Still waiting for Chiefs’ return to glory

Maybe it’s better this way, although it was difficult to accept that right after the game.

Perhaps it will mean more if the Kansas City Chiefs return to the Super Bowl after 50 years. Sure would make for a better story.

The Chiefs played in two of the first four Super Bowls. I became a fan after their second appearance, when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in New Orleans on Jan. 11, 1970. It was the final game before the rival NFL and AFL merged, forming the sports powerhouse that is the NFL today.

I was not much of a football fan then. It’s still down on my list, behind baseball and softball, basketball, tennis and even boxing sometimes. But my older brother Vern was and is an ardent Vikings fan and he was thrilled to see his team in the big game. They were the heavy favorites.

I didn’t realize the Chiefs were supposed to lose. I just wanted to cheer for the team playing my brother’s favorite. You know how it is.

The Chiefs really shouldn’t have been 13-point underdogs. They were the most successful team in AFL history, having won 87 games and three league titles. They were led by coach Hank Stram, a short, cocky, brilliant innovator who said his team featured “The Offense of the ‘70s.”

It also was loaded with stars, including future Pro Football Hall of Famers quarterback Lenny Dawson, middle linebacker Willie Lanier, defensive linemen Buck Buchanan, kicker Jan Stenerud (the greatest Norwegian ski jumper in football history) and a host other stars. They were packed with talent.

Kansas City dominated the game. Stram became a star, thanks to his decision to allow NFL Films to place a microphone on him. His sideline monologue, complete with him advising his team to “keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys,” is still among the most popular football films ever.

I became a huge Chiefs fan, but I wasn’t aware that the party was wrapping up. The team was aging but Stram was slow to replace his stars, who had won AFL titles in 1962, 1966 and 1969. After a playoff appearance in 1971 that is remembered for a double-overtime loss to the ascending Miami Dolphins on Christmas Day — that’s a game that Chiefs’ players and fans still haven’t quite put behind them — the team went 15 years without making a postseason appearance.

In the 1990s, the Chiefs became relevant again. In the last quarter century, they have been one of the better teams in the NFL, but they can’t get back to the big game. They have marvelous regular seasons, but as the cold of winter sets in, they always fold in the heat of the playoffs.

It happened again and again and again. I was 11 when they won the title. I will turn 61 this summer, still waiting for another Super Bowl appearance.

I’m not alone. There are more than a few Chiefs fans in South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. I wore some KC regalia recently and found others like me out there, just waiting for another championship season.

That seemed more likely this season, thanks to an amazing 23-year-old quarterback named Patrick Mahomes. He played in just one game as a rookie in 2017, but this season, he was the best QB in the game. Mahomes, the son of former Minnesota Twins (and Sioux Falls Canaries) pitcher Pat Mahomes, has a powerful arm, quick feet and a daring manner.

He threw 50 touchdown passes and led the Chiefs to the league’s best record. The Chiefs actually won a playoff game, too, defeating the Indianapolis Colts 31-13. That brought them to the AFC title game against the New England Patriots, still a thriving dynasty after two amazing decades.

The Chiefs started poorly, trailing 14-0 at halftime, but Mahomes rallied the team and forced overtime by leading KC to a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. But since the Pats won the coin flip and still have Tom Brady at quarterback, they were not to be denied, marching the length of the field for a touchdown to send Brady and hoodie-wearing genius Bill Belichick to their ninth Super Bowl in 18 seasons.

It was another thrilling OT game and another Chiefs’ loss. But unlike 1971, we have a young QB and a team on the rise. The Chiefs will be back, and just maybe will play in another Super Bowl a half century after their last one.

It may be a more timely story, a better angle. But I still wish we would have won.

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