The hotel concierge recommended that I buy ear plugs. That’s crazy, I thought. I’m no sports fan wimp, and how loud could Arrowhead Stadium really be?
I should have listened.
There are many ways a tourist can experience a city: museums, landmarks, parks, churches, shopping, restaurants. But none of those options allows you to mix with the locals at their most passionate—and loudest.
In town for a work-related conference, I had limited time to see the city. But when an offer for an extra ticket to the Chiefs-Browns game was dangled my way, I found myself quickly dialing United to see if I could change my flight back to Newark, N.J., and stay one more day. It was a no-brainer that sitting with 80,000 screaming locals for three hours was the most authentic, and appealing, way to experience Kansas City, and worth the $200 fee to change my airline ticket.
Here are five things I learned about Kansas Citians by attending the Oct. 27 game:
1. They are loud. Wow, are they noisy. Beforehand, I figured maybe the loudest-stadium claim was a bit of hype, despite the Guinness Book of World Record. But as the racket rose on a defensive third down and “137.5” kept flashing on the Jumbotron, my head started to ache and I felt like I was starring in a pain reliever commercial. I’d suggest that the stadium pro shop sell ibuprofen, but I’m guessing everyone else is inured to the noise by now.
2. But they are so darn nice. Don’t let all that yelling, hand slapping on any stadium surface that will create a clamor, and foot stomping fool you. That “Midwest nice” image is real. Throughout the day, people chatted with me, explained Chiefs Kingdom culture, and helped me navigate the 47 Broadway bus between the stadium and the Intercontinental where I was staying. When I commented on how nicely the locals were treating the Browns fans in the parking lot, one Chiefs fan told me: “This stadium is pretty opposition friendly. Unless you act like an ass.”
3. They are partial to red. Every NFL stadium is awash in the home team’s colors, but Arrowhead truly was a complete sea of red from end zone to end zone. Having packed only business-casual apparel, I layered three work shirts — including a lace blouse —under the bandwagon-inspired red Chiefs T-shirt I had bought the night before at Rally House on the Plaza. I was definitely grateful I was dressed in red and hadn’t worn the only warm item I had brought: a bright pink sweatshirt.
4. They are tame. I was surprised when I bought a bottle of water inside Arrowhead and the vendor didn’t keep the bottle cap. The vendor was even more surprised at my surprise, prompting me to explain that, back East, caps are confiscated at concession stands so full bottles can’t become weapons in the hands of angry or drunken fans. In Jersey, people will even smuggle in a bottle cap to the game or concert, so they can drink their water without worrying about it being knocked over. Clearly there is a much higher trust factor in Kansas City.
5. They are believers. Another reason I wanted to see the Chiefs play is that, based on record, they have the best shot so far of making it to Super Bowl XLVIII, which will be played mere miles from where I live and work in New Jersey. No one in Kansas City wanted to talk about the Super Bowl much, yet, and instead noted the sometimes shaky offense of the Chiefs and upcoming games with Denver. But still, I sat in Arrowhead among people who had been Chiefs fans for four decades, sticking with the team through the lowest of lows. They had believed through all the down times, and now were enjoying the thrill of an undefeated run (and apparently tipping better, according to a stadium beer seller I met on the bus ride home). Religious leaders could learn a thing or two about faith from these Kansas City fans.
I don’t want to commit a sports taboo and jinx anything, but let’s just say I’d love to meet some of those Kansas City fans again in New Jersey in early February 2014. I may even invest in some ear plugs.
A New Jersey native, Sharon Waters is a writer who often finds watching the fans as interesting as watching the game.