Tuesday, December 20, 2011

chiefs! packers! where the unthinkable happens ...

“Crazy, but I’m relieved this time.
Begging for sweet relief,
A blessing in disguse.

Dying behind these tired eyes.
I’ve been losing sleep,
Please come to me tonight.

Hands on a miracle!
I’ve got my hands on a miracle!
Believe it or not, hands on a miracle!
And there AIN’T NO WAY!!!,
That you can take it away …”

-- “Miracle” by Foo Fighters, how I really feel about yesterday’s epic victory and it’s aftermath. But … can I REALLY go with that as the intro, after the beyond epic Chrismukkah gift the Chiefs PA office gave us? (pause …) Nope. Let’s do this:

“You take the grey skies out of my way!
You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day!
Turned a bright spark into a flame!
My beats per minute never been the same!

‘Cause you’re my lady, and I’m your fool!
It makes me crazy when you act so cruel!
Come on baby, let’s not fight!
We’ll go dancing, everything will be alright!

Wake me up, before you go-go!
Don’t leave me hanging on like a yo-yo!
Wake me up, before you go-go!
I don’t want to miss it when you hit that high!

Wake me up before you go-go!
‘Cause I’m not planning on flying solo!
Wake me up before you go-go girl!
Take me dancing tonight!!! …”

-- “Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)” by Wham! Yes, the Chiefs PA dude really did introduce the Green Bay Packers yesterday by playing Wham! I thought it was epically awesome. Little did I know it was the first shot of a day noone who was there will ever forget …

---------------------------------

Well, give the Chiefs this – they NEVER fail to surprise you. Just when you think you have this team figured out, they go out and absolutely dominate the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers. If you were there, congratulations – like me, you witnessed the single most shocking, surprising, unexpected Chiefs victory in franchise history that, coupled with a few surprising outcomes out west, ensures the Chiefs postseason goose isn’t quite cooked yet.

There was not one legitimate reason to believe the Chiefs would, or even could, win this contest. In fact, earlier this week, the following text conversation occurred between me and “The Voice of Reason”:

(stevo) official orton starts
(gregg) like it matters at all
(stevo) no sh*t

Which is what made Sunday so special.

The entire fourth quarter, as the mood in the stadium amongst both fanbases turned from “holy sh*t, is this actually happening???” to “holy sh*t, this IS actually happening!!!”, I had a strange feeling that I’d seen this before. And it hit me, after Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy inexplicably refused to toss the challenge flag on Pope’s fumble a few minutes earlier, near the end of the third quarter.

Cincinnati, 2003.

When Gregg and I made a 500 plus mile journey to the River City, to watch our 9-0 Chiefs take on the hapless Bengals. And I spent the entire fourth quarter (a) seeking security after some drunken fan decked me, and (b) like the other 60% of the stadium that day that was clad in Red and Gold, wondering how the hell this happened. How the hell did an also ran rise up and beat the (at that moment) NFL’s best?

Yesterday, I felt the emotions running through me that those Bengals fans felt eight years ago. The pride, the absolute pride and joy in seeing your team, the scrappy underdog, that didn’t have a shot in you-know-where, go out and absolutely boatrace a far superior team for 59 ½ minutes. (I’ll give Green Bay this: they had one quality drive early in the third quarter to take the lead … a lead they held for about 33 seconds).

I mean, and maybe I just view this differently because I was (brent musburger voice) looking live at the scene, but has a 6-0 lead ever felt more comfortable? When the Chiefs finally punched it in to go up 19-7 with a little over five to play, did anyone honestly believe Green Bay could score two touchdowns on our defense? And maybe because success on the field breeds confidence in the stands, did anyone actually doubt we’d get the first down after recovering the onside kick (adventures in officiating! Holy crap, was Gene Stenatore’s crew inept yesterday or what)?

