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Kansas City: A Real Sports Town

Happiness is having two winners

I think what the city fathers should be particularly proud of in light of the Chiefs victory at home over the usually formidable New England Patriots is the way the Chiefs fans embraced the professionals who make their home next door, the Kansas City Royals. 

On a night when the Chiefs rose to the occasion before a nationally televised audience on ESPN, the franchise still took time to recognize the success of its fellow Truman Sports Complex tenant. 

This act of recognition from the Chiefs was not willful buncombe, the two franchises have never seen themselves as rivals for the affections of the local sport-loving public.


But what the Chiefs did that night to honor the Royals was something far more significant than a transparent publicity ruse to be a good neighbor. They and their fans were genuinely joyous in the good fortune of the city's Major League baseball team. It went beyond specific teams and leagues and spoke to the pride a people have in their sports franchises. 

It hasn't always been that way. When Lamar Hunt brought his new team to town back in 1963, then Kansas City Athletics owner Charley Finley was quick to advise him in a private meeting between the two men to pick up stakes before he put any down and get out of town to a place more conducive to professional sports. Hunt, surprised to hear such talk, would have none of it, and stuck around.

The reality is that while Hunt's team began to flourish and the A's picked up stakes for the coast, this quickly became a football town when it had never been much of a baseball one. That changed again when the Royals were born and with the opening of two stadiums – one for baseball, the other for football - fan preference changed and baseball became the public's passion while the Chiefs floundered for close to 20 years.

It was so bad that back in 1989, the local television station that was obligated to carry the network's AFC games opted instead to carry an American League playoff game and the Royals weren't in it! The new Chiefs regime screamed, "no way," and negotiated an arrangement that the Chiefs game be awarded to another local station on this one occasion. That's how bad things had become. 

But once again, fortunes changed and after 1989 the Chiefs began a 20-year period of prosperity while the Royals fell on hard times (a 29-year drought of no playoff appearances). The Heart of America was back to being a football town again.

The reality is that the Chiefs and the Royals have never enjoyed great success at the same time, not like a Pittsburgh that once had the Steelers and Pirates winning championships in the '70s, or a New York, or Los Angeles with their many professional teams.

There is no reason why it can't happen here, it just hasn't. That's why the outpouring of support at the Chiefs Monday Night game against the Patriots was so exhilarating. The Chiefs hierarchy and fans known for their respect of a national television game (note the team's decision to wear the red pants) took the occasion to cheer the Royals, scheduled to play the next day in a one-game playoff, with a chant, "Let's Go Royals" that resonated around a sold-out Arrowhead.    It was one night and we'll see where it goes, but for that one night it was suddenly one town celebrating its sports heritage that was bigger than one team.

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