'Unbelievable': Kansas City Chiefs' first Super Bowl in 50 years rewards long-suffering fans
Frank Clark sacked Ryan Tannehill, the AFC championship went from on the verge to in the bag and Arrowhead Stadium erupted.
One of the NFL’s great atmospheres — Kansas City on a cold Sunday — exploded with Super Bowl fuel. The Chiefs were headed for the big game for the first time in half a century, and all over Arrowhead, memories raced through the minds of long-suffering fans.
Amid cheers and tears, they thought of the great Chiefs who never made it to the Super Bowl. Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas, Deron Cherry and Will Shields.
Or maybe those great old Chiefs who did make a Super Bowl, and beat the Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV, the last game ever for the late, great American Football League. Otis Taylor and Buck Buchanan, Fred Arbanas and Willie Lanier.
But Jesse Ramirez thought of his grandmother.
Ramirez, 35, drove up to the AFC Championship Game from his home in Piedmont. He’s a Chiefs season-ticket holder, and when Kansas City put the finishing touches on a 35-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, the emotions got the best of him.
“I can’t really describe it,” Ramirez said. “It was just over the top. Coming from somebody that’s watched my grandma be a Chiefs fan ever since I can remember, I think it was a little more special to me because I knew how much it was going to mean to my family.”
Cheryl Moffatt still lives in southeastern Kansas, in Neodesha, where Ramirez grew up. Moffatt calls into ex-Chief Dante Hall’s Kansas City radio show — she’s Cheryl the Crier — and fills her home with Chief memorabilia and raised all her family to be Chief fans.
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Ramirez joined the army to see the world and — wouldn’t you know it? — was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 32 miles from downtown KC. And that was fine by him, since that meant weekends with the Chiefs.
Kansas City has some of the NFL’s hardiest fans. In the 50 years since that Chiefs-Vikings Super Bowl, only six franchises had failed to reach football’s biggest game: Chiefs, Jets, Browns, Lions, Jaguars and Texans, and the latter two are expansion teams that have been operating only about half that time.
The AFC has been a caste system, with the Patriots (11), Steelers (eight) and Broncos (eight) accounting for 27 of the 49 conference championships before last Sunday. But now it’s Kansas City headed to the Super Bowl, next Sunday against the 49ers.
“Unbelievable,” said Dean Atchison of Mustang, a Chiefs season-ticket holder. “Loudest I’ve ever heard the fans. It was like a rock concert. It was loud. It was so much fun. Especially when they (the Chiefs) took the lead. Because they could just taste the Super Bowl.”
Atchison is old enough to just barely remember Super Bowl IV, but those Chiefs got him hooked. He’s been a fan ever since and a season-ticket holder the last six years.
A 50-year fan knows a lot of heartache. Between 1969 and 2018, the Chiefs made only one AFC title game and won just four playoff games. Some franchises have won that many in a single post-season.
So even when the Chiefs got up 35-17 on the Titans midway through the fourth quarter, Atchison didn’t let himself celebrate. He remembers last January, when Kansas City hosted a conference title game for the first time ever and had the Patriots on the ropes. Even intercepted a late Tom Brady pass that appeared to win the game for the Chiefs.
High-fives and hugs spread all over Arrowhead. Cheers and tears. Then everyone noticed the yellow penalty flag. Offsides against KC’s Dee Ford. The Patriots got new life. The Patriots won in overtime, without quarterback Patrick Mahomes ever touching the ball.
But no flag saved the Titans last Sunday.
So Atchison stayed at Arrowhead, along with probably 60,000 other KC fans, for the trophy ceremony. Atchison mingled with former Chiefs Bobby Bell and Curly Culp, stalwarts on Hank Stram’s revered 1969 team, as a city, two states and an entire region celebrated.
“It was very electric,” said Jake Graham, a season-ticket holder from Yukon. “It was cold, but it was electric.”
Graham came late to the Kansas City drought. He was a 49er fan, loved Joe Montana, and when Montana jumped to the Chiefs late in his career, Graham switched allegiances and stayed with the Chiefs even after Montana retired.
A few years ago, Graham’s father-in-law died and his mother-in-law gave her daughter some money, telling her to do something with it she would enjoy. So Graham’s wife bought Chief season tickets in 2017. Pretty good timing.
But Graham admits that his faith wavered in the AFC semifinals, when the Texans stormed to a 24-0 lead at Arrowhead.
“I was there with my brother, and I was about to ready to go to the car and think about this,” Graham said. But they stuck it out, Mahomes brought the Chiefs back quickly and KC led by halftime en route to a 51-31 victory.
And now fans who for 50 years have lived through cold weather and cold results, through bad teams and Dee Ford offsides, through heartache and disappointment, are Super Bowl bound.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.
Super Bowl LIV
Chiefs vs. 49ers
When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2
Where: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: Fox (Cox 12)