From the moment this thing got going, a little before 7 at the entrance to Gate 6, to the moment it finally closed down, at a back table at Fun House on 350 a little after 9, this day just reeked of epicness, of incredibleness, of what CAN be with this town, with this team riding high. As best I can do it, here’s your recap of the most unexpected Chiefs victory of my lifetime …

* Although to be fair, as multiple people noted after the game, I had spent the entire tailgate noting that “the last time a defending Super Bowl champion opened 13-0, they lost on the road to a 5-8 squad”. I kept mentioning that solely and completely because that Super Bowl champion, was your cheating denver broncos, who if Paul Tagliabue had an ounce of integrity and respect for the sport, would have stripped those (plural c word, and it rhymes with “bunts”) of their Lombardi Trophies for circumventing the salary cap, for cheating to win. But why let integrity and respect for the game get in the way of “this one’s for john!”

* Yes, I have seen the tiebreaker scenarios. Yes, I know exactly who to root for on Saturday and why. Yes, I fully believe a Chiefs / broncos season finale with a home playoff game on the line, might lead me to literally keel over dead of a heart attack. So I’m not going to mention it (for a few pages or so), beyond hoping that Chris Berman is invited to give the pregame speech to the Bills on Saturday to remind them that “NOBODY circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills!”

* We arrived at the gates a little bit before 7. I counted seven on the bus yesterday – myself, Susan, Russ and Mona, Anthony and his dad. OK, six. What can I say, I’m an accountant, math isn’t my strongest skill set (rimshot!) No, wait, I was right, seven – forgot Joe was there. Whew.

* Should probably back up for a minute to Saturday, because it was a total “what are the f*cking odds?!?!” kind of day. I slept in Saturday, finally getting up and moving around noon. I had to buy stuff for tailgating, plus had a couple Christmas parties, so I head to the Walmart on 350 about 1pm to buy some vodka, Gatorade, and other assorted needs.

I push the cart into the checkout line, not even paying a lick of attention, when who’s in front of me? Mickey, Amy and Owen! It is a small world after all! But wait, it gets even better! Because I wanted some Lakefront IPA for yesterday (more on this in a minute), so I head to the one place out my way guaranteed to carry it: the HyVee on Gregory and 350. I park the car, am strolling into the liquor store, and who is walking in right next to me? Tyler! As I noted when I got to my table at the Double Christmas lunch / boozefest: “if one more random person walks in here, I’m buying lottery tickets”.

* The Double Christmas bash was pretty sweet. Everyone’s favorite little Lounge that could! Plenty of food, cheap booze, and unfortunately, more smoke than you’d find in the old apartment at 9pm on a typical Tuesday night back in college. You couldn’t see clearly 20 feet away. Again, I cannot believe how anti-smoking I’ve become, because it seems like I live in various bars, depending on where I’m living at that point in my life. But they cannot ban public smoking in Raytown soon enough.

* OK, back to the pregame. We got the stereo up and going. The spiked hot chocolate was going down real smooth, at least by me. About 7:30ish, someone goes “hey, they’re opening the gates!” I head down, find our gate attendant, and he goes “yeah, Wayne said 8. Said at least one guy at this gate would appreciate it”. Yup, one guy definitely did. Thanks, champ!

* Not much to report from the next hour, until Ray and his crew arrived a little before 9. Other than I lost again at washers. With Russ as my partner. Russ had never played the game before. It showed. I scored all 5 of our points. I’m beginning to think I am an awful, awful, awful washers player.

* Ray and his crew arrived a little before 9. And then it was on like Donkey Kong. He couldn’t fry the fish fast enough. I can say this knowing some folks reading this will nod their heads and go “yup”, but I am not a big eater. I graze. I pick at food, even if I’m starving. Its probably why I weigh only 160 pounds even though I’m pushing 6 feet tall.

Having said that, it was a freaking free-for-all for the fish between me and Anthony. We were tallying up where we were at. “Ooh, I’m at 5!” “Just beat you! 6!” Could not get enough, and I wasn’t the only one – nearly $100 in cod was gone, done-zo, by 10am. Literally as soon as Ray pulled it out of the deep fryer, people were grabbing it.

Job well done sir. Job well done.

* “The Voice of Reason” and his dad showed up a little bit before we broke things down and headed in. Always good to see good people doing, uuh, good.

