“The fans yell joyfully, sometimes shouting encouragement to the players, but like the wolf they were respectfully named for, the pack is always hungry for more,” the Kansas City Times reported in 1965. “Members are known for their football fervor and their acidity for misplays. … They seem to thrive on adverse weather — cold, rain, heat. The Wolfpack is always there.”
The second thing you should know about KC Wolf is that he has been portrayed by the same individual, Dan Meers, for the past 30 years. Meers, who turned 53 this month, says he is the NFL’s longest-tenured mascot by at least a decade.
“I never was a great athlete, but God turned around and gave me a 30-year NFL career,” Meers said in a phone interview while packing for Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV. “How many guys get to say that?”
Meers was a “three-sport benchwarmer” at St. Charles (Mo.) West High before enrolling at the University of Missouri, where a notice in the school newspaper about tryouts to be Truman the Tiger and some urging from his friends helped launch an improbable career. While pursuing a double major in broadcast journalism and communications, Meers spent most of his free time entertaining fans in a tiger suit at Missouri athletic events. He was good at it, too, placing in the final four of the Universal Cheerleaders Association’s annual tournament three years in a row. Meers defeated Akron’s Zippy the kangaroo for the title in 1989.
“I was a decent mascot, but I could make myself look good because I had all this equipment in the journalism school,” Meers said of the national competition, which required contestants to submit their own highlight videos.
After graduating in 1990, Meers spent the summer working as Fredbird, the St. Louis Cardinals’ mascot. Toward the end of the season, he got a call from the Chiefs, who were looking for a new KC Wolf. The goofy mascot was introduced the year before as a replacement for Warpaint, an actual horse, at the discretion of new Chiefs president and general manager Carl Peterson. (The Chiefs brought back a horse in 2009.) KC Wolf’s original portrayer commuted to games from New York during the 1989 season, and the team wanted someone local who could represent the Chiefs at events throughout the year. Meers was a perfect fit.
“I told them when I went into the interview that I want to use this mascot platform to go out and be able to speak to kids,” said Meers, who served as a counselor at youth ministry summer camps during college. “I truly believe that I had a platform to make a positive impact on the lives of young people.”
Meers got the job and moved to Kansas City, expecting to be there for a couple of seasons before trading his fur suit for more regular work clothes.
“Thirty years later, I still don’t have a real job,” he said. “I’m running around acting like a nut in a costume. It’s a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Meers would meet Cam, his wife of 26 years, while speaking at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference. It turned out they attended the same church and she wasn’t a big football fan, so Meers knew she wasn’t using him for his Chiefs tickets. The couple now has three grown children, one of whom is studying to be a doctor.
In November 2013, Meers was seriously injured while rehearsing a bungee cord stunt from a bank of lights above Arrowhead Stadium. Sidelined for six months while recovering from cracked ribs, a collapsed lung and a broken vertebra suffered in the accident, Meers wrote a book titled “Wolves Can’t Fly” and gave all the proceeds to charity. Meers’s second book, “Mascot on a Mission,” came out in December, and it details the trips he has taken in costume to orphanages in countries such as Haiti, India and Tanzania.
“My occupation is mascotting,” Meers said. “My preoccupation, what I’m truly passionate about, is my faith, family and using my life to make a positive impact on the world I live in. Every day, I get the opportunity to go out and put a smile on someone’s face, whether it’s a school, a hospital or a nursing home. It’s a rewarding way to live life."
For at least eight weeks every year for the past three decades, Meers has spent his Sundays attempting to make Chiefs fans laugh with his silly costumes, elaborate entrances and gyrating, hula hoop hips. During this year’s AFC divisional-round playoff game against the Houston Texans, CBS aired a clip of KC Wolf banging his head against a door in a tunnel at Arrowhead Stadium. Everyone assumed he was distraught that Kansas City trailed 24-0. In fact, a security guard had left him hanging on a high-five attempt.
After Kansas City punched its ticket to the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 50 years with a win over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC championship game a week later, Meers’s phone was flooded with congratulatory messages from fellow mascots, what he refers to as his fur-ternity.
“I’m known as the old guy,” Meers said. “I heard from the Bears’ and the Seahawks’ mascots, the Texans’ mascot, the former Texans’ mascot, the Eagles’ mascot. There are guys that have retired that have reached out to me. That’s the best thing about this job is just the relationships you make.”
Several of Meers’s former understudies have gone on to have successful careers as pro sports mascots, including Andrew Johnson, who portrays the Texans’ Toro. Meers knows Sourdough Sam, San Francisco’s gold miner mascot with the comically large pickax, and said he was looking forward to catching up with him before the game.
“He is by far the best dancer of any mascot in the NFL, hands down,” Meers said. “Any NFL mascot would tell you that. If we had a dance-off, Sourdough Sam will win that every single time.”
Meers’s biggest concern a week before the Super Bowl, outside getting roped into a dance contest with Sourdough Sam, was deciding which 85-inch pants to pack. He has already got his base layer picked out.
“Every year, my kids get me a pair of boxer shorts for Christmas,” Meers said. “For years, I kept wearing these tattered Homer Simpson boxers under my wolf outfit. Last year, after we got beat by the Patriots [in the AFC championship game], I told my assistant that I’m never wearing these things again. This year, I switched to my SpongeBob SquarePants boxers, and here we’re headed to the Super Bowl. I didn’t know if that was ever going to happen for me. I’m not a superstitious man, but I guarantee I’ll have those under my costume in Miami.”