It’s hard work carrying around hatred. Loathing something that won’t go away causes stress and rapid aging, and if you struggle to acquire the skills necessary for health-appropriate coping, you’ll get eaten.
In today’s Kansas City Star, Sam Mellinger wrote a column that contained this sentence:
“Elway had always tortured the Chiefs as a player, and now he’s doing more of it in a suit.”
I saw his tweet with a link to the column and the headline of it carried me to the front sidewalk in search of that line. It’s a good one, and it appeared in the piece right where it needed to, and for Mellinger’s role as a professional writer, it’s good that the scope of the piece about John Elway and Peyton Manning was as broad as it was. But for me, that line should’ve been the lead; the piece should’ve expounded upon that notion, carried beyond the margins, and onto my kitchen table.
Had I written the piece, it would’ve started with the idea that Elway should never have donned a Denver Broncos uniform. His entitled whining should’ve been silenced by Pete Rozelle; he should’ve gotten on a plane to Baltimore and never looked back. He could’ve brought the Colts to winning ways -- they already had a seven-game win turnaround the year Elway was drafted -- and might’ve even kept the franchise from moving to Indianapolis, which means Art Modell never leaves Cleveland and the world has never heard of Trent Dilfer. Win, win. Win, win.
But he didn’t. He got his way and ruined the football lives of both Baby Boomer and Generation X Kansas City Chiefs fans. As an athlete. All of the fourth-quarter comebacks (I do believe the Elway vs. KC is the National Football League record for one QB to have against one team), the bogus Divisional Round win in the 1997-98 playoffs (en route to one of two consecutive championships), and then -- then, he comes back to the franchise in a front-office role and doesn’t bomb. So, assuming they care about football, he’s ruining it for Generation Y. As an executive.
Not only does he mimic his on-field prowess with aggression and triumph as a decision-maker, but he intoxicates Manning -- the former Indianapolis Colt -- and causes him to swoon over the current football atmosphere in Denver. And for good reason. They’re a solid football team and have demonstrated Elway’s wise choices on the field. The trouble is that they’ve almost always been a good football team. I’d love to sit here and talk about their initial American Football Conference years, or cherry pick the few off campaigns they’ve had, but they’ve always been good. At least, when your source for direct comparison works at One Arrowhead Drive, they have.
The McDaniels deal ended up being an eggy silent fart dealt in public, especially when the blushed-face evidence of guilt existed as the better-than-Chris-Simms-and-Kyle-Orton kid named Tim Tebow. But even then, Tebow did something for Broncos fans that they’d always been used to: He won games. And then came Elway, and he greased up the Indy-to-Denver airways and cast a lure in the career-turning-point river that Manning couldn’t overlook.
It was like living in a cardboard box next to a neighbor that came home from work every day with a box of powdered success. You could see him, shivering beneath your thin Kansas City Chiefs blankets in the dark of night, adding water to his magic particles, getting results. You watched the man take control, live a happy life, and not fret, not shroud himself in the confusing, deceitful garments of hope each night. You prayed that your front office would keep you warm, that you wouldn’t have to rely on your own self-generated garments of anger, your comforter of hate.
But it was of no surprise that they won games. Thirteen of ‘em, in fact. And of course that got them in to the post-season, and just when it looked as though they’d be moving on to the conference championship, a goofy little breakdown on defense caused them to lose to Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens by a field goal.
That’s what I call too close for comfort.
Manning, three losses, and a first-round bye in season one? That’s not a tall order or a bitter pill to swallow. That’s straight up horse splatter. But then they almost win that tilt on top of that? The proverbial arrow pointed up, and I just wanted to kick people. Not just Bronco people, but people that wore blue shirts or drove orange cars or ate lunch at noon. Even people that smiled. Bang! Right in the shin. I mean a hard one, too. Not a little side-of-the-foot tap, but a teeth-gritted toe jab that would just sprawl a person out on the floor like a shattered pint glass.
How would the Broncos rebound in 2013? There was no debate. They took the stage as season sweetheart before training camp broke, and were Super Bowl favorites before pre-season ended. Enter their season-opening contest, a grudge match against the guys that knocked ‘em off and won it all last year. Naturally, they blow the Ravens’ doors off and never look back. Hell, Manning had double-digit touchdowns in like three weeks, and was literally finding the end zone more often than passels of entire other teams in that first month.
But they advanced past a San Diego Chargers team that’d recently defeated them, cashed in their chips of circumstance by knocking off the New England Patriots, and just like that they were Super Bowl-bound once more.
This left me and my lifetime of animosity for this -- and only this -- sports team with one chance. One game to seethe against good Denver plays, to expect the Seattle Seahawks to not show up, to shrug at non-calls by the officials and to scan the world in the morning, hoping to fine some unsuspecting shins.
And boy, that opening-play-from-scrimmage safety sure felt like a trap. And man, if the ensuing pair of field goals weren’t excruciating. And God, if there was a second-half surge I might lose my lone remaining marble. And shit if that wasn’t just an all-over orgasm of a football game. And since every sentence of this paragraph starts with “And”: If you didn’t catch the Phish reference in it, you’ve got homework.
Believe it or not, I try not to hate, but there’s little I hate more than the oft-present realization that the rest of the world doesn’t hate the Denver Broncos like I do. I mean, it’s not even close. AFC people still pretend that the Oakland Raiders matter and most football fans act like we should bond together and despise the New England Patriots.
It’s hard, though, to be the fan version of Revis Island. You call enough attention to yourself and people start to recognize you for that, instead. It’s tricky to manage a football agenda that’s so pro-Chiefs, so full of passion and letdown, so attuned to the now-stale Plan B of seeing red for the Broncos once Kansas City’s season is complete.
I haven’t had to experience the legitimate possibility of a Denver Broncos championship since I was living in Colorado. Unfortunately I was out there as a Kansas Citian for both of those titles, and make no mistake: They were painful, especially that first one that -- in all of its bologna -- went through Arrowhead. This should be a time in which I'm talking about the sheer awesomeness by which the Broncos were destroyed tonight. I should tally their Super Bowl loss deficits and declare their sum my new favorite number. But I'm tired. All of this ire has exhausted me.
There’ve been times over the years where I’ve thought those injuries of old had finally scarred. They were party stories, or some twisted form of bragging right. The Broncos, though, have never relented. They’ve put a pin on the map that seeks titles, and they’ve continued to sidestep pitfalls. Kansas City, however, just reinvents ways for its fan base to ponder abandoning it, dousing the ill-will fire with ugliness, leaving those wounds a-weep.