* KC Wolf sketch: dressed up as Dorothy, kicking Green Bay fan’s ass, aided by a conveniently and strategically placed ATV. I loved it.

* I have no clue who did the National Anthem … but kudos for stalling for fifteen, twenty seconds to sync up the flyover to coincide with “home of the … CHIEFS!” And I say this as someone who continues to state that flyovers are the biggest waste of money known to mankind.

* The Wham! Entrance for the Packers. I literally started crying from laughing so hard. I love that our PA guy has a sense of humor.

* OK, the game highlights, lowlights, and praise of one of THE funnest halftime shows I have ever been privileged enough to witness.

* Pack win the toss, choose to defer. As someone who appreciates history, I was thrilled with this – the last time the Chiefs pulled an upset even approaching this one, Pittsburgh made the same stupid move and gave us the ball first. Jamaal Charles returned the opening kickoff for seven. This year? Touchback. Damned five yards closer on the initial ball spot for kickoffs rule.

* Chiefs open at their own 20, and the first two plays gave you no reason to hope. Ol’ TJ offtackle for one. McClain up the middle for one. And then, like someone smacked him across the back of the head, DiNozzo style, Bill Muir woke up. A great crossing call to Copper for 10 and the first. The Chiefs kept marching, kept driving, finally settling for three and the early lead after having goal to go at the one. I was perfectly fine with kicking the field goal – against a superior opponent, take the points early and often, and don’t apologize for doing so.

* And the Chiefs D responds with a three and out! Unfortunately, we’re flagged for a blatant roughing the punter penalty that should have someone unemployed this morning. Thankfully, the defense holds again, forcing a very long (and completely unmakeable) Packers field goal attempt from 59. And ONCE AGAIN, special teams bites us in the ass, as we had 12 men on the field for the attempt. At this point, I turned to the guy next to me in abject horror. It’s Cleveland Browns Football from 2008 all over again!!! Inept penalties, stupid mistakes, brain farts, you’d think Romeo Crennel was our head coach!!! Oh. Wait. He is? (sawyer voice) Son of a b*tch!

* Thankfully, Crosby misses again, this time from 54. The wind in the west end zone was beyond tricky to gauge yesterday. Crosby was 0 for 2. Succup was (barely) 1 for 1.

* Chiefs take over with the short field at their own 44, 45, and here we go! They faced one third down on the entire drive, and that was at the Packers 14. Succup good again, this time from 32, and the Chiefs lead 6-0.

More importantly, at least to me? We’ve not only gone 2 for 2 in scoring on offensive possessions (albeit field goals), we’ve overcome FOUR insane brain farts already (the two special teams penalties, throwing the ball both times on goal to go at the one). Sometimes in this league, you win on skill. Sometimes, you win because your coach puts a clown suit on the other guy (like Romeo’s D did yesterday to McCarthy’s O). And sometimes, you win because you pull sh*t out of your ass that nobody sees coming. Overcoming four moronic decisions in the first 12 minutes of play? Is definitely the equivalent of pulling something out of your backside.

* Packers take over, manage to drive to midfield, and have to punt again. As someone who not only loves the phrase “defense wins championships”, but believes it to his inner core, watching Romeo’s guys yesterday gave me chills. Standing toe-to-toe with the likely NFL MVP, and frustrating the hell out of him, was a perfect Chrismukkah gift I definitely won’t be returning.

* At this point, we’re already 17 minutes in, Green Bay has yet to cross the Chiefs 40, and we’ve got the ball with a chance to do some serious damage. And to Bill Muir (who called the game of his LIFE yesterday) and Kyle Orton’s credit, they grabbed ahold of what the Pack gave them at this point, again driving the length of the field (drive started at the KC 15), again moving the ball at will (only two 3rd downs on a 15 play drive), again taking advantage of a rock solid short passing game to simply keep making plays.

