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Christmas at Arrowhead Should Be Special not Sad

There is not a single holiday I love more than Christmas! Much of that sentiment centers on sharing this time of year with my family and loved ones. However, the NFL and Christmas firmly grip me because of what transpired on December 25th, 1971.

I remember my first Kansas City Chiefs heartbreak as if it were yesterday. The Chief’s 27-24 double-overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins still haunts me today. It was a game that I had to listen to on my AM Radio because I was home sick with pneumonia. I sat on the bedroom floor, unable to join my Dad, Mom, Sister, and Brother at Memorial Stadium for the playoff game.

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Listening, I lamented when Hall of Fame Kicker Jan Stenerud missed not one but two field goals. Had he hit either one, it’s likely the 1971 Chiefs would have won back-to-back Super Bowls. This loss has lingered within me for over 50 years. I recently saw Stenerud at a charity event, and I darn near said to him how could you miss those kicks.

The one after Ed Podolak’s brilliant kick-off return was not his fault. Head Coach Hank Stram felt Stenerud had lost some confidence with his earlier miss and wanted to get the Chiefs closer to the goal line. He called for a fake kick, but holder Bobby Bell didn’t get the play call in time, and Stenerud awkwardly tried to kick the field goal through the goalposts.

In the second overtime, the late Garo Yepremian nailed the game-winner and sunk the hearts of Chiefs fans for decades. It was fifty years before the Chiefs returned to the Super Bowl, but had Kansas City won that day, their fortunes may have changed.

The 1971 Chiefs team was the best in franchise history. With Pro Bowlers at every position and their experience in Super Bowl IV defeating the mighty Minnesota Vikings, this team was surrounded by greatness. But it was not to be.

That Christmas Day loss began five decades of futility, bad breaks, playoff losses, and empty seats at Arrowhead. Thanks to Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, that championship swagger has returned.

After that loss, I visited Hank Stram’s house with my family. He was having a get-together with close friends from our neighborhood in Prairie Village. Though I wasn’t feeling great, I could not shake the sorrow a ten-year-old boy could feel, reliving that loss on an endless loop in my mind. Like a father figure, Hank saw me moping and asked me what was wrong.

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Fighting back tears, I told him I could not believe the Chiefs lost. He said something I never forgot, “Nicky, you can’t win them all.”

With those words, he walked me down the hallway, opened a closet door, and grabbed a souvenir for me. It was a small plastic Chiefs football, and to this day, it sits on my desk. The sentiment remains as poignant to my heart as any piece of Chiefs’ history I own.

On Monday, the Las Vegas Raiders come to Kansas City to face the Chiefs on Christmas Day. Though the game isn’t do or die for either team, some of the Chiefs’ most outstanding players, such as Founder Lamar Hunt and Head Coach Hank Stram, along with Len Dawson, Otis Taylor, Buck Buchanan, Jim Lynch, and so many others, including my Father, who started my Chiefs fandom, will be looking downward as the Chiefs host another Christmas Day game.

My Dad consoled me after the Dolphins’ loss, so much so that he put a TV in my room and let me watch the NBC replay with the late Curt Gowdy, another of my heroes. I had hoped the ending would change, but it did not. I remember being said, and my Dad was there at my side to console me at 2:00 in the morning when the broadcast sadly ended.

As we get closer to kick-off, the Dolphins-Chiefs game will likely be talked about, and I would not be shocked if NFL Network replayed the game or the NFL Films classic recap. As much as I’d like to be at the game on Monday, Christmas Presents, family, and watching the game on TV, I will have to do this go-round.

This is my life full circle. Having four boys, including a 7-year-old, I enjoy this experience from a new perspective.

Being a Chiefs fan is one of the greatest joys of my life. In my sixth decade as a fan, I have a unique perspective because I’ve been in front and behind the scenes with this team for my entire life. It’s such a part of my DNA that I began writing about the Chiefs nearly 30 years ago. Though I took a break for a while, writing about my team is emotionally soothing, and I get to bring decades of memories to a new audience.

In the end, it’s those memories and experiences that define who we individually are as Chiefs fans. My generation appreciates the Gladiator days of the old AFL and the fifty-year journey between Super Bowl wins. The new generation loves the Madden-style game, which has consisted of two Lombardi Trophies for the Chiefs in the last four years.

My point is no matter your age, the Kansas City Chiefs mean different things to all generations of fans, but in the end, it’s the passion and love for the team that brings us all together!

Merry Christmas Everyone!  

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