you from Denver?” I asked, looking at the orange-and-blue head of a raging horse.
He nodded, and I had to admit: “Me, too.”
He eyed my red ball cap with a look that felt like disgust.
Schlepping my bags across the parking lot, a quisling shamed, I remembered myself at 17: an ecstatic apostle of the Orange Crush era, when Denver’s team enraptured the city by finding one weird way after another to win games. The quarterback was an elderly castoff from Dallas. The defense swarmed with the intensity of ravenous wolves. After long years of dishwater-dull ineptitude, the Broncos won the AFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl. The whole city burst into the streets, banging pans, honking car horns, firing pistols heavenward.
This is a column I could not have written when my dear mother was alive. It would have broken her heart to realize she had raised a child capable of such betrayal. Stop loving the Broncos? What monster could do such a thing? All those times that I told her I loved her — were those as hollow and transient as my commitment to the heroes of Mile High Stadium?
There are worse things I could do, I suppose. I could cheer for the Raiders (ouch! it hurt just to type that). But finking out in favor of the Chiefs is just about as low as I could go. In my childhood, we hated Kansas City with the searing fire that is fueled by envy. The Chiefs had a great quarterback in Len Dawson, a canny coach in Hank Stram, brutal defenders in Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell,a trailblazing place-kicker in Jan Stenerud. We had … ski slopes.
When my family moved to Kansas City in 2007, I vowed to remain quietly loyal. I would not fracture my family by pressuring the children to choose Daddy’s Broncos over Mommy’s Chiefs. We would raise the kids in her faith, as long as everyone understood that twice a year, when the teams faced off, Daddy would root for the family’s team to lose.
With time, though, I came to feel that being a fan is less a matter of identity than it is a matter of community. And my community is here. It hasn’t hurt that the Chiefs have become one of the most exciting and entertaining teams in the National Football League, with a young wizard, Patrick Mahomes, at quarterback. To live in the same city as Mahomes and not be enthralled by his on-field heroics and off-field charm would require a heart of stone. He suffered an ankle injury in the Chiefs’ first playoff game this season — then led the team to victory while hopping on one foot.
So, Mom: Wherever you are, I’m sorry. I am part of the Kingdom now; there’s no turning back. And if you’ll excuse me, it’s Red Friday, and I need to get dressed.