Having said that … I COMPLETELY disagreed with going for it on 4th and goal at the 2 on this drive. I must have texted at least 20 times in the second half yesterday that “this game is over if we kick in 2nd qtr”. Because it would have been. Look it, I generally love the “riverboat gambler” mentality Coach Hobo brought to this team, because (a) if I was alive 150 years ago, I’d absolutely be earning a living as a riverboat gambler, and because (b) when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

But in that spot, in that situation? The Chiefs DID have something to lose, and that’s a gimme two possession game. There’s 3:30 on the clock before halftime. To go up two possessions there means you’re virtually guaranteed the lead at the half. If nothing else, psychologically, it inspires your fans to want to see what awaits after halftime. To say nothing of the fact that if your defense keeps playing at the level they have so far, two scores might be insurmountable. (And go figure, it was). Dumb decision to go for it there.

* After stopping the Chiefs on goal to go, Green Bay takes over at their own 3. And in the fifth of the “what the hell was this joker thinking?!?!” moments that nobody else will blog / report / criticize on, Romeo Crennel calls timeout after stuffing the Packers on 2nd down. No, that wasn’t the “what the hell was this joker thinking?!?!” moment, as the Chiefs had two timeouts left, and with Green Bay at their own three, you absolutely try to maximize the field position.

The “what the eff is this clown thinking?!?!” moment came on 3rd down, as the Chiefs did NOT call timeout after a 9 yard Packers gain. To say I was coming emotionally unhinged, screaming “call timeout you dumb f*ck!” at the Chiefs sideline while constantly signaling for a timeout with my hands, is an understatement. This was STUPID. That’s FIVE fireable offenses by Romeo and/or his staff in the first half … and we’d hit the locker room up 6-0. Unbelievable.

* Chiefs get it back after the two minute warning at their own 17, 18 yard line … and Mike McCarthy starts channeling his inner Romeo Crennel, by having a complete brain fart and not calling timeout after second down (he did after first and third). Ultimately, it didn’t matter, as Green Bay went three and out. (And even more incredibly, Romeo had a smart moment! After Rodgers threw incomplete on 3rd and 2, we somehow had 12 men in the huddle for the punt. Romeo whizzed away our last timeout to save the penalty. It ensured an all or nothing return … but at least confirmed he had a pulse. That he wasn’t Art Shell Jr. So to recap: that’s SEVEN incredible brain farts / stupid decisions by Chiefs coaches, players, and/or both … and we’re WINNING 6-0 at the half! As I told the guy next to me yesterday: “we don’t deserve this”. As he replied: “yup”.

(Note: for those of you who are on board with hiring Romeo after Sunday’s win, please, re-read the previous two pages of writing. SEVEN horrendous coaching decisions in 30 minutes of play. If you hire Romeo, you’re hiring Herm Junior. I’m ok with it – I wouldn’t have fired Herm in the first place. But if Herm frustrated you, I would strongly suggest you not get on board the Romeo bandwagon.)

* Halftime! Normally, I am more than willing to rip the dumb ass halftime routines even more than your average bear. Every year, we have to sit through (pick five) Jazzercise (because dudes in tights rock), the Mayor’s Ethnic Enrichment Council on Native American Relations (yes, this one has actually occurred before), Alumni Weekend (the one that usually rocks), the “inappropriately dressed eight year olds doing their cheerleader routine as a gigantic Christmas tree all but goes down on Mrs. Claus at midfield” (again, happened before), a local college marching band making the field virtually unplayable by marching all over the place (multiple occasions), Frisbee Dogs!!! (the one that I love), sad yet poignant and respectful tributes to Chiefs legends that have tragically passed from our lives (happens way too often), and …

Well, I’d have to defer to “The Voice of Reason” on this … but I can NEVER remember a halftime like yesterday.

We’ve had the Pee Wee League teams on the field before. (Note: its usually my favorite halftime of the year.) But we’ve never had Pee Wee League Fourth Graders from Olathe … taking on Local Area Mascots!!!

KC Wolf? Check. Sluggerrrr? Check. Sizzle? Check. The UMKC Kangaroo? Check. It was the damned funniest thing I have EVER seen in my life. (Pee Wee League 4th Graders won 7-0 in case anyone cares). KC Chiefs organization? Let’s make this a YEARLY occurrence going forward. THAT was fun. If only to see Sizzle blatantly “whiff” on a tackle to tank the game. I meant what I texted to multiple people: I PRAY someone Youtube!’d that. It was hilarious.

