By PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Decked out in a red-and-white western outfit, Cowboy Joe had a pair of spurs “big enough to urge an elephant into gallop” and a 12-gauge shotgun and some blank shells.
That was part of The Star’s report of the first Kansas City Spurs game at Municipal Stadium.
The next day’s report opened with this:
“That funny game that foreigners play finally arrived here yesterday when the Kansas City Spurs drew 1-1 with the Houston Stars in a North American Soccer League game that brought Kansas City’s much vaunted sports scene well and truly up to date.”
It wouldn’t be long before the local sports scene became outdated.
The Spurs, who played in front of 4,397 fans that first home game, won a NASL championship the following year. But, despite having plans one day to move into the new football stadium that was being considered (we now know it as Arrowhead Stadium), the team didn’t win over many new fans and folded after the 1970 season.
Professional soccer returned to the city of fountains on Nov. 28, 1981. There were two main differences: It was indoor soccer, and there were many more fans.
The Kansas City Comets’ opener drew 15,925 at Kemper Arena, and Royals players George Brett, Clint Hurdle and Jamie Quirk were on hand, as well as Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog.
The White Rat praised the sport.
“It’s a good game with a lot of scoring and a lot of action,” Herzog said that day. “I think the fans here are going to like it. Kansas City should be a good soccer town, a lot better than it was a hockey town.”
Ultimately, Herzog was right. While the NHL Scouts left after two dreary seasons, indoor soccer survived for nearly 25 years, and ultimately stayed longer than the NBA’s Kings, who bolted for California.
But the buzz faded, not just in Kansas City but across the nation. The Comets were followed by the Attack, which later changed its name to the Comets before playing its last game in 2004.
The Comets and Attack were part of three different indoor leagues, none of which persevered.
Outdoor soccer crawled back to Kansas City on April 13, 1996.
Major League Soccer had started and, thanks to Lamar Hunt, the Kansas City Wiz was a charter member. In its first game, the Wiz beat Colorado 3-0, and Vitalis “Digital” Takawira scored the first and third goals.
After each score, Takawira dropped to the ground and performed his “Digital Crawl” to the delight of the 21,141 fans at Arrowhead.
“I’ve seen it come full circle,” Wiz general manager Tim Latta said. “We feel we’ve done our due diligence this time. (League investors) have done their homework of soccer past. We looked at all the graveyards and … we also looked at the problems of soccer leagues present. We looked at things done right in the past and things done wrong.”
The team changed its name the next year to the Wizards and in 2000 won the MLS Cup.
Four years later, the Wizards won a U.S. Open Cup and played in the MLS Cup. But Hunt put the team up for sale just weeks after the MLS Cup loss, and it would take nearly two years before new ownership stepped forward.
It left Arrowhead Stadium after the 2007 season while planning a new stadium and spent two seasons at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of baseball’s T-Bones.
The Wizards struggled to pull in even 12,000 fans per game in those bleak days.
However, it was a case of being the darkest before the dawn, because the Wizards changed their name to Sporting Kansas City and moved in 2011 to Sporting Park, arguably the best soccer stadium in the country.
It was the dawn of a new era.
Since that move, Sporting routinely sells out and has averaged nearly 19,000 fans per game.
Soccer has found a home in Kansas City. In addition to Sporting, the women’s team, FC Kansas City, started play this year, the Missouri Comets indoor team was reborn in Independence in 2010, and the Kansas City Brass has been a successful amateur team for the last 15 years.
Major League Soccer couldn’t help but notice Kansas City’s change, and that’s why the league’s All-Star Game is here.
“This has been one of the great, great success stories for our sport,” commissioner Don Garber said earlier this year. “We’re very proud of what’s taken place here.”
To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.