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The Forever Cycle of Chiefs Fandom Has Been Broken

Kansas City is about to play in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years. This is more than just a breakthrough for a long-suffering franchise. It’s the culmination of a journey that defines an entire fan base.

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I am 15 years old, and the Kansas City Chiefs have been terrible my entire life. Growing up as a little boy in Wichita, Kansas, I had heard of the team’s glorious past in the AFL, the league founded by Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. The league was born in 1960, and Hunt’s franchise played as the Dallas Texans for three seasons, winning the AFL championship in 1962 before moving to Kansas City and continuing to find success. The Chiefs played in (and lost) the very first Super Bowl in 1967, and three years later won Super Bowl IV, right after it stopped being known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The two leagues officially merged after that, though, and the Chiefs hadn’t won a title since. They lost a double-overtime playoff game on Christmas Day 1971—still the longest NFL game ever played—and in the ensuing 18 years had played in (and lost) just one postseason game. So I did what most teenage boys do when confronted with a local sports team that doesn’t win: I ignored it. I gravitated to the Royals instead, because now there was a franchise with a long legacy of success.

But in 1990, the Chiefs are not terrible. They have a new head coach, Marty Schottenheimer, and a new identity, built on stout defenders in Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith, a bruising running back in Christian Okoye, and a workmanlike quarterback who stays within himself in Steve DeBerg. Some of the names will change, but this is the basic formula the Chiefs will use throughout the decade. And this team is good—good enough that my brother Roukan and I become devoted fans by season’s end. The Chiefs go 11-5, qualify for the playoffs, and take a 16-3 lead on Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round. But the Dolphins have Dan Marino. He throws two fourth-quarter touchdowns and the Chiefs miss a long field goal at the end, losing 17-16. I am disappointed, but also hooked. Those hooks haven’t left me yet.

I am 16 years old, and the 1991 Chiefs are 10-6 and back in the playoffs. This time they host the archrival Raiders in the wild-card round, and win a 10-6 game that’s MartyBall distilled to its purest form: Both teams combine for just 229 passing yards. I can’t say this is my favorite form of football—the proto analyst in me is already convinced that an aggressive passing offense is the most efficient way to score points—but to quote Walter Sobchak, at least it’s an ethos. The Buffalo Bills destroy the Chiefs 37-14 the following week, but the season nonetheless feels like progress.

I am 17 years old, and the 1992 Chiefs are 10-6 again. They’ve replaced veteran game manager DeBerg with veteran game manager Dave Krieg, and their offense goes silent in the playoffs, a 17-0 whitewash in San Diego. The any given Sunday mantra seems to be colliding with the need to score points to win a playoff game. I feel like the Chiefs need to show a sense of urgency.

I am 18 years old, a college junior, and the 1993 Chiefs have shown a sense of urgency. They’ve traded away a first-round draft pick to acquire the greatest veteran game manager of them all: Joe Montana, who is 37 and has missed most of the last two seasons with injury, but is still, now and always, Joe Cool. He is everything we could have expected. The Chiefs go 11-5, win the AFC West, and host a wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I watch from my basement apartment on a 24-inch TV as the Chiefs trail late, until Montana ties the game by finding Tim Barnett in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal with the season hanging in the balance. The Chiefs win on an overtime field goal.

The next week I am in Chicago for a Strat-O-Matic baseball tournament, and convince my partner to play our games in my hotel room so I can watch the Chiefs take on the Houston Oilers. The Chiefs trail 10-0 at halftime, and I am panicking. My opponent consoles me. “What are you worried about?” he asks. “You have Joe Montana. You’ll be fine.” Montana throws for three touchdowns in the second half, and the Chiefs win 28-20. It won’t be the last time a team from Kansas City comes back in dramatic fashion against a team from Houston.

The Chiefs are in the AFC championship game for the first time in my life, on the road against the Bills, who have won each of the last three conference titles. I am on a college-sponsored ski trip to Vermont, and I leave the slopes early for the local sports bar, place an order for unlimited buffalo wings, and sit down to watch the game. Montana gets knocked out by a concussion, Thurman Thomas runs for 186 yards, and the Bills rout the Chiefs 30-13. It is a disappointment, but the thing about being 18 is that neither the game nor the 60 wings I housed leave me with heartburn. I have my whole adult life ahead of me, and it feels like the Chiefs are beginning something.

