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It took a mere 12 minutes and 51 seconds of football. At 2:36 on Sunday afternoon, Tyreek Hill muffed a punt. The Houston Texans, already up 14-0, recovered. Arrowhead Stadium went silent. And Charles Penn realized what he had to do.
So he looked around his lower-level section.
He turned to his fellow Kansas City Chiefs diehards.
And with 2:09 remaining in the first quarter of an AFC divisional round playoff game, from a seat he’d paid $258 for, he broke the news.
“Look,” he told nearby fans. “Texans go up 21-0, I’m outta here.”
Sure enough, two plays later, Deshaun Watson found Darren Fells for a touchdown. Arrowhead went from silent to soulless. And Penn, a 31-year-old who lives 10 minutes up the road, made his way to the aisle. He climbed concrete steps. Reached the concourse, and strolled toward the exits.
In the parking lot on the way to his car, a member of the clean-up crew spotted him and said, “I know you’re not leaving early!”
Penn, aware of the optics, acknowledged he was. But he had a reason.
“It’s our only hope, man,” he said. “I gotta do it.”
Why Penn, a diehard Chiefs fan, left early
Penn has been a Chiefs fan since the age of 5. Since he went downstairs one Monday night, saw his Chiefs-loving father watching a game against the Raiders, and plopped down next to dad on the couch.
“Been riding with the Chiefs since then,” he told Yahoo Sports on Sunday.
He’d go to the occasional game with a parent. He’d go more often once he reached his mid-20s and could fund himself. And he’d seen his fair share of victories.
Problems, however, arose when the playoffs rolled around. Penn was at Arrowhead for the 18-16 loss to the Steelers in 2017. He was back for the 22-21 loss to the Titans the following year. He skipped last season’s divisional-round victory over the Colts, but witnessed the following week’s heartbreaking loss to the Patriots first-hand.
Heading into Week 17 this year, with the Titans seemingly awaiting on wild-card weekend, he’d convinced himself not to attend. Then, miraculously, the Chiefs earned a bye. Penn pulled up StubHub, and couldn’t resist the divisional round. He splashed the $258 for what he calls a “solo mission.” He’d meet up with friends outside the stadium, but bought the ticket alone.
For much of the week, he was confident. The Titans then upset the Ravens Saturday night. The stars were aligning.
Penn was aware of decades of Chiefs playoff disappointments. He was aware of his own personal playoff record. So he thought to himself: “Man, is this too good to be true? Am I ’bout to be let down again?”
The following afternoon, Kenny Stills burned the Chiefs’ secondary. 7-0.
“People were in my [Twitter] mentions,” Penn says. “Like, ‘Get ya ass out the stadium! Right now!’ They swear I’m the only jinx.”
At 21-0, fans in the surrounding area joined the chorus. “They wanted me out of there,” Penn says. “They wanted me out of there.”
“After Fells scored the touchdown,” he says, “I’m like, ‘Aight man. I’m out.’ ”
As he walked through the concourse, he pointed his phone at his face and hit record. He was calm, in remarkably good spirits given the circumstances.
“I’m outta here so we can get this second-half comeback going,” he told the camera. “Hopefully. ... I’m headed out, to watch this on Yahoo Sports on my phone. ... We gotta come back somehow.”
Chiefs win, Penn goes viral
He pulled up the Yahoo Sports app. Queued up the game. As he was pulling into the driveway of his townhouse, Patrick Mahomes found Damien Williams to cut Houston’s lead to 24-7. As he set up shop on his couch, the Chiefs foiled a Texans fake punt. Then there was Mahomes to Travis Kelce for 24-14. Then a Texans fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Then Mahomes to Kelce again for 24-21.
By halftime, the Chiefs led 28-24. And Penn’s video, which he’d posted to Twitter, was going viral.
Some Twitter users accused him of faking the exit. But he had pictures as proof. A few people thought he’d just gone to an Arrowhead bathroom. “Like, no, I’m at the crib, dog,” he says he’d respond.
By late in the third quarter, he was getting interview requests. With the Chiefs up 17 in the fourth, I asked him if he was ready for a call now.
“End of the game,” he responded. “I don’t want to jinx anything lol.”
By that point, Chiefs fans were offering to send him money. So he posted his Cash App and Venmo usernames. An hour after the Chiefs’ 51-31 win, the donations from strangers had more than paid for his ticket, he says.
Around that time, a reporter briefed Mahomes on Penn’s story. The QB was asked what he’d say to Penn.
“Watch the next game at home,” Mahomes advised with a smile.
“Appreciate you doing what was best for the Kingdom!” the reigning MVP later tweeted to Penn.
Mahomes, of course, has no need to worry about next Sunday. I asked Penn whether he planned to be at Arrowhead for the AFC title game.
He didn’t hesitate.
“Heeeck nah!” he responded with a laugh.
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