MIAMI — Donna Maize was born in Kansas City in July of 1970, six months after the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV.
Maize, the first female fire chief in Kansas City, has spent most of her life in the city. She was raised there. She has worked in the city for more than 27 years. Like most everyone else in the area she’s a Chiefs fan; she was at Arrowhead Stadium for the team’s comeback win over the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.
Maize is 49. She has not been alive for a Chiefs Super Bowl win. Until two weeks ago, she’d never even seen her team make a Super Bowl. She knows what a win would mean for Kansas City.
“I think it would carry the city for years,” Maize said. “Afterward, we’ll be riding high.”
The Chiefs are one step away. They’ll play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday. The last time the Chiefs won a Super Bowl, it was less than six months removed from Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.
Like most NFL cities, the local team is a huge part of the local identity. You can feel if the NFL team won that week, just by the mood around the city. Kansas City, where you won’t go very far without seeing some red and yellow apparel, probably ranks higher on that list than most.
“You see the fans, how hardcore they are,” Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, who spent 12 seasons with the Chiefs, said this week. “They love it. And it’s a small town. You can always tell, when we were doing well that city was on fire. You go out, everybody is happy. When we weren’t doing well, the city is down. I really, really want it just as badly for the fans as I want it for that team.”
Chiefs players want to win because it’s the realization of a dream. Many have talked this week about wanting to win for coach Andy Reid.
They’re also playing for everyone in Kansas City and the surrounding areas, whose mood changes as the Chiefs’ fortunes rise and fall. And this playoff run has put everyone in a great mood.
“It has made people friendlier to each other,” Maize said. “They’ll say hey or hold a door or whatever.
“It gives you a reason to reach out to people.”
Many teams have recently snapped long dry spells
We’ve seen many teams break long championship droughts the past few years. The Chicago Cubs were the most famous example. The Philadelphia Eagles’ win in Super Bowl LII two years ago was the first for the franchise and set off a massive celebration. The Cleveland Cavaliers won an NBA title, energizing an entire city that was suffering championship droughts with the Cavs, Browns and Indians. Hockey fans in St. Louis and Washington realized a dream when they saw the Blues and Capitals win their first Stanley Cup.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to root for the New England Patriots, who have had a run of championship success for nearly 20 years (after breaking their own long drought at the end of the 2001 season). Plenty of fans spend too much time, effort, money and emotion rooting for a team that will never win a championship. The Blues, for example, started in 1967 and until last season fans had never seen their team win one game in a Stanley Cup Final. Then during the 2018-19 season the Blues rebounded from a rough start to win an improbable championship.
Benjamin Hochman, sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pointed out the Blues had been in the postseason most years. They even had a 25-year streak of playoff appearances at one point. And Hochman said that compares well to the Chiefs, who have often showed signs of promise but always fell short in the postseason.
“An annual tease, annual tempting, annual torture,” Hochman said of the Blues. “If you're picking-your-poison, that might be more brutal than being a fan of a hopeless loser for long stretches in numerous generations. So, when they won, it was this incredible, infectious feeling throughout the city. These fans earned it. And the celebration was historic. I think some people are just now getting over their hangovers.”
The Chiefs’ playoff failures became part of the team’s lore and the fan base’s pain. After Super Bowl IV in January of 1970, Kansas City didn’t win another playoff game until 1991. They lost the AFC championship game at the end of the 1993 season and that was the start of an eight-game playoff losing streak, an NFL record. That streak was snapped five years ago.
Last season, the Chiefs went to the AFC championship game. They had an MVP quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. They were favored over the Patriots. An offsides penalty on Dee Ford, now on Super Bowl LIV opponent San Francisco, negated a game-clinching interception. The Patriots won in overtime.
Some Chiefs fans had put their kids through college and still had never seen their team make a Super Bowl. We can debate if the fortunes of a sports team occupy too much space in our daily lives, but that loss hurt in Kansas City.
“It was tough,” Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman said. “Everyone. My 5-year-old son, he was 4 at the time, and he was upset about it for days. Everyone was sad.”
Chiefs are far from the longest NFL drought
Lions, Vikings, Browns and Jets fans are wondering what all the fuss is about with the Chiefs.
The Lions haven’t won a title since 1957. The Jets haven’t won since Super Bowl III, one year before Len Dawson and the Chiefs beat the Vikings. The Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. Neither have the Browns, whose last championship was 1964. The Titans, Bills, Chargers, Falcons, Panthers, Jaguars and Texans have also never won a Super Bowl.
The longest NFL drought is the Arizona Cardinals, whose last NFL championship was 1947. At least that dry spell spans three locations: Chicago, St. Louis and Arizona. That helps spread out the pain.
When a team wins a championship, the feeling of joy is palpable for a while. Even a long playoff run has an effect. Maize said she was greeted by a stranger at the dog park because she was wearing a Chiefs sweatshirt. There are Chiefs signs at Union Station in Kansas City, and fans have been lining up to take pictures in front of them. Everywhere you go, there’s an excitement.
Maize said the city government is planning for all of the entertainment districts to be filled with Chiefs fans watching the game on Sunday evening. She said all anyone in Kansas City is talking about is the Chiefs finally being back in a Super Bowl. It’s a rare thing that can bring everyone together.
“It’s a good reason for everyone to get that sense of camaraderie,” Maize said.
Just imagine if there’s a parade in Kansas City next week.
“We know how bad the city wants the championship,” Sherman said. “We want to bring it back to them and we want to party with them and celebrate. We know it as much as they know it.”
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