Chiefs fans show their frustration with ‘Blackout’
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Forget red and gold; the color du jour on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium for the latest Chiefs debacle was black.
And it was entirely appropriate attire for what turned out to be a lifeless 28-6 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sparked by a grassroots movement called Save Our Chiefs, fed-up fans who are angry with the 1-9 club’s struggles and want to see owner Clark Hunt step in to make sweeping changes – including, but not limited to, firing general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel – were encouraged to wear black.
“When we came out today, we thought we’d do it because it’s a statement saying, ‘Hey, pick it up,’” black-clad Chiefs fan Tyler Vance from Nevada, Mo., said.
Roughly 25,000 fellow fans agreed.
Asked if he felt the “Blackout,” which Save Our Chiefs hopes will continue next week against Denver and moving forward, was successful, co-founder Eric Grannell didn’t mince words: “Unequivocally. There were not just hundreds, but tens of thousands of people wearing black. Most times it looked like a 50/50 mix.”
The Chiefs declined to comment as an organization, but the prevalence of protesting fans caught the attention of the players.
“You can’t help but hear about it, but as a player you can’t worry about it,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
Still, on the heels of the season’s seventh straight loss and sixth in a row at home dating back to last season, there was even some sympathy for a beleaguered fan base in the Chiefs’ locker room.
“I definitely understand the fan frustration,” cornerback Brandon Flowers said. “C’mon, this is their team they love and they love watching, and they’re not winning. Who wouldn’t be upset? We’re not babies. We understand. We’re not winning; the fans are going to get mad.”
Beyond the losing, it’s a feeling that the pieces aren’t in place to stop the slide that has Chiefs fans so riled up and eager to get through to Hunt or anyone else who saw Sunday’s funeral.
“I’ve had (season) tickets for 40 years and, if I continue to renew, what’s another way to press that this is a different set of circumstances from what I’ve seen before?” said Ron Stephenson of Independence, a season-ticket holder since 1972. “Over 40 years, I’ve seen a lot of bad football. I’ve seen Frank Gansz’s teams and I’ve been through the (former general manager) Jim Schaaf years, but even those years you felt like they weren’t very far away from having something good happen.”
Stephenson no longer sees that light at the end of the tunnel, calling Pioli’s track record in acquiring talent as “checkered” and questioning Crennel’s ability to reach those players and bring out their best.
“Whether it’s him and the players or his assistant coaches to the players, there’s a disconnect there,” Stephenson said. “There’s got to be, because you see it on the field in the mistakes and errors or inconsistent effort.”
Stephenson said he’s likely to renew his tickets next spring regardless, but he’d like to see a championship at some point after a four-decade investment.
“I don’t know that we can force ownership to do anything,” Stephenson said. “But I just think it’s going to take something brand new to turn things around. I’m not sure what exactly, but I wouldn’t like to be in Clark Hunt’s position.”
For his part, Hunt has been silent about the future of his most visible hires. He issued a statement in defense of Chiefs fans when the injured Matt Cassel-booing controversy received national attention but hasn’t made himself available beyond that.
That leaves the players to answer the fans’ gripes.
“I’m from here, so it kind of hurt me to look up in the stands and see everybody in black and all that stuff, all the ‘Fire’ everybody shirts, but the fans want wins and I understand that,” said Chiefs tackle Donald Stephenson, a Blue Springs native who made his first start at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday and the second in his career. “It probably affected me a little more, because I’ve been in those stands and I know what those fans are feeling.”
It’s called frustration – impressively well-organized frustration.