“Illegal forward pass?!” I scream and curse
At figures clad in red and white, who rush
Across the screen of my HDTV
Without apparent purpose or knowledge
Of fundamental rules that guide their game.
“You cannot throw a pass beyond the line
Of scrimmage. I knew that in junior high
And I was just an offensive lineman!”
These are our Kansas City Chiefs. These are
Professionals whose salaries could fund
The yearly budgets of small nation-states.
These are the ones who pull the faithful crowds
Into their palace by the Interstate –
The loyal fans who buy expensive tickets
In play-off years as well as in the years
When losses and ineptitude were all
A ticket-buyer really could expect.
There was that one triumphal year, of course,
All the way back in 1969.
The names of heroes ring the playing field:
Hank Stram, Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Culp.
The giants of a generation past.
Since then, incompetence has held free reign.
I change the channel and see across the state.
Blue jerseys, helmets featuring curled horns
Appear beneath a dome, on AstroTurf.
St. Louis Rams fight to end the first half
Losing by only a single touchdown.
Each time I watch the Rams I turn my thoughts
To 1999: Warner and Faulk,
Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Az Hakim.
The Greatest Show on Turf, we called them then.
In recent years the Rams have struggled hard
To win even a single game or two.
This is the story of the NFL
Here in Missouri. Whether Chiefs or Rams,
Or even old St. Louis Cardinals football –
Big Red, the nickname they were always called,
To separate them from the baseball team.
We get a season, maybe two at best,
Of winning ball and playoff contention.
But then we go back to familiar ways:
Mediocrity, frustration, and doubt.
Can the Chiefs get a franchise quarterback?
Do they have a coach who knows how to win?
St. Louis fans don’t know if Bradford can stay
Healthy all season. Will Kroenke take them
Back to Los Angeles? Is either club
Able to build a winning team this year?
The fault, Missouri fans, is in our hope.
Each year we hope for quality and wins,
But Chiefs and Rams betray us every year.
Why do we watch? Why do we pay for tickets?
Why do we bundle up and brave the cold
December winds that blow across the prairies
Then up the Kansas and Missouri Rivers,
And drive through Arrowhead to chill the bones
Of foolish or foolhardy fans therein?
Why do we fight downtown St. Louis traffic
To see a game we know our team will lose?
In childhood years I went to church and heard
That faith is substance of what I hope for
And evidence of things I have not seen.
But I know better now. St. Paul once said,
That of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest.
There may be something to be said of faith.
The souls who pack cold Arrowhead each week
Could say something about their faith, their hope,
That this will be the year we’ve waited for.
But love goes farther, deeper than blind faith.
Some sort of love commands me watch each week.
Perhaps not love of team, per se, because
Pro football is a business, not a love.
But it’s love of family and memory.
It’s watching with my father and grandfather
As Rams beat Titans in the Super Bowl.
It is recalling fall and winter Sundays
In graduate school, and watching Chiefs matches
With friends, and with the family of the girl
I was dating and trying to impress.
It was the same as when we used to go
To see the baseball Cardinals back when
They were no good, in the early nineties.
We listened to our grandpa tell stories
Of the Gashouse Gang, Gibson, Stan the Man.
It was the same when I was in college
At Mizzou, following a no-good team
Before the SEC and Pinkel years,
Remembering the first few games I saw
In person, in Columbia, when I
Was just a child, amazed by lights, and crowds,
And sounds that filled and rocked the stadium.
I watch because these memories are so dear
That they can give me cheer, even when my teams
Are awful, and amount to nothing more
Than one big state-wide disaster.