For Kansas City area fans, sports wins feel inevitable. Let’s appreciate them.

November 25, 2022 3:33 am
A crowd at Arrowhead Stadium

A red-clad crowd packs Arrowhead Stadium to watch the Kansas City Chiefs play. (Eric Thomas)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

Sunday night, I sat on the couch, a cocktail in hand, watching Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes trot onto the field. Trailing the Los Angeles Chargers by four, Kansas City needed to drive 75 yards in the final 1:46 to score a touchdown. A field goal would not be enough. 

And yet, there I reclined on the sofa.

I didn’t pace the room. I didn’t check the Chiefs’ win probability. Like so many other fans of Kansas City-area teams through the past decade, I waited for my team’s preordained win.

Supporting the region’s teams the past 10 years has been like that old video game, Frogger — only without the splat. We have scooted across the road, from the joy of one team to the championships of another.

As the Royals tanked, Sporting Kansas City topped their league. As Sporting faded, the Chiefs surged. When the Chiefs lost in the playoffs, the Jayhawks won in March Madness. If you are willing to abandon your ardent fandom of one descending team for the rise of another, the Kansas City area has been the place to be a fan.

My 13-year-old boy has really never known the darkness of living in a sports quagmire. Liberated by a day off school in 2015, he boarded a bus for downtown Kansas City to get a glimpse of the Royals’ World Series parade.

Four years later, we watched the Chiefs board double-decker buses for their own celebration. Sporting KC offered us a chance to see two players who represented the United States in the World Cup. Kansas City pro sports has offered him a glimmering local team at all times. 

This year, he also traced the Jayhawks men’s basketball team on his bracket to the championship. The University of Kansas’ streak of dominance in Big 12 basketball bordered on absurdity during our last decade, and even before. Big 12 basketball teams can earn the regular season title, the conference tournament title or both. The Jayhawks have won or shared the regular season title 20 times. The other 11 teams? Only 11 titles combined. In the conference tournament, a format that much more easily bounces out superior teams through one bad result, the Jayhawks have still won nearly half.

(And who would have thought the 2022 football Jayhawks would execute this screeching U-turn of a season?)

It hasn’t always been this way. The Royals and Chiefs have tested fans with long stretches of misery. To call the futility that flanks the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 seasons simply “losing seasons” understates the dismal nature of those teams. Since 2002, Royals fans endured six seasons with 100 or more losses.

– Eric Thomas

It hasn’t always been this way. The Royals and Chiefs have tested fans with long stretches of misery. To call the futility that flanks the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 seasons simply “losing seasons” understates the dismal nature of those teams. Since 2002, Royals fans endured six seasons with 100 or more losses.

Likewise, the Chiefs claim an era of sour football — especially when compared with the current golden age. The recent teams are unprecedentedly hot, winning a record six consecutive AFC West division titles. They are poised to win another. Over the past seven seasons (not including this current one), the Chiefs have won 83 games.

Here is your trivia question: How many seasons would it have taken to earn 83 wins if you started counting in 1972? The answer: 14 — double the number during the Andy Reid era. 

Consider the psychic drain of living in a city that lost so often. And consider how invincible it makes us feel to have a winner in the region at all times.

It certainly can lead us to arrogance. Or, as I experienced Sunday while watching Mahomes rally the Chiefs, it breeds a chill confidence, a relaxed assurance that we fans don’t need to fret. It’s going to be OK. We believe that we will win.

With less than two minutes to manage, Mahomes flung one pass and then another to dissolve the Chargers’ defense. The touchdown to tight end Travis Kelce felt less like surprising fan euphoria and more like deja vu. Like Lorenzo Cain making a circus catch in the outfield in 2015. Like opening a sports app on our phones to find Sporting KC advancing in its tournament. Like Bill Self smirking as he climbed the ladder to cut down the nets.

The danger of a run like this is forgetting to savor it. Just ask the fans in Detroit, with four major sports teams, most of them failing to post winning records much less advance meaningfully in the playoffs.

Cincinnati, despite three Super Bowl appearances, doesn’t have a single trophy. Add this to Cincinnati’s suffering: the hapless Reds who haven’t won their division in the past 10 years.

I ask this of you as fellow fans. Deploy all of your superstitions to keep this streak going. Don’t wash the lucky socks. Drive the same way to the stadium every week. Eat the same pregame meal of sauerkraut and bratwursts.

But whatever you do, don’t close your eyes. This is too rare — and fun — to miss.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.