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  • February 4th, 2020

HAMBERDERS FOR THE KANSAS CITY, KANSAS, CHIEFS

By Joel M. Vance

 

The Kansas City Chiefs rallied in the fourth quarter Sunday night to win the Super Bowl 31-20 over the San Francisco 49ers and when they went ahead for good I let out a yell that could have been heard in Kansas City more than 100 miles distant. That game was all that is good in sports, no matter that the players are making millions of dollars and I’m not. The Chiefs lived out a Horatio Alger story, underdogs, coming from behind in super dramatic fashion to give coach Andy Reid, a beloved figure by players and fans alike, his first Super Bowl victory and all was well in the world.

 

And then Donald J Trump, who thinks Puerto Rico is not part of the United States and Puerto Ricans are not United States citizens, and who once promised a border wall between New Mexico and Colorado under the apparent impression that New Mexico is part of old Mexico, managed to throw dirt on the Kansas City win with this tweet: “you represented,” he told the Chiefs via Twitter, “the great state of Kansas and in fact, the entire USA, so very well. Our country is proud of you!”

 

Probably someone delicately pointed out to the Dolt in Chief (because you don’t want to piss off the great leader) that the Kansas City Chiefs, in fact, play in and represent the state of Missouri, not Kansas. To a Missouri sports fan, in anything concerning sports, Kansas is the arch enemy and has been since the Civil War when there was considerable bloodshed on both sides of the state line. Since then, spilled blood has largely been confined to sports venues, but the animosity remains.

 

Missouri reaction to Trump’s in-your-face insult to the Chiefs and Missourians in general was summed up specifically by former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill succinctly: “it’s Missouri, you stone cold idiot.” She was replaced in the Senate by Josh Hawley, a Republican lightweight butt kisser who, as far as I have seen, has yet to comment on the inexcusable gaffe by the geographically challenged  presidential dumbass. I suspect his fawning Republican devotees will ignore this unforgivable insult to the state’s beloved football team and probably will vote for the idiot once again in November, just as they did more than three years ago. For a few brief hours, Missouri was a red and white state (the colors of the Chiefs) not the politically red one, a sorry distinction it shares with Kansas.

 

Perhaps Trump had visions of moving Arrowhead Stadium from Metropolitan Kansas City across the state line to Kansas. After all, he once proposed moving the capital of South Korea, Seoul, when he found out how close it is to the border with North Korea. If you can move a city, why not a simple thing like a football stadium?  And this is a wizard who can with a single stroke of a Sharpie, move a hurricane one or two states inland. A little thing like the Super Bowl is simple, like his mind.

 

Now that football has faded into thoughts of spring training and other sporting events of the warmer days, my memories return to fleeting glimpses of my misbegotten decade as a sports editor of a small Midwestern daily newspaper. Those days will not come again and in some cases, I’ll be just as happy. There was, for example, the night when the temperature was 17° and my town, Mexico, Missouri, was playing Jefferson City, the state capital team and also the reigning state champions.

 

Predictably, as I tried keeping score, prowling the sidelines with numbing feet, fingers without feeling, the Jays romped over Mexico like a high school version of the frequent national champions of the day, the Oklahoma Sooners who exploded at the snap of the ball with frightening speed and ferocity. Mexico didn’t have a chance and, when I covered Oklahoma versus the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium, Missouri didn’t either.

 

Mexico football has improved since then; the Jays have declined somewhat in the years subsequent to the retirement of legendary coach Pete Adkins (who racked up eight state championships and405  Victories in his career at Jefferson City high school. Missouri football also enjoyed its best years in that decade from 1959 to 1969 under the leadership of another legendary coach, Dan Devine.

 

And the Tigers have been off and on since Coach Devine left to guide both the Green Bay Packers and Notre Dame. But not before he left me with one of the most memorable moments of my sports reporting days. I don’t remember who the opponent was, but I certainly remember what happened. Dan Devine had a sweet personality, likable and quiet until something triggered a volcanic temper that lurked, always alert, just below his otherwise calm demeanor.

 

I was on the sideline just at the edge of the coach’s box, the space along the field where the coach was allowed to roam freely and speak words of wisdom to the officials. One of those officials called a penalty on Missouri and that pushed Devine’s button. Clutching his ever present clipboard, Coach Devine charged onto the field apparently intent on mahem. He was pursued by a large assistant coach and corralled before he could commit officialcide. I always suspected that coach rather than being hired to supervise a component of the football team, was only there on salary to keep Devine from committing a capital crime.

