KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The parking lot was a snowy, slushy mess, cars parked crookedly and diagonally, some perpendicular to one another. Nobody seemed to mind. Nobody seemed to care. The party had started hours and hours before kickoff as the flakes came down in buckets, a tortured community gathered for one more opportunity to poke fate in the eye.
“This is the year!” Aaron Dawson, a 34-year-old salesman, was screaming at nobody and at everybody, high-fiving friends, high-fiving strangers, spilling his Busch Light and not caring a bit since much of his supply had already hit its mark quite nicely. “This is our year!”
Later, as Andy Reid savored his first home playoff victory as the Chiefs coach, a 31-13 schooling of the Colts, he said, “Our fans were unbelievable today. I’m so proud of them. When you come to Arrowhead and have to play in front of those folks? It’s tough, man.”
Added quarterback Patrick Mahomes: “Surreal. Crazy. You feel it the second you walk onto the field.”
They wanted to believe. They always want to believe. So as their Chiefs jumped to a 17-0 lead, Aaron Dawson and 76,000 of his friends and neighbors lifted their voices to the sky, let those voices spill over the walls, onto Interstate 70, onto I-435, on the Manchester Trafficway and Raytown Road.
That’s the good stuff.
Then, of course, came the crucible. They knew it had to come. Nothing comes easy to those who suffer and bleed and this had looked so easy, name-your-score easy. That’s always when these games are at their most dangerous. Last year, the Chiefs led the Titans 21-3 at the half at Arrowhead. They looked like they were playing different sports.
The Titans won 22-21.
“I don’t want to think about last year,” Dawson’s friend, Philip Reilly, said as the masses trudged to the gates. “I don’t want to talk about Lin Elliot, or John Elway or Peyton Manning or the Steelers or any of them,” rattling off the offenders who had invaded Arrowhead in past years, kneecapping playoff runs before they could really begin. “This is our year.”
“This is our year!” Dawson shrieked.
Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes rip Colts to reach AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense had…
Except out of the dark recesses of so much heartache, there came a Colts player named Najee Goode with just under 6 minutes left in the half, blowing past a line of Kansas City blockers and all but stealing the ball off the foot of Chiefs’ punter Dustin Colquitt, the ball ricocheting toward the end zone, Indianapolis’ Zach Pascal falling on it for a touchdown.
Suddenly, Arrowhead sounded like a state funeral. They’d seen this movie before, and nobody much cared for the ending, even as they could recite it by heart. Seventeen-zip was 17-7, and what had seemed the inevitable path of fate was in an instant something quite different.
You get this in the dens of the desperate, where fans have been teased and tortured across the years, across the decades. You used to feel this all the time at Fenway Park, for instance. In the half-century or so between the 1964 Browns and the 2016 Cavaliers, you felt it like a paralyzing chill everywhere in Cleveland, no matter the sport, no matter the season, no matter the venue.
Let’s be brutally honest: You feel it when the Mets play big games at Citi Field (hello, Conor Gillaspie), when the Jets have played big games at MetLife (remember those?), when the Knicks have played big games at Madison Square Garden (we swear, those really did happen once upon a time). The sufferers need proof.
And this, after all, is Missouri. They are born to say, “Show me!”
So the Chiefs did. A defense that has been vilified all year played masterfully, made Andrew Luck look lost. Mahomes has played better games, but he is also now the first Chiefs quarterback since Joe Montana to win a home playoff game. Even Reid’s looming, ominous presence and his 11-13 playoff record couldn’t contain the home team this time.
Chiefs 31, Colts 13.
So many times the Chiefs had brought the best record in the AFC into this first playoff weekend, and so many times Arrowhead had been transformed into the biggest funeral parlor in the Midwest. No more. Not this time. There will be another game at Arrowhead next week, against either the Patriots or the Chargers, and all the usual suspects will be there: the faithful, the tailgaters, the red jackets and red hats and red sweatshirts.
Only one thing will be missing: impending, inevitable doom. The Chiefs may not win the game, may not earn their first trip to the Super Bowl in 49 years. But there will no longer be a sense of predestination. Not any more. The Chiefs buried that Saturday. Maybe this really is the year. Their year.