* Pack get the ball to open the second half, and I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say, “it was ONLY 6-0?!?!” The Chiefs DOMINATED the first half, and had only six points to show for it. These tend to be the games you kick yourself in the ass over when they end. And for the next four, five minutes, that’s exactly what you were thinking.

* After a pair of three and outs, the Pack take over at their own 46 after a pathetic Dusty C punt that had me questioning if he was as high as Dusty J. (The answer: probably. Sorry champ. That punt was so awful, it entered your stratosphere.) And in a shock to nobody with a functioning brain and an IQ above 9, Aaron Rodgers abused Sabby Piscatelli for a 40 yard gain to get goal-to-go for Green Bay, and promptly abused him again in finding Donald Driver for the go-ahead score. Seriously, can we just cut Sabby now, and pray denver is dumb enough to sign him for the “play and you’re hosting a very beatable Steelers squad, and potentially going to Houston in round two if the Jets handle Baltimore!!!” bowl we’re on a crash course for in 13 days?

(Note: admit it, when I wrote four weeks ago after the Patriots debacle that there was still a decent chance the Chiefs could steal this thing at 9-7, 8-8, host a flawed squad in the wildcard (at the time, I projected Cincy), then travel to Houston in round two, while the Jets or Steelers kept winning on the other side of the bracket, you thought I was nuts. I’m not getting ahead of myself, because I do not believe at this moment that the Chiefs at broncos will be of any consequence to the Red and Gold … but admit it – hosting the Steelers (who we nearly beat with Palko under center), then traveling to Houston (without Schaub and Andre Johnson), and if the Jets keep winning on the road (as they always do in January) … admit it, you’re starting to contemplate a Cardinals-type Super Bowl run, just a little bit, for whatever flawed squad wins this division …)

* And then, just as the annoying Packers fans (who were everywhere yesterday) begin to shout, just as you begin to think “oh yeah, this is why we’re 5-8 and nearly drawing dead” thoughts in your head … Leonard Pope happens. For 40 to midfield. The Chiefs manage to hit the Packers 30 before a penalty, but (shockingly) in a credit to Bill Muir, who again, called the Game of a Lifetime yesterday, he simply took what the D gave him. You want to give me 10 yards to set up a makeable field goal, versus the first down? OK, 20 minutes to play, I’ll take it down one. Which is exactly what happened – 10 yard gain on 3rd down, Succup hits from 46, and the Chiefs retake the lead not even five minutes after Green Bay grabbed it. Huge stand upcoming.

* And the Chiefs hold, after yielding a couple first downs. Get the ball back, again drive inside the five, and take the points to go up 12-7. As I kept noting to everyone I was texting with yesterday, “if wed taken fg in 2nd qtr we’d be in great shape rt now”. As luck would have it, we WERE in great shape at that moment.

* Because the Pack go three and out, Chiefs take over at their own 34, 35, and with a little bit under 10 minutes to play, it’s all there for the taking. So allow me to type a few words in this next paragraph I didn’t envision typing as recently as 48 hours ago.

Bill Muir? Take a bow sir. Because this drive … would have made Don Coryall proud.

The Chiefs faced one third down – 3rd and goal at the 1, which Jackie Battle promptly slammed into the east end zone. And just like that, its 19-7 Chiefs, there’s barely 5 to play, and suddenly you start hearing the “Go Pack Go” chants change a little bit.

To “GO! CHIEFS! GO!” (minus the porno music, sadly).

* Chiefs start playing prevent (sadly), and for a rare occasion, the Pack move the ball, scoring with a little over two minutes to play to pull to within 5. (The EXACT margin of victory when the 2003 Chiefs fell eight years ago to the Bengals. Told you I’d bring it full circle!)

Then … the onside kick happened.

