Here at The Sports Fan Journal, we hope to evolve and deliver something not found in any other corner of this here internet. We bring you Mark Trible and Dillon Friday's NFL Countdown project. A fan from each NFL team will be featured as we anxiously await the season's kickoff.
Someone needs to tell the fans' stories. What better place than their trusty Journal?
Without further ado, meet Kansas City Chiefs fan Matthew Oates.
For some franchises, there's a constant tug of war between tradition and the present day. In Kansas City, Missouri, the Chiefs faithful are acutely aware of both sides of this spectrum.
One of the most determined and vibrant fan bases in all of sports has been led to drink from the well far too often only to realize it's a mirage.
It's the gift and curse that has been the mandate of Matthew Oates' 20-plus years as a member of the Chiefs' rabid following. It's a relationship that takes on the traits of a hopeless romantic, nearly equally subject to the high spots and pitfalls that such a relationship can bring.
His college roommates at the University of Missouri witnessed the one-part plight, one-part unbridled enthusiasm Oates has as a Chiefs supporter. It was pointless to try to watch any other game on fall Sundays at the house. Oates' passion for the Chiefs reigned supreme.
Yet, as an unquestionably dedicated fan, he's rolled with more than his share of the punches over the years.
“You know I’m going to be rational in how I look at them,” says Oates, a 29-year-old engineer who calls the KCMO area home. “There are a lot of us that will tell you we are going to be awesome every year, because they are the Chiefs, but I’m going to be real: I don’t know if the playoffs happen this year.”
Oates sees his club entering a rebuilding phase, which would be its third makeover in the last three years.
It's a fair outlook. With the 2014 season days away, the Chiefs are coming off a year that could be called “Classic Chiefs.” They ran out of the gates to a fantastic regular season, only to have it come crashing down astonishingly quick in the playoffs.
“Even though it is not being said, I think the Chiefs are preparing for a rebuilding phase,” he scrutinizes. “They still have some old talent left that can get you seven wins or so, but it seems like management is prepping for life after those guys.”
Oates isn't against that approach. More often than not, there has been a constant balancing act between the passion play of being a Chiefs fan and swallowing the results of the Chiefs themselves.
They're a team that has failed to win a playoff game since 1993 (ironically the year that Oates first pledged allegiance to the red and gold). The Chiefs have managed to reach double-digit wins six times in that run and 12 losses four times. In between, there has been a glut of six-, seven- and eight-win campaigns as well, a maddening mix of inconsistency that is enough to push many fans to the brink of insanity. But not Oates, mainly because devout craziness is part of the deal when it comes to the Chiefs.
“It can be pretty rough. You have your loyalty and a rabid fan base you belong to,” he says. “But you also have some absolutely gut-punching playoff losses to get through as well.”
Oates rides the roller coaster of Chiefs' fandom, but it does not impact his unwavering intensity for the hometown team. He has an ardent devotion to the franchise that represents “The Town,” as KC natives lovingly refer to their edge of Missouri. The Chiefs are as engrained in their community as any team in the NFL. It's in the KCMO bloodlines to go all out for the local football club.
“It is a passion that borderlines obsession,” Oates confesses when trying to explain his city’s shared devotion to its enigmatic club. This ritual has an impressive epicenter at Arrowhead Stadium. Arrowhead's crowds have broken numerous decibel levels within the stadium and put out the best run of tailgates outside in pro football.
“Sundays at Arrowhead are a sports fan’s rite of passage, one that can only be rivaled by Mondays at Arrowhead. It is all about the shared devotion to the team that makes it what it is,” Oates shares. “From the tailgating to the national anthem (which is modified to ‘Home of the Chiefs,’ appropriately) and even just randomly yelling 'CHIEFS' at your fellow fans — it is just a passionate group regardless.”
It's the combination of the citywide kinship, the rousing atmosphere and the hope for a better day that keeps Oates' fire lit. Despite the perennially trying nature of being a fan, it's a life that he could not imagine any other way.
“I just don’t have it in me to quit a team, no matter how tough it gets. The off-field items like Derrick Thomas' death or the Jovan Belcher situation were bad, and the Scott Pioli years on it were a trying time as well,” he reflects. “But crowd and things like the Monday Night win over the Chargers where I literally thought my ears were going to burst make it all worth it in the end.”
>> Be sure to catch the rest of the "Meet the Fan" series:
I'm a firm believer that the closest I've gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I'll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and 'Live From The Cheap Seats'.