It turns out they are beginning something: a playoff losing streak that will stretch for eight games—the longest in NFL history to that point—and 22 years.

1993 AFC Wild Card Game - Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs
Joe Montana
Joseph Patronite/Getty Images

I am 19 years old, and the Chiefs have taken a step back. The 1994 team goes 9-7 to eke out a spot in the wild-card round against the Dolphins. Montana is 38 and showing his age; Marino is 33 and in his prime. The Dolphins win going away, 27-17.

I am 20 years old, a first-year medical student, and the 1995 Chiefs are my only refuge. Medical school isn’t for the faint of heart, nor for the weakly committed, nor for anyone who isn’t willing to put most of their happiness on hold for four years. But once a week, the Chiefs are my outlet for joy. They go 13-3, their best record since winning Super Bowl IV. Montana has retired, but the team has a new retread 49ers quarterback named Steve Bono, and more importantly, the best defense in the NFL, one that holds opponents to just 15 points per game. The Chiefs have a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and their first opponent is the Indianapolis Colts, who went 9-7.

It is the end of winter break, and my brother visits me in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before heading back to college. On January 7, 1996, we sit in my one-bedroom apartment in front of that 24-inch TV to witness a formality. Instead, we are witnesses to a calamity. The Chiefs defense holds Indianapolis to just 10 points, but Kansas City can’t move the ball, and when it does, its field goal kicker can’t convert. Lin Elliott—the years have dulled the pain of writing his name, but only barely—misses from 35 yards. He misses from 39 yards. And on the last meaningful play of the game, with the Chiefs down 10-7, he misses from 42 yards. We sit in stunned silence, unable to move or even contemplate what just happened. The following morning, I trudge to Taubman Library to begin a cold, gray semester. My life as a sports fan is permanently cleaved into B.E. and A.E.: Before Elliott, when I was filled with the naive innocence that sports were joyful and fun, and After Elliott, when I knew better.

I am 22 years old, and in the two years since the Chiefs’ last playoff game I have courted and married my wife. She is wholly unprepared for my Sunday rituals and devotion to this football team, particularly since the 1997 Chiefs are great—maybe even better than the 1995 Chiefs. They go 13-3 again, secure the AFC’s no. 1 seed again, and score more points (375 to 358) and allow fewer (232 to 241) than the 1995 team did. During the season they beat the hated Denver Broncos when new kicker Pete Stoyanovich drills a last-second 54-yard field goal, giving the Chiefs a first-round bye and forcing the 12-4 Broncos to come to Kansas City as a no. 4 seed. My new bride banishes me to the bedroom to watch the game on that same damn 24-inch TV.

This time, there is no one scapegoat; there are many. The referees, for calling Tony Gonzalez out of bounds on a catch, when he was clearly in. The league’s owners, for abolishing instant replay a few years earlier, meaning that the play couldn’t be reviewed. Stoyanovich, cruelly, who nailed a field goal only to have a holding penalty called against Kansas City, necessitating a repeat attempt from 10 yards back—which doinks off the left upright. Schottenheimer, who calls for a fake field goal attempt with the Chiefs down four points late; it is stuffed, meaning the Chiefs are still down four in the waning minutes instead of just one. New quarterback Elvis Grbac—you’ll never believe this, but he is also a former 49er—who isn’t up to the challenge of leading the two-minute drill, with his final drive ending 20 yards short.

John Elway and the Broncos win 14-10. Three weeks later, they go on to win their first Super Bowl. They win another the following year, securing Elway’s legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats. This time, the pain of seeing a Super Bowl–caliber Chiefs team get depantsed by fate is compounded by seeing our biggest rivals use us as leverage to propel them to a mini dynasty.

I am 24 years old, in the midst of my medical internship, too busy to keep tabs on the Chiefs as much as I would like. Still, they enter the final week of the 1999 regular season 9-6 and needing just a home victory against the Raiders—a team they had beaten at home 11 straight times—to clinch a playoff spot. I drive over to the local Champps and slow-roll my meal so I can watch the entire game with the sound off. The Chiefs take a 17-0 lead but fall behind 28-24 by halftime. The game is tied 38-38 when Stoyanovich sets up for a field goal as time expires to win the game. He misses. Jon Baker then sends the overtime kickoff out of bounds, setting up an easy Raiders field goal to end the season. That’s not the part that haunts me. The part that haunts me comes three weeks later, when Derrick Thomas—who is driving to the airport to watch the Rams in the playoffs because he doesn’t have a playoff game of his own—spins off an icy road, hits the median, and flips over several times. He isn’t wearing his seat belt, and is thrown from the car. The spinal cord injury ends the career of arguably the greatest Chiefs defensive player ever in an instant. A few weeks after that, he dies of a massive blood clot.