It was an epic ref meltdown, as Gene Stenatore’s crew first (misspotted) the ball, then (incorrectly) tried to penalize Green Bay for kicking it the proper ten years, then (incorrectly) tried to penalize Green Bay for touching said ball beyond ten yards, before (finally and correctly) spotting the ball at the Chiefs 45, 46 yard line. I’ll cut Stenatore some slack – he’s one of the better refs in the league (which is a bit like saying the raiders are a well-run, competently managed franchise), but my God, how do you whiff three times on where the ball should be, on a single play? Someone needs to step in and get NFL officials up to speed before someone goes Tim Donaghy on them.

* The three best plays of the game? Hang on, from NFL.com’s game play-by-play recap:

(1st and 10 at GB 24) Orton kneels for -2 yards.
(2nd and 12 at GB 26) Orton kneels for -1 yards.
(3rd and 13 at GB 27) Orton kneels for -1 yards.

Ballgame.

Season still f*cking on!!! At least for a few more days.

* Postgame, not much special. Some fun at the bus waiting for the parking lot to clear out. We hit up Fun House last night because it sounded good (and tasted as awesome as always. Again, I’m not a big eater, I’m a grazer … and I plowed through half a Meat Lovers large last night.)

And somehow, despite it all, I made it in for a full day of work on Monday.

Which brings me to the closing thought, and it is this:

* Despite EVERYTHING so far this season, we enter Chrismukkah weekend still alive for a playoff berth. And unlike 2006, this isn’t a “throw every damned thing you can find and see if it sticks” 8 separate outcomes go our way scenario. Its as simple as a three way can get!

Buffalo must beat denver. If this doesn’t happen, nothing else matters.
We have to beat oakland. If this doesn’t happen, nothing else matters.
And the Detroit freaking Lions, hosting San Diego, with a playoff berth for the first time since 1999 on the line, in a “win and we’re in, no doubt about it” scenario, would greatly help us with a win. But if they don’t? So long as the first two happen, hope springs eternal.

I joked a few weeks ago about the following facts that nobody can (positively or negatively) dispute:

* for my 10th birthday, the Chiefs had to beat denver (at Arrowhead) to keep hope alive for a playoff berth. They did, winning 37-10, and ultimately clinching their first playoff berth of my lifetime (and first in 15 years).

* for my 16th birthday, the Chiefs had to beat denver (at Arrowhead) in a “winner-takes-last-wildcard” scenario. The Chiefs did, beating denver 42-20, and the donkeys promptly fired Dan Reeves as their head coach. (Should note: this is the game that gave us one of the greatest play calls of all time, after DT sacked, stripped, and recovered elway’s fumble for a touchdown. “Not even Santa Claus can save the denver broncos today!” Oh, let’s pray that’s true again on Saturday …)

* for my 21st birthday, the most painful of them all (since it happened on said 21st birthday), the Chiefs hosted denver in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. I said all week leading into that showdown that “whoever wins is winning this Super Bowl, and probably next year too”. Godd*mmit I hate being right, as denver beat KC 14-10, and won the next two Super Bowls.

* for my 30th birthday, the Chiefs needed a myriad of outcomes to go their way, none more improbable than denver laying down at home and losing to doormat San Francisco (who we’d already beaten 41-0). Somehow, someway, denver blew it, losing in overtime 23-20 and setting off a night of prolific drinking on my part that I have never come close to matching since.

And now, as another “milestone birthday” approaches, and I turn 35 in two weeks? (chris farley in “tommy boy” voice) Well lookie here Richard! IF Buffalo beats denver, and IF Detroit beats San Diego, and IF the Chiefs beat those criminals and thugs known as the raiders?

Then KC at denver decides the division.

I don’t ask for much. But since I got one Chrismukkah miracle, and the Chiefs somehow beat the Packers to keep hope alive, I’m asking for the biggest Chrismukkah miracle of them all.

Chiefs! donkeys! 7:20pm, Sunday, January 1st! With a division title and a rematch with the Steelers in the wildcard round on the line!

Until next time, enjoy the week. And please, avoid talking about the “elephant in the room”, namely that oakland has won four straight at Arrowhead, all in blowout fashion, and it should be eight straight if the first 59 minutes of a game decided the outcome …

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