Chiefs must win back the fans
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
You wouldn’t believe it if you never felt it, if you never came here before all the luxury boxes and rising ticket costs and Matt Cassel, but Arrowhead Stadium used to be quite the scene on home Sundays. They used to call this the loudest place in the NFL, and not just in one of those trendy ways that every fan base calls their stadium the loudest.
Centers only knew to snap the ball by feeling vibrations from their quarterback’s voice. The noise inside has been measured at 120 decibels, an absurd level for an outdoor stadium — nearing the threshold for pain and surpassing that of some airplane takeoffs.
What is Arrowhead Stadium? was once the question to an answer on “Jeopardy!” about the loudest outdoor arena in the NFL.
Sunday, the Ravens will play the Chiefs in a very different Arrowhead. They’ve practiced all week as if the place will be rocking, like it was two years ago for a playoff game. But it’s not like that anymore. Hasn’t been in a while, anyway.
Once considered the NFL’s toughest place to play, opponents have now won nine of the last 12 games at Arrowhead, including margins of 34, 28, 23, and 21 points. Now this is a place where fans joke about wearing all black to mourn at games, and where — assuming the weather cooperates — you can see a banner over the stadium Sunday morning that says:
WE DESERVE BETTER! FIRE PIOLI — BENCH CASSEL
A fan raised the money for that banner in less than an hour.
“There’s some passion behind that message,” says Corey Leuwerki, a pilot for the company hired for the job. “Because money is not normally raised this quick.”
An 81-year-old woman writes in to say she has better luck getting to the bathroom on time than Cassel has of throwing an accurate pass.
Longtime season-ticket holders say they are fed up, Google an address to let owner Clark Hunt hear about it, and joke that $27 no longer seems so bad to park since tailgating is by far the best part of their Sundays.
This is more than the kind of frustration you’d expect for a 1-3 team. This is something different, a stronger flavor in a town full of fans who’ve become unwitting connoisseurs of various sports failure.
If you follow this kind of thing closely, you start to sense a trend. The Chiefs’ losses to Atlanta and Buffalo removed the bandwagon fans, the ones who will come and go with every touchdown or fumble.
But while the comeback win in New Orleans may have held off the angst for a week, six turnovers in another blowout loss to the Chargers at home put the Chiefs in the foreign position of turning even some of their most die-hard fans away.
The people in the building know it, too.
They hear your complaints and understand them, too, even if they’re not yet ready to speak publicly about it. And how could they not be aware of it? The Chiefs have been booed at both home games, this following their quarterback getting booed at the celebrity softball game at Kauffman Stadium during All-Star weekend.
It’s one thing to be bad, but it’s quite another to be disliked by fans. It’s one thing to lose games, but it’s quite another to be without apparent hope. It’s one thing to be blown out, but it’s quite another to do it while wasting the primes of careers of players who shouldn’t be this collectively bad.
This season was a referendum on general manager Scott Pioli from the beginning, and the early returns could not be worse. The quarterback he handpicked and stuck with has 10 turnovers in four games. The head coach he promoted and allowed to juggle duties as defensive coordinator appears over his head.
The Chiefs have not led for a single second of game action this season, and have trailed for 204 of a possible 249 minutes — by at least 18 points in all four games. The NFL in general and the Chiefs in particular have a hold on us, so the games will always draw big ratings, but there is a chunk of the fan base — even the normally loyal — that is finding more time for yard work.
You can see the cracks. Romeo Crennel talks openly of giving backup quarterback Brady Quinn — who’s been behind Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton in his five-year career — a chance if Cassel continues to falter. Rumblings are making their way through the league that this could be it for Pioli in Kansas City if things don’t improve quickly.
Inside those walls, the Chiefs are a fragile group right now. Inside those walls, they are talking about this. They know it, and they feel it. They need to be further along. Time is running out. Even their most loyal supporters are screaming their anger. Sooner or later that turns into unsold tickets, possible blackouts, and apathy.
Which makes Sunday one of the most important games of Pioli’s time with the Chiefs.
The Ravens are an entirely inconvenient opponent for a game that may be the last chance to save the season. This is one of the league’s five best teams against one of the five worst, an offense that’s averaging 30.3 points against a defense that’s giving up 34. Joe Flacco is one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks this season, and the Chiefs turned even Ryan Fitzpatrick into a one-game stud.
Or there’s this: the Ravens are bringing a team better than the one that won a playoff game here two years ago, and the Chiefs are bringing one that’s worse.
But convenience has nothing to do with it. By their own failures and certain circumstances outside their control, the Chiefs will play a game Sunday that they know is their last real chance to make fans who’ve given up on this season reconsider.
Win, and the Chiefs are 2-3 going to Tampa Bay for a game that suddenly looks more winnable. From there, maybe the Chiefs can be 3-3 heading into the bye week.
Lose, and the Chiefs are 1-4 and it’ll be hard for even the marketing department to keep a straight face.
This is judgment day, in other words. Careers hang in the balance, and it’s worth remembering that the last two times nobody off the payroll gave the Chiefs a chance they beat the Saints and Packers.
But there are plenty of reasons people keep assuming the worst. Time is running out for the Chiefs to make it change.