Chiefs took fans’ loyalty for granted
Maybe this is the price of loyalty.
The thermostat in my friend’s car read 22 degrees when we finally tugged the doors shut on his Toyota for some much-needed relief from a wind as bitterly chilling as the loss we’d just witnessed.
In the disaster that has been the last half of the Carl Peterson era as the Kansas City Chiefs’ president/general manager /Chief Executive Officer, Sunday was the absolute rock bottom. On Monday, we learned it was the end.
Kansas City’s snatch-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory 22-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers in front of a half-empty Arrowhead Stadium on a miserably cold day was the final straw.
After building the franchise into one of the most successful regular-season performers in the NFL, Peterson successfully guided the Chiefs back to the bottom of the barrel — right where they were when he first started in December of 1988.
Peterson resigned on Monday, answering about a decade worth of prayers from fans.
How did things go so wrong for the Chiefs? How did it get so bad?
Loyalty was Kansas City’s Achilles heel, for better and for worse.
Lamar Hunt brought in Peterson on Dec. 19, 1988, to take control of a franchise that had been to the playoffs just once since 1971. Peterson came to Kansas City with his infamous five-year plan to take the franchise to the Super Bowl. It nearly panned out. Peterson made a handful of savvy moves, including bringing in future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, and the Chiefs reached the AFC championship game in year five.
It was then that Peterson and the Chiefs had the fans in their pocket. We were on board with the revived franchise. We bought into the plan. We fell in love with football and were willing to pay for it.
Peterson’s Chiefs never made it back to the AFC championship game, let alone to the Super Bowl. It didn’t matter. Money was pouring into the Chiefs organization. Arrowhead sold out on a weekly basis and the tailgating scene was rated the best in the NFL.
After 13-3 regular-season records and AFC West division titles in 1995 and 1997 were followed up with early exits from the playoffs, fans began to grow restless but continued to show up. The team stunk in the postseason, but the Chiefs still won a lot of games so hope remained high.
The five-year plan turned 10 and there still was no Super Bowl for KC.
Coaches came and went, terrible draft picks were made, and Peterson continued to weather the storm. He brought in his pal Dick Vermeil to coach the team and try to rekindle the magic that allowed Vermeil to guide St. Louis to a Super Bowl title.
Kansas Citians continued to pack Arrowhead every Sunday and cheer on the best offense in football. It was entertaining to watch, but Peterson didn’t invest in a defense so the high-flying Chiefs again floundered.
Again fans called for Peterson’s firing. Instead, Vermeil left and Peterson was allowed to make his fourth coaching hire. That’s what happens when money talks.
Fans were still drinking the Kool-Aid, still filling the stands and paying big bucks just to park. It’s like the United States auto industry. Why build a better, more fuel-efficient product if people are willing to pay for substandard quality? If people are still buying, keep the CEO; give him a raise and a hefty holiday bonus.
Just as we’ve seen with the auto bailout, however, reality catches up at some point and eventually a price must be paid. The Big Three auto companies are crumbling and their CEOs have been ridiculed in front of Congress.
Here in Kansas City, the team has collapsed to the point that it loses games in comical fashion. Fans have abandoned Arrowhead in droves. Scalpers can’t give tickets away. Loyalty only lasts so long, and when it’s not reciprocated — especially after two decades — there are consequences.
Here, it’s Peterson — the Chiefs’ Big Three (president/GM/CEO) — that’s on the way out after running the franchise into the ground. After overstaying his welcome by about a decade — stroking his ego by running top talent like John Tait and Jared Allen out of town, and taking advantage of fans by raising prices on tickets and parking without delivering a better product — Peterson is finally leaving.
Sunday’s frigid loss ushered in Monday’s warm announcement by new Chiefs owner Clark Hunt of Peterson’s departure.
Arrowhead may feel like an Obama rally on Sunday when the Chiefs close out the home schedule against the Miami Dolphins. Sure, they’ll probably lose for the 27th time in the last two years, but fans will finally have a reason to feel hopeful about their franchise. A new direction is on the horizon. They have no idea where that direction will take the Chiefs, but fans desperately want change.
Fans want their loyalty rewarded, and for the first time in years it feels like the Chiefs are listening.