I am 28 years old, having settled in the Chicago suburbs for good, newly minted as both a board-certified dermatologist and as a father, and the 2003 Chiefs are back in the playoffs for the first time in six years. They have a new identity now; the suffocating defense of MartyBall has been replaced by head coach Dick Vermeil’s high-flying offense, and the Chiefs score a then-franchise-record 484 points. Priest Holmes rushes for 27 touchdowns to set the single-season NFL record; Gonzalez is in his prime; Dante Hall is the X factor; and Trent Green, flanked by the best offensive line I have ever seen, is one of the game’s most productive quarterbacks. None of those guys play defense, though. The Chiefs go 13-3 again, get a first-round bye again, and face the Colts again. Only these aren’t the plucky 9-7-and-led-by–Jim Harbaugh Colts. These are the Peyton Manning Colts, and Peyton Manning is terrifying even when your defense is good. The Chiefs defense isn’t good. The Chiefs don’t punt during the entire game, but neither do the Colts. The difference is that Holmes fumbles at the end of a long run, and the Chiefs’ new kicker—the legendary Morten Andersen—misses an easy field goal just because. Indy wins 38-31. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson is let go two days after the game. It is too late.

Three times in the span of nine years, the Chiefs go 13-3 and earn a first-round bye, needing just a single home playoff win to advance to the AFC title game. In those three years—1995, 1997, and 2003—the Chiefs go 24-0 at home during the regular season, and 0-3 at home in the playoffs.

When you pursue a career as a doctor, you essentially volunteer to sacrifice your entire 20s. At least I agreed to that. I didn’t agree to go through my 20s without seeing my favorite team win a single playoff game, in baseball or football.

Sporting News Archive
Tony Gonzalez
Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images

I am 31 years old, a father of two daughters, a homeowner, and a small-business owner, and the 2006 Chiefs sneak into the playoffs. They head into the final day of the regular season with only one path to the wild-card round: They need to beat the Jaguars; the Steelers need to beat the Bengals; the Patriots (who have already locked in their playoff seed) need to beat the Titans; and the 49ers need to beat the Broncos. And three of those four wins have to come on the road. Incredibly, the Chiefs hit the exacta perfectly, and it says something about the plight of Kansas City sports fandom that a 9-7 team lucking into the AFC’s no. 6 seed was the happiest sporting day of my life to that point. The next weekend I watch from home as the Chiefs take on the Colts yet again, a mismatch every bit as lopsided as the game the Chiefs lost 11 years earlier. This time there is no upset, however. The Colts dispatch the Chiefs with quiet efficiency, 23-8.

I am 35 years old, a father of three daughters, completely bald and settled into domestic life, and the 2010 Chiefs make the playoffs, albeit without any real enthusiasm. The miracle playoff berth of head coach Herm Edwards’s debut season was followed by a 4-12 campaign, the Chiefs’ worst record since I had become a fan, which was followed by an even worse 2-14 effort. Owner Clark Hunt brought in one of the supposed architects of the Patriots’ run of greatness, Scott Pioli, to turn things around, and the new general manager had traded for ex–New England quarterback Matt Cassel to help the 2010 Chiefs go 10-6 and win the AFC West. By now, I have convinced my brother—himself a doctor by this point—to move to Chicago, and we watch the wild-card game against the Baltimore Ravens in the home theater in his new house. Running back Jamaal Charles breaks loose for a 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give the Chiefs a 7-3 lead, but the Ravens score the game’s remaining 27 points, with Cassel throwing for just 70 yards and three interceptions.

I am 38 years old, a father of four daughters, watching my youth disappear, and the 2013 Chiefs are a delightful return to normalcy. The Pioli era crashed and burned with the 2012 season, a 2-14 atrocity that marked the only time I have ever openly rooted against the Chiefs in order for Hunt to finally clean house. He does so, and hands the keys to Andy Reid, who seems like a perfect hire in the moment and who looks only better with time. Given the enormity of the cleanup before him, it would’ve been understandable if Reid had taken a year or two to bring the Chiefs back to mediocrity. But with new quarterback Alex Smith—who, yes, was acquired from the 49ers—and a soft schedule, the Chiefs start 9-0 en route to an 11-5 record and a wild-card berth.

