If you’re around town and see people with an extra bounce in their step or hear them whistling something that sounds like a fight song, understand that this how people in the nation’s football capital conduct themselves in between weekends.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Football capital, Kansas City?
Check out the NFL standings. Only one of the 32 teams has a zero in the loss column.
Now flip to any one of the major college football polls. Only a handful of teams are undefeated.
Among them, Missouri.
For the first time since they started playing football together in the state 50 years ago, the Chiefs and Missouri are both 7-0 two months into the season. The two teams, separated by 120 miles of Interstate 70, seek to extend faultless football this weekend when South Carolina visits MU at 6 p.m. Saturday and the Cleveland Browns meet the Chiefs at noon Sunday.
So, how’s life for fans in football utopia?
“It has made for some great Saturdays and Sundays this fall,” said James McNeely of Kearney. “And a lot of victory Mondays.”
Aside from lifting the spirits of fans who saw the two teams combine for seven victories a year ago, their winning ways have made impacts in other ways, from how we spend money to what we eat.
Julie Martin of Lee’s Summit became a Chiefs fan when her father took her to a game at Municipal Stadium. Otis Taylor became her all-time favorite. She also enjoys watching Missouri Tigers running back Henry Josey … and the Tigers of Lee’s Summit High School, who were undefeated entering Friday night’s game against Blue Springs.
“My favorite pro team is 7-0, my favorite college team is 7-0 and my high school team is 7-0,” Martin said. “It’s been great.”
If your Missouri sports interests extend beyond the Chiefs and MU, to, say Division II football or major-college volleyball, you wouldn’t know what a loss looks like either.
The football teams at Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western are combined 13-0. Missouri’s volleyball team took a 23-0 record into Friday’s match at LSU.
And then there are the Cardinals, who play Boston in game three of the World Series on Saturday, three wins away from a World Series championship.
Show me a loss in the Show-Me State.
It can’t be done.
This week a year ago, the Chiefs and Mizzou were preparing for home games, but oh, what a difference.
The Chiefs faced the Oakland Raiders. But with a 1-5 record, images of the rivalry’s better days was about all the Chiefs could promote.
They lost 26-16, extending a season-long streak in which the Chiefs didn’t hold a lead until the 10th week of the season — a ridiculous run of futility kept alive even after a victory at New Orleans, where the Chiefs were behind or tied the whole game until a field goal on the final play of overtime.
It would get worse. One of their players, Jovan Belcher, would murder his girlfriend and then kill himself at the team’s practice facility. The team finished 2-14 and coaches and staff were fired.
For Missouri a week ago last year, playing a downtrodden Kentucky team brought much-needed relief. The Tigers won their first game in the Southeastern Conference after four losses, which had some questioning the school’s readiness for the football powerhouse league after leaving the Big 12.
The Tigers limped home to a 5-7 finish, 2-6 in the SEC. Nearly a decade had passed since such misery in the program, which had gone to seven consecutive bowl games, and the future was murky at best.
A year later, an overhaul that brought in general manager John Dorsey, head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith has transformed the Chiefs. And Missouri has remained mostly healthy a year after being battered by several injuries, especially along the offensive line.
Early victories sparked confidence, said Martin Rucker, an All-America tight end at Missouri in 2007 who joined the Chiefs for a month during the 2012 offseason.
“You get that momentum going and it feels like nothing can stop you,” he said. “As long as you go out and do what you’re capable of, you feel like nobody can beat you.”
He’s not shocked to see either start.
“When they brought in Coach Reid, I thought they were going to be a really good team,” Rucker said. “They had awesome talent. You could see it last year. Then when John Dorsey and Andy Reid got together, they got the missing pieces that were needed. There was no way they weren’t going to be successful.”
The Rally House in Independence, a superstore of team gear and gifts, seems like the perfect spot to quantify the enthusiasm for perfect football. So, how many more sweatshirts, caps, shot glasses and can koozies with Chiefs and Mizzou logos are flying out of the store?
“A significant amount,” said Kelly Neible, the marketing program manager for the Lenexa-based company, which has 25 stores across the nation.
“A significant increase in foot traffic and sales,” Neible said.
Chiefs’ gear on Fanatics.com, the largest online retailer of officially licensed merchandise, is up more than 450 percent over the first seven weeks of 2012, the largest spike of all NFL teams.
According to the site, buyers of Chiefs’ gear have come from all 50 states, and buyers in Los Angeles are smitten. That’s the No. 3 market for the red and gold, behind Kansas City and Wichita.
As for Mizzou gear, the Tigers do particularly well on Saturday mornings as fans leave Kansas City for home games, and also in the company’s store in Columbia, which has also seen the excitement level rise.
Peachtree Catering and Banquet Center owner Ali Hamrah, who hosts the Tiger Quarterback Club luncheon every Monday, said attendance is up about 20 percent from last year.
“Oh my, everybody is happy,” said Gayle Johnson, the club’s membership chairman.
Perhaps the best weekend of the season was Oct. 5-6 when both the Chiefs and Missouri played on the road. Why? They both played in Nashville.
“We noticed people talked for weeks about making that trip and gearing up,” Neible said.
Winning football is also good for your health. A study called “From Fan to Fat,” published in Psychological Science, measured what NFL fans weighed on Mondays after Sunday games.
The researchers found that fans of losing teams ate 16 percent more sweet and fatty food than they normally would. Fans of winning teams ate 9 percent less than usual. The study was conducted during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
For a barbecue-loving region that sometimes finds itself on a list of America’s fattest cities, that’s all the more reason to love winning.
History says maintaining perfection is nearly impossible.
It’s happened once in the NFL during the nearly five decades of the Super Bowl era.
And although undefeated seasons occur more frequently in major college football, only two of the last seven national champions, all from the SEC, have been perfect.
Still, none of the last 31 NFL teams to start 7-0 have missed the playoffs, and 15 of those teams made the Super Bowl. And Missouri has already qualified for a bowl game.
But area fans haven’t forgotten heartache, especially when it comes to Mizzou.
“It’s exhilarating and horrifying at the same time,” said Will Gregory of Lee’s Summit. “Excitement is tempered with fear of the other shoe dropping.”
Ah, the other shoe. Like the one that kicked the ball to a Nebraska receiver in the end zone for the touchdown that snatched defeat from victory in 1997, or the one that squashed Missouri’s BCS bowl hopes in 2007, a week after the Tigers claimed a glorious triumph over Kansas in Arrowhead Stadium. The Jayhawks, of all teams, got a BCS bid after MU, which had risen to No. 1 with the win over KU, lost the Big 12 title game.
The Chiefs also know grief. They have made six playoff appearances in the past 19 seasons and haven’t won a game. Four of the losses have come at home, two while owning the AFC’s best record.
McNeely understands the past but is living in the moment.
“I am just trying to enjoy the ride,” he said.
The Star’s Tod Palmer contributed to this story
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.