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Was Kansas City’s sports joy in 2013 a temporary flash or trend?

Updated: 2013-12-29T06:36:34Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Joy to the fan bases across the Kansas City sports scene in 2013. Everyone had a reason to brag.

The Chiefs transformed themselves from debacle to playoff participants. The Royals produced their best and most relevant season in two decades. Sporting Kansas City solved its Houston problem and went on to capture the MLS Cup.

On campuses in the region, Missouri defied expectations by winning the SEC Eastern Division in its second year of SEC membership. Kansas State added men’s basketball and baseball to its Big 12 trophy case to complete the conference triple crown started by last year’s football title. And Kansas stuffed its jewelry box with a ninth straight Big 12 men’s hoop ring.

The year was punctuated with a national championship when Northwest Missouri State won the NCAA Division II football title last week.

In short, cheers abounded.

But was 2013 a short-term blast of happiness around these parts, or the beginning of a meaningful and lasting conversion to winning ways?

There is precedent to suggest the latter, although measurement requires the benefit of hindsight.

By buckling up in the WABAC machine to seek specific years of pivot points, we find it’s been too long since something like 2013 occurred.

Not specifically the winning, but the arrival of newcomers to the region that shook things up and created winning environments.

Nowhere on the Kansas City scene have fresh faces and ideas had a greater impact than with the Chiefs, who brought in coach Andy Reid, general manager John Dorsey and quarterback Alex Smith to replace Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli and Matt Cassel, respectively.

From 2-14 and the embarrassment of banners calling for wholesale changes flying over Arrowhead Stadium, to 11-4 heading into Sunday’s finale at San Diego — with a spot on the playoff bracket already assured — this season represents the best one-year reversal in franchise history.

Clark Hunt, take a bow.

The new blood in the Royals’ clubhouse arrived via a blockbuster trade. The wisdom of acquiring pitcher James Shields from Tampa for outfielder and top prospect Wil Myers will be debated for years.

But what is beyond dispute is Shields’ effect on the Royals’ clubhouse culture, which is to say there wasn’t much of one before 2013. Winning begets chemistry or vice-versa is the chicken-and-egg argument, but for two decades, the Royals couldn’t be part of the discussion because winning wasn’t a possibility.

Shields won games and won over the clubhouse as a vocal leader with the Rays, and he brought that positive influence to the Royals. In an elevator ride of a season, the Royals ended on an uptick, their 86 victories the most they’d posted since 1989.

Myers won American League Rookie of the Year in Tampa, and the Rays, not the Royals, made the playoffs. So, who won the trade? No complaint from either side, but the grade is incomplete until both men’s careers — or stints in their “new” locales, at least — play out.

Sporting KC brought in no major additions because the franchise was already in top shape. Overcoming a Houston Dynamo club that had knocked it from the postseason in the previous two conference championship rounds was the objective.

That objective was met on Nov. 23, when Sporting got goals from C.J. Sapong and Dom Dwyer to defeat the Dynamo 2-1 and advance to the MLS Cup, where Real Salt Lake awaited.

When the MLS Cup final arrived on Dec. 7, the heroes on that frigid evening at Sporting Park were Aurelien Colin, who scored in regulation and added a penalty kick, and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who came up huge during the penalty-kick phase, won by Sporting 7-6. Two days later, Nielsen announced his retirement.

Maintaining success becomes the goal, and examples exist in the rearview mirror.

Take Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer. Both men were new to Kansas City in 1989, and their collective talents became the modern standard for the Chiefs.

As this season unfolded, more Kansas Citians said the defense, the crowds, even just the feeling, reminded them of the success shaped in the 1990s by Carl and Marty.

Also arriving for 1989 was Bill Snyder, who not only changed a football program at Kansas State but how the school felt about itself. A statue in his honor, outside of the stadium that bears his name, was erected in August.

Roll back a few more years, to 1973, and make that the center point of a three-year period that pushed Kansas City to a primary position in the national sports landscape.

Five years earlier, the Athletics had skipped town, leaving Kansas City with just one professional sports franchise — the Chiefs. But by the early 1970s, KC had four: the NBA’s Kings came in 1972-73, and the NHL’s Scouts debuted in 1974, when Kemper Arena opened.

In 1973, the Truman Sports Complex was completed with the opening of Royals Stadium, and that year the promotion of a young third baseman from the minor leagues, George Brett, reverberated all the way to this year, when the Hall of Famer returned to the dugout as interim hitting coach. Not so coincidentally, the Royals’ spring swoon ended with his temporary appointment.

The moon-landing year of 1969 is also remembered here as the Super Bowl championship season for the Chiefs, a Big Eight football title year for Missouri and the curtain-raising of the Royals. Soccer got a foot in the door that year, too, when the Kansas City Spurs won the North American Soccer League championship.

The Chiefs relocated from Dallas for the 1963 season, and Kansas City became major league in 1955, when the Athletics arrived from Philadelphia.

All were monumental years because a franchise, a stadium, a player or administrator emerged to alter the course of sports in Kansas City.

Will 2013 be that landmark year— a pivot point of fortune that started with an infusion of new faces — or a streaking comet of winning ways spread across the professional and college ranks, only to burn out in a flash?

Check back in a year.

But here’s hoping you enjoyed 2013, when Kansas City teams won.

 

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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