Archive for Thursday, July 23, 2009

Watson gave Kansas City fans a reason to dream once more

July 23, 2009

I was 5 years old when the Kansas City Royals won the World Series.

Faint memories remain in the back of my mind about that joyous occasion for our city — Bret Saberhagen leaping into George Brett’s arms after the final out was recorded — but mostly it’s just a blur. With the exception of the occasional highlight on television or whiny excuse from a St. Louis Cardinals fan, it seems like ancient history.

And in the realm of professional sports, it is.

In the 24 years since, there has been little reason for pro sports fans in Kansas City to dream.

The Royals haven’t made a single playoff appearance. They’ve had seven winning seasons during that time, and just one (2003) since the 1994 strike-shortened season.

Football has been somewhat better, although still irrelevant on the championship level. The Kansas City Chiefs were one of the NFL’s best regular-season teams in the 1990s and for part of this decade, but they last won a playoff game in the 1993 season and haven’t played in the Super Bowl since the 1969 season.

Sure, there have been a few other championships for local teams. For instance, the Kansas City Wizards won the MLS Cup in 2000 and were the runner-up in 2004, the Kansas City T-Bones won the Northern League championship last year, and the Kansas City Blades won the minor league hockey Turner Cup during the 1991-92 season, but none of those captured the hearts and minds of people across Kansas City.

For that to happen at the professional level, it has to be the big boys that draw crowds by the tens of thousands.

On Sunday — and for the better part of last weekend — however, we were given reason to pause, celebrate and dream a little as one of Kansas City’s own made a run at a major professional championship. At 59 years old and less than a year removed from hip replacement surgery, legendary golfer Tom Watson provided flashbacks to his youth during the British Open as he tried to become the oldest player to ever win a golf major championship.

Watson scrapped his way to the top of the leaderboard after the second and third rounds. He then lost the lead early on the final day, only to charge back and regain it. He held a one-stroke lead entering the final hole before a bogey on No. 18 sent him into a playoff where he ultimately lost to Stewart Cink.

For a full weekend, Watson captivated not just his home town, but sports fans across the country and around the world. The Kansas Citian was THE story in the sports world, overshadowing Lance Armstrong’s comeback bid at the Tour de France and making people forget that Tiger Woods had missed a tournament cut for just the second time in his career.

All eyes were on the old veteran as he gave golf’s young kids a run for their money. He stayed calm and composed for hole after hole. He played with the passion he had during his heyday. He competed without fear and accepted defeat with dignity.

He even set a few records in the process. He became the oldest runner-up in a major tournament since 1916, and he also made the largest one-week jump in the World Golf Rankings (from 1,374th to 105th) since their inception in 1986.

No, a major professional championship wasn’t brought back to Kansas City. We’ll have to wait a while for that to happen for either the Royals or Chiefs. Perhaps it’ll be Watson that gets there sooner.

Regardless, it was fun to once again have a reason to feel like one of Kansas City’s professionals had a chance to win a championship. It felt good to rise from the living room couch and give a standing ovation, to dream a little bit and to believe — if only for a weekend — that Kansas City might be a title town once again.

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