I am visiting my in-laws in Florida when the Chiefs take on the Colts for the fourth time in their last six playoff games. The Chiefs storm out to a 38-10 lead shortly after halftime, and Smith—Alex Smith!—is a one-man wrecking crew, throwing for 378 yards with four touchdowns and adding another 57 yards on the ground. But Jamaal Charles goes down with a concussion on Kansas City’s opening drive, which ends his night. The Colts close the gap to within 10 points by the end of the third quarter. And then, with under 11 minutes remaining, Colts running back Donald Brown fumbles on a second-and-goal … and Andrew Luck is somehow there to not only scoop up the ball, but also to run it in for a touchdown. The Chiefs still lead by three, but the ending feels preordained. I had seen this movie too many times to not know how it ends. Luck throws a 64-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton with 4:29 remaining to give the Colts a 45-44 lead. Smith leads the Chiefs down the field in the waning minutes, but the drive stalls at the Colts’ 43-yard line before a turnover on downs. It is the second-largest playoff collapse in NFL history.

Some still call this the worst playoff loss in Chiefs history, but I wouldn’t even rank it among the top three. When you’ve experienced them in chronological order, you’ve been conditioned to expect the worst. I slept fine that night. I figured we would have just lost the next week anyway.

Wild Card Playoffs - Kansas City Chiefs v Indianapolis Colts
Alex Smith
Rob Carr/Getty Images

I am 40 years old, rushing headlong into middle age, and the 2015 Chiefs are back in the playoffs behind Reid and Smith. They’re 11-5 and a wild-card team, and they’re playing in Houston, the same city in which the franchise last won a playoff game 22 years earlier. I watch from my brother’s home theater as the Chiefs not only win, but make winning look easy, smothering quarterback Brian Hoyer and the Texans in a 30-0 triumph. It is almost enough to make you think a new era of football has dawned in Kansas City. But the next week we watch in the same place as the Chiefs travel to New England and lose 27-20 after giving as credible a showing as they could.

I am 41 years old, old enough that the Circle of Life has now completed a full orbit and my daughters are rooting for the Chiefs with me, and the 2016 Chiefs are fully back. They go 12-4, winning the AFC West for just the third time this century and clinching a first-round bye. In the divisional round they host the Steelers, and I watch from my parents’ condo in Florida as the Chiefs keep the Steelers out of the end zone for the entire game. But Pittsburgh kicks six field goals, and the Chiefs trail 18-10 with less than three minutes remaining when they score a touchdown and set up for a pivotal two-point conversion. Smith’s pass is complete and the game appears tied, but an offensive holding call moves the ball back 10 yards, a backbreaker when you have one chance to score and 12 yards to go. Smith can’t find the end zone again, and the Chiefs lose 18-16.

I am 42 years old, and nearing my wit’s end. The 2017 Chiefs go 10-6 and win the AFC West for the second consecutive year. They host the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round, so it’s back to my brother’s house to watch as the Chiefs take a 21-3 halftime lead. (The Titans score those three points only after the refs inexplicably call quarterback Marcus Mariota down by forward progress when he is strip-sacked by Derrick Johnson, overturning an obvious fumble.) On the opening drive of the second half, the Titans have the ball on a third-and-goal when Mariota scrambles, throws a pass that is batted down by the Kansas City defense, and then sees the ball ricochet perfectly into his hands. Mariota dives for the pylon to score a touchdown. The Chiefs still lead 21-10, but there isn’t a Chiefs fan alive who is optimistic about how the game will end. Sure enough, two touchdowns later, the Titans are ahead 22-21. Smith valiantly marches the Chiefs down the field in the waning minutes, but the drive stalls at the Titans’ 44-yard line. Only twice in franchise history had the Chiefs lost a game they had led by more than 18 points; incredibly, one of those was their playoff game against the Colts just four years earlier.

Watching with us that afternoon was my brother’s 6-year-old son, Adam, who had been indoctrinated into this cult by his father and was as infatuated with the Chiefs as the two of us. In the waning moments of the game, as it became clear that a last-minute Chiefs comeback wasn’t happening, Adam vomited all over the carpeted floor. The Chiefs had already destroyed my brother and me. Now, the bastards were coming for our children.

