Two years ago, Tony Hulfeld sat in the nosebleed seats at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, enduring 20-degree temperatures, spitting snow, a phalanx of Pittsburgh Steelers fans and a nearly inexplicable Kansas City Chiefs loss to an opponent who didn’t score a touchdown.
It was a long drive home, and he didn’t get back until 3:30 a.m.
Last season, he witnessed the Chiefs blow an 18-point lead to the second-lowest seeded team on their side of the bracket.
The Joplin man compares his relationship with his beloved team to that of a spurned lover.
“They break up with you and break your heart,” he said. “Then a few months later they take you back, and you fall in love all over again. Then they leave you again, and you swear you aren’t going to let them break your heart again. Then a few months come back, they swear they’ve changed, tell you about all the changes they’ve made, then they break your heart again. It’s a vicious cycle.”
This weekend, Hulfeld is going back for more.
He will be among the many Southwest Missouri residents making the trek to see the top-seeded Chiefs host the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Hulfeld will be hoping to avoid another heartbreak.
Southwest Missouri and much of the state overall has been abuzz this football season as the Chiefs got out of the gate with a 5-0 start before their first loss and have compiled a 12-4 record with a league-best offense behind first-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
While some are wary because of the team’s playoff struggles in recent years, many fans are energized by Mahomes’ MVP-caliber season and the possibility of reaching the conference championship game for the first time since 1993 — more than two years before the Texas Tech product Mahomes was born — and possibly even their first Super Bowl shot in nearly a half century. (The Chiefs haven’t been to the Super Bowl since they beat the Minnesota Vikings in January 1970.)
“Words can’t describe the feeling of the vibration that runs through your body at Arrowhead from all the fans roaring at the top of their lungs,” said William Isenmann, of Carthage, another local fan who will be going to Saturday’s game. “There’s nothing like it. Saturday can’t get here fast enough. As soon as the season ended and we got the top seed in the playoffs, I was ready to hit the road and head to Arrowhead.”
Isenmann said his love for the Chiefs was inherited through family and that the love that started early in life has only continued to blossom. So much so, he said, that he makes a habit of dressing in flashy, Chiefs-themed costumes for some games and has wound up on television broadcasts more than once. He’ll plan to do the same this weekend.
“My family has always been die-hard Chiefs fans,” he said. “Growing up, I can remember my dad, my brother and I all sitting in the living room on a cold Sunday afternoon with a blazing fire my dad had made in the fireplace, watching the Chiefs play on my dad’s old Zenith box TV that sat on the floor. The thing was heavy enough to be an anchor.”
Kevin O’Keefe, a Joplin native who relocated to Kansas City roughly four years ago, said he has been a season-ticket holder for the past two seasons and has been to every home game. He will be at Arrowhead this weekend and said he hopes to see the Chiefs avoid the kind of fate they’ve had in recent playoff games.
“I’ve been a Chiefs fan since my youth, primarily by proximity,” he said. “It’s a small miracle the Greatest Show on Turf over in St. Louis didn’t grab me, but thank God for that. I really went all in on the Chiefs when I moved up here.”
Michael Miller, 29, of Oronogo, said his first memory of the Chiefs was actually a negative one. He said he remembers the entire area talking about the sudden death of Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas. The longtime Chiefs linebacker suffered a pulmonary embolism in February 2000, just days after a severe car crash hospitalized him.
Miller said he first got hooked on the Chiefs shortly after Thomas’ death in the early 2000s. Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez and Dante Hall led the Chiefs to a 13-3 record in 2003, captivating Miller, he said.
“My aunt would watch the Chiefs religiously, and I would hear her yelling at the TV, so I started watching it with her to see what all the fuss was about,” he said. “My family is full of Chiefs fans, from aunts to uncles to cousins, etc. So it was just kind of passed down to me. My younger brother and I started following the Chiefs closely, and now we watch a lot of the games together and have attended games together. There’s nothing better than standing in Arrowhead Stadium doing the tomahawk chop and watching the players run onto the field.”
That’s where he’ll be and what he’ll be doing Saturday.