By TERRY LYONS
PELHAM – It was 50 years in the making and it was well worth the wait. A love affair that started when the Kansas City Chiefs played on January 15, 1967 was only eclipsed by the love affair when he met his wife, Nancy.
And, while my guy and Nancy are made for each other, the perfect couple and tremendously loyal friends for life to anyone who earns that privilege, the love affair of one man from New York with Kansas City’s professional football team is worthy of a story to tell today because that 50 year wait is over.
This is a story of an underdog, an angle – a hook – that grabs so many young sports fans who root for the little guy – who pray on their hands and knees for the upset. They know they play a part in the outcome of the game. It’s what sports fandom is all about.
Sort of like the ’69 Mets!
Family is most important to my guy and his love of sports, great sporting venues and teams came forth when he tapped his oldest son with the middle name of “Wrigley” and his second-born with a middle name of “Shea.” When the youngest was born – a little girl now all grown-up – we all worried she would carry “Arrowhead” on her passport and resume forever.
Instead? She is Casey.
Amidst the sea of New York Giants “blue” or New York J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets “forest green,” my guy’s bright “RED” Chiefs jersey would stand out like a Renoir at a Street Fair. The equally bright red KC Chiefs pop-up, tailgate tent would leave no question. Whether it was “some other game” and the tent would mark our meeting spot or whether the Chiefs were actually in town, there was no arguing that underneath that tent was a true Chiefs fanatic.
Everyone seemed to relish in the fact there was only one, cool KC Chiefs tent. Aside from an NFL game or a college football game (his son plays at Trinity), the pop-tent comes out in its splendor every Thanksgiving Day when the annual Turkey Bowl touch football tournament is staged. Not surprising, there are always dozens and dozens of bagels, tubs of cream cheese, cartons of hot coffee and a few Bloody Marys to be mixed. Rain or shine. Good friends gathered and there was always a charitable function to benefit from the day. While “Wrigley” or “Shea” were his kids middle names, my guy’s middle name is something along the lines of faith, love, or generosity.
Each Thanksgiving, some pretty sizable donations were made to the Pelham F.D. or someone else’s charity drive where the beneficiaries gathered for an awards ceremony worthy of The Oscars. When Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of the Jersey Shore and the Rockaways, the Thanksgiving benefit raised more money than usual, right there on his suburban New York front yard, right on the porch and next to the Chiefs tent.
It was a long way from Super Bowl IV and Tulane Stadium when my guy was introduced to his team in the late ’60s by way of the legendary Chiefs head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Hank Stram “matriculating the ball” down the field. The fact Walshie loved the Chiefs was counter to most Long Island based NFL football fans.
“Let me ask you Mr. Referee, how could a whole block of kids follow the great Joe “Willie” Namath after the Jets’ 1969 Super Bowl III upset of the great (and much favored) Baltimore Colts, and my guy stayed with the KC Chiefs?
The underdog Chiefs were defeated soundly (35-10) by the Green Bay Packers in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game – Lamar Hunt ever thought of the tagline, “Super Bowl.” Packers QB Bart Starr carved-up the upstart Chiefs, winners of the American Conference, then viewed as far inferior to the older brother, National Football brand of professional football, founded in Canton, Ohio in 1920.
Four years later, the again-underdog Chiefs were still, incorrectly labeled as representatives of an inferior American conference, but that tag was forever dropped when KC lambasted the Minnesota Vikings of Bud Grant, Joe Kapp and Purple People Eaters fame. Chiefs fans exalted in the glory of Stram, QB Len Dawson, running back Mike Garrett, wide receiver Otis Taylor and place-kicker Jan Stenerud. True fans knew the defensive power of linemen Curly Culp, Buck Buchanan, safety Emmitt Thomas and the great All Pro linebacker in Willie Lanier.
That Super Bowl IV victory came on January 11, 1970.
As my guy entered Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens yesterday afternoon, he was greeted by dozens of messages, texts, social media well-wishes and a few phone calls from those of us who care so deeply for him, his family and the journey he was on at Super Bowl LVI.
“WE ARE ALL CHIEFS, today,” was my short message and I promised to root as hard as I could, maybe since that Broadway Joe Namath upset back in ’69.
In response, he so eloquently wrote for all to see on his FB page, “I have literally been waiting for this day for 50 years … Thank you to my amazing family for all their support over the years … especially after the tough losses when I wasn’t very easy to live with … and thank you to all my friends for their well wishes and their help with tickets / accommodations.”
You might note, the deeper message on one of the best days of his life was all about his friends and family.
The come-from-behind and highly entertaining victory, yesterday, came 50 years after the first Super Bowl win for the Chiefs, 54 years after Bart Starr carved up the underdogs
That’s a long wait for a guy who’s yet to turn 60 years old.
To close this love affair story? Let’s share some thoughts about friendship. A long thought about unconditional love – of friends and family and of sports. And, a long, long thought about loyalty and what it means in a society where that attribute seems to be lost on so many of us. Maybe we need to read a story about 50 years of loyalty to appreciate what we have and what we try to carry forth today?
My guy’s friends are saying:
“I immediately thought of Tommy and Nancy and how happy they must be,” said Mark, one of TWs dearest and truest friends. “After all the Super Bowls they’ve been to, happy they finally got to see their Chiefs in one, and to win in such dramatic fashion and celebrate as a family. Can’t get any better than that.”
“A lifelong NYer – he never wavered from the Chiefs. It didn’t matter if the Giants were winning Super Bowls, or the Jets were threatening .500 – he never wavered,” said Kevin, his bud from Fairfield via Antarctica way. “I’m so happy for him, especially because he was blessed to witness it with his entire family!”
“T-Bones‘ love & zest for sports, in general, is second to none,” said another Tom, this one of McCarvill fame. “When it comes to the Chiefs, he takes it to a whole new level of love & passion…it becomes a Family Affair. Tommy includes and welcomes ALL to his sports bandwagon; it’s truly contagious! I’ve been blessed to be a part of Tommy’s sports world for decades and it’s like a fine wine. It only gets better with time!”
“I’m a relative newcomer to Tommy’s orbit, having known him for only 30 years or so, but loyalty defines him for me,” said Brian, a guy who lived few years of misery with his Cubbies. “Loyal to Nancy and his family, loyal to his friends and loyal to the KC Chiefs. Especially, to the Chiefs! Could not be any happier for him. Enjoy it forever.”
“Here’s a guy who you just know is a proud Chiefs fan. I’ve known him for 35 years and we all just knew him as a Chiefs fan, going back to when I met him in ’85,” said Chris trying to recall the first day he realized this obsession with a pro football team from the Midwest. “You know it’s genuine. You know he’s always legit. He loves the Chiefs and that is the definition of fandom. I’m so happy for him.”
And, this reporter will close with a couple simple messages: Go Chiefs and HERE WE GO FAIRFIELD!