If it’s darkest before the dawn, well, this was the darkest it’s been for me. As I got up to leave, I issued an ultimatum to my brother. “You better be right about Patrick Mahomes,” I said, referencing the rookie backup quarterback my brother had fallen in love with before the draft, “because right now he’s the only thing that’s keeping me from giving up on the Chiefs entirely.”

It turns out he was right. And I never had to give up on the Chiefs.

NFL: JAN 06 AFC Wild Card - Titans at Chiefs
Chiefs fan
Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I am 43 years old, and turning over a new leaf. Patrick Mahomes is a comet, can’t-miss television every Sunday, and the NFL MVP. The 2018 Chiefs go 12-4 and earn the AFC’s no. 1 seed for the first time in 21 years, and naturally that means they get to host the Colts in the divisional round. I watch from home, as my brother chooses to fly to Kansas City to take Adam to their first playoff game together. A quarter-century of demons proves no match for The Quarterback That Was Promised. The Chiefs race to a 17-0 start and never lead by fewer than 10 points the rest of the way. For a change, it’s the other team that misses the chip-shot field goal, as Adam Vinatieri—the greatest kicker in football history—shanks a 23-yarder before halftime.

The next week is the AFC championship game, the first one hosted in Kansas City in almost 50 years. Every Chiefs fan I know is invited to my brother’s house to watch. Bill Belichick’s Patriots hold Mahomes scoreless in the first half, but Mahomes explodes for three touchdown passes after the break. When Damien Williams runs into the end zone with 2:03 remaining, the Chiefs go ahead 28-24. With 61 seconds left, Tom Brady’s pass deflects off Rob Gronkowski’s hands and into the waiting arms of cornerback Charvarius Ward, and for five glorious seconds the room erupts because the Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl. And then we see the flag. Dee Ford set up offside. New England still has possession. Given another chance, the Pats score the go-ahead touchdown two plays later. Mahomes moves the Chiefs 48 yards on two plays to set up the game-tying field goal. But the Patriots win the overtime coin toss, Mahomes never touches the ball again, and Rex Burkhead runs for the game-ending touchdown.

In the aftermath of the game, though, as we’re saying our goodbyes, there’s a different vibe in the air. The message is Let’s do this again next year, and by “this,” we mean “watch the Chiefs play in the AFC championship game.” Mahomes has changed everything. Mahomes was the missing piece. The Chiefs have had great head coaches before, and great teams before, but they never had a great quarterback in his prime. Now they do. Now anything seems possible.

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

I am 44 years old, and thankful for the journey. I am thankful that Mahomes is simply walking under his own power, that his season didn’t end with a terrifying dislocated kneecap in Denver in Week 7. The 2019 Chiefs are 12-4 again, and after long appearing destined for a no. 3 seed and a date in the wild-card round, they move into the no. 2 spot after the Dolphins pull a shocking upset of the Patriots in Week 17. Suddenly, it’s the Chiefs who get the bye and a home game in the divisional round; it’s the Patriots who have to host the resurgent Titans.

I watch the divisional game from my home office, too nervous to be with my brother and his now-8-year-old Chiefs-obsessed son. The Titans have beaten the Patriots, and the night before the Chiefs host the Texans, the Titans upset the Ravens as well, meaning the Chiefs need just one win to host the conference championship for the second straight year. Everything is set up perfectly for the Chiefs, and that’s typically when they find a way to screw it up. And, boy, do they ever screw it up.

Except the Chiefs introduce a new wrinkle: They screw things up from the start. Blown coverage gives the Texans an easy touchdown; 7-0. The Chiefs have their punt blocked; 14-0. The Chiefs fumble a punt return; it’s 21-0 before the end of the first quarter, and Kansas City’s receivers have already dropped four passes. The Texans are driving down the field to start the second quarter, Arrowhead Stadium is awash in boos, and the only words I am able to form when my wife asks what’s happened is to say that I’ve just witnessed the worst 40 minutes of my sporting life.

What follows might not be the best 40 minutes of my sporting life, but only because I sat in the same room four years and three months earlier when the Kansas City Royals staged one of the most improbable comebacks in baseball history against the Houston Astros, scoring five runs in the eighth inning after being down 6-2 and just six outs away from elimination, and winning 9-6 on their way to their first World Series title in 30 years. This time, I sit—and pace, jump, and occasionally scream—as the Chiefs erase a 24-point deficit in less than 11 minutes of game time.