 

Devine grudgingly turned back toward where I crouched, clutching a Speed Graphic camera, a Tyrannosaurus rex of photography, as relevant to today’s digital marvels as a model T Ford is to a Lamborghini. Devine’s expression looked remarkably like the dark green cloud that looms on the western horizon just before a funnel cloud drops down to the ground. And then, perhaps 15 feet in front of me, a frame filling moment for the 4 x 5 Speed Graphic large format, Devine spiked his clipboard, slamming it to the turf with Gallic rage. All I had to do for a front page prize-winning photograph was press the shutter release button on the camera. I didn’t. He scared the crap out of me and I missed the shot of the century.

 

Ah, sweet memory!

 

Often, during Missouri football games, I was not on the sideline but up in a pressbox, long since replaced by a modern facility, but then a rickety structure, always seeming on the verge of toppling over the back side of the stadium wall to the parking lot far below. A row of sports reporters from various newspapers around the state huddled over score books, typewriters, and telephones, depending on what form of communication with the home base they used. We were lavishly supplied with food by the University in the form of processed cheese and white bread sandwiches and warm Pepsi-Colas. I suspect today’s underpaid and overworked sports reporters eat far better than we did but, hey, it was free and no reporter I ever knew would turn down a free meal, no matter how humble it was.

 

I much preferred to patrol the sideline to be closer to the action although there were inherent risks— a fan, probably a diehard alum, who I think had inhaled more than a little Tiger spirit suffered a head on collision with a running back who careened out of bounds about five feet from me. The back bounced up, ready for battle once again, but the unlucky fan slept on, colder than that night when Mexico played Jefferson City. Another time, a running back sailed out of bounds and nailed an official, breaking the zebra’s leg. So I turned down stale cheese sandwiches for the perils of the sideline including the possibility of a fractured skull from a flying clipboard.

 

This is the same University that recently expanded seating on the South end of the stadium to the tune of $80,000,000 so more fans would have the opportunity to watch the Tigers lose. The athletic department reports that it is running in the red, so I suspect they’ll be begging for more money. I doubt that any additional funds appropriated by our bumbling legislature will go toward teacher salaries or improvement of the educational aspect of the University.

 

Speaking of free meals, one I cherish still was a dinner at the Mexico country club with a local sports enthusiast who had invited a famed football player to speak at a local event. I somehow got invited to dinner with Red Grange, the legendary Galloping Ghost. Without him, possibly there would be no Super Bowl today, because it was Grange who was the first college superstar to sign on to the National Football League and bring respectability to a sport which until then, had mostly resembled a parking lot riot on Saturday night at a sleazy roadhouse.

Red Grange was a college All-American halfback three years running at the University of Illinois where he lettered 18 times in four sports– baseball, track, basketball, and football. He scored 33 touchdowns eluding tacklers so deftly that he earned his nickname, the Galloping Ghost. In 2008 he was named the best college football player of all time by ESPN. He averaged more than five yards per carry, racked up 2649 total yards of offense.

 

Somehow the Chicago Bears convinced him to sign a professional contract and for 2 years he turned what had been poorly attended mayhem into the kind of mega attraction we see today. His 1st game drew 40,000 fans. He played only 3 years in the NFL before a knee injury, today’s ubiquitous injury, slowed him. After football, Grange appeared in movies, became a motivational speaker (which he was when I dined with him) and a sports announcer.  In 1978 he flipped the coin at Super Bowl XII. He was the first football player to appear on a Wheaties box.

 

When I had dinner with him he was a successful businessman, in his mid fifties, soft-spoken and gentlemanly and one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever encountered in or out of  sports. After I wrote a genuinely gushy story about our talk together, he sent me an autographed photo which I still have and  cherish.

 

Over the years I have interviewed and hung around with several superstar sports figures and of them all he and hockey legend Gordie Howe rank as the best. Predictably there also has been a worst, another NFL legend whom I won’t name, but who you can see in various television commercials today. I’ll stick with Red Grange who epitomized how we would like to think professional football player should act.  And Dan Devine who, over all my years, still to me is the finest football coach/human being I’ve admired.

 

And the Kansas City Chiefs who at least for now are the modern  personification of that epitome.

 

I also suspect the Chiefs would be gracious enough to honor the office of the presidency if Dumb Donnie invites the Super Bowl champs to the White House for a fast food feast instead of doing what I wish they would do and tell him to take his hamberders and shove them. Perhaps, being the ignoramus he is, he’ll invite the 49ers instead.

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