Mahomes throws four touchdowns in the second quarter alone, which would be a historic occurrence if he hadn’t done the same thing against the Raiders in Week 2. (No other Chiefs quarterback has ever passed for four touchdowns in a quarter.) Safety Daniel Sorensen makes the play of his life, sniffing out a fake punt on a fourth-and-4 and completing an open-field tackle to single-handedly stop the Texans from getting a first down, before forcing a fumble on Houston’s next kickoff return. The Chiefs become the first NFL team in history, regular season or playoffs, to lead at halftime after trailing by 24 points.

Mahomes got in the ring with a generation-long curse, took a haymaker, and said, Is that the best you got? And in the course of one afternoon, 30 years of bad Chiefs juju was wiped away. It was as if the Chiefs were ganged up on by every playoff ghost they had ever encountered, and Mahomes simply vaporized them with an astonishing aerial display. The Chiefs scored a touchdown on seven consecutive drives. They won by 20 points.

NFL: JAN 19 AFC Championship - Titans at Chiefs
Andy Reid, Jim Nantz, and Patrick Mahomes
Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is the AFC championship game, and I am not watching from my brother’s house. We—my brother, my nephew, and me—are at Arrowhead Stadium instead. We have flown to Kansas City to witness history. The Chiefs are one game away from the Super Bowl, and all they have to do is beat the Titans, a fine football team who nevertheless went 9-7 during the regular season. While they watch from the stands, I sit in the press box, affording me a bird’s-eye view of what I hope will be the day the Lamar Hunt Trophy is finally awarded to the team that Lamar Hunt founded. The Titans take an early 10-0 lead, and I am nervous. But I’m not as nervous as I would be had the Chiefs not come back from 24-0 the week before.

Once again the Chiefs rally, trailing 17-14 with 23 seconds left in the first half. That’s when I watch Mahomes drift left, elude a would-be tackler, give a second defender a head fake, and tiptoe the sideline before turning inside. He makes a spin move at the 5-yard line and bulldozes into the end zone. It is an instantly iconic play, one I know will forever rank among the most indelible sports memories I’ll experience live, and it gives the Chiefs the lead before halftime.

With less than eight minutes left, the Chiefs have extended their lead to 11 points, but the outcome is still in doubt. Kansas City faces a third-and-6 from its own 40-yard line when Mahomes drops back in the pocket and scrambles right, and I notice Sammy Watkins gaining a step on his defender. Mahomes launches a perfect deep bomb that hits Watkins in stride, and Watkins saunters into the end zone. How perfect that the final dagger comes on an unnecessary deep throw on third down, a giant middle finger to the Chiefs’ offensive philosophy before Mahomes. Only this quarterback would have the conviction to make that throw. Only this head coach would let him.

The stadium erupts, and fireworks go off. A wave of confetti floats by the press box, and the wind catches it just so, and for a moment it floats there, directly in front of my face. It feels like victory. It feels like catharsis. The Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl.

I stand in the locker room after the game, trying to process what I have just seen, trying to figure out whether the players understand the gravity of what they have just accomplished. How could they? I’ve been rooting for the Chiefs for longer than most of them have been alive. Patrick Mahomes Senior wasn’t born the last time the Chiefs played in the Super Bowl. Aside from punter Dustin Colquitt, not one member of the roster was even in the organization when it lost to the Ravens in the wild-card round nine years ago. These players can lay claim to the AFC championship, but the end of a 50-year drought is not theirs to claim, nor should they want any part of that. The only person who has the full perspective is owner Clark Hunt, who admits in his postgame press conference that he was too young to have memories of Super Bowl IV. The first playoff game he remembers is the infamous Christmas Day loss in 1971.

I meet my brother after the game, and we high-five and hug. I hug my nephew as well, who is excited and thrilled and doesn’t know enough to be relieved. Maybe I should be jealous of him, this 8-year-old who has never known a bad Chiefs team and who, with any luck, will have Patrick Mahomes be his favorite team’s quarterback until after he graduates college. But I suddenly realize: I am not jealous of him at all. I actually feel the tiniest bit sorry for him. He may never know the price of greatness. He may never learn how to appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

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