As the Royals were unleashing their absurd comebacks and gathering momentum toward beating the Mets to win their first World Series in 30 years, Kansas City Mayor Sly James made this his mantra:
“New York may be the city that never sleeps,” he would tell about anyone in earshot, “but Kansas City is the city that never quits.”
Even if this is a place that does sometime sleep, James was on to a memorable talking point in seeking to link civic pride in the Royals’ relentlessness to a spirit of revival in the area.
And as this redemptive, transformative year in sports comes to a close, the label is more apt than James could have meant it.
In Kansas City, arguably enjoying the best pro sports mojo it’s ever known, you never have to say never again.
In the city where Yogi Berra began his professional career with the Kansas City Blues in 1943, it really ain’t over till it’s over.
However you might view other testimony to that around the region, you can affirm it with certainty when it comes to a collective pro sports status enjoying unprecedented parallel successes.
All distinguished by the same trait: sheer resolve.
With the Chiefs having shrugged off their wretched start to qualify for the playoffs, a turnaround encapsulated by Eric Berry’s return from cancer to earn a Pro Bowl invitation, the City That Never Quits moniker now has a far broader application than the Royals.
Not that the Royals hadn’t made an ample argument for the title with eight come-from-behind postseason victories, including six from multiple runs down and all four World Series wins.
All, of course, made possible by the preposterous escape down four runs into the eighth inning facing elimination against Houston.
Along about the sixth inning that day, part of The Star’s tentative plan, ahem, perhaps called for two sports columns along these lines:
“MELLINGER: Best season in 35 years for Royals won’t be remembered for a damn after this meltdown in Houston.
“VAHE: Did the way the Royals approached September lead to their offensive struggles in the ALDS (?). And did the all-out pursuit of players like (Johnny) Cueto after All-Star break put all the focus on October too soon and throw off their chemistry (?).”
That plan got purged, of course, as the Royals reprised the “keep the line moving” routine that sustained them through their breakout 2014 victory in the American League Wild Card game against Oakland.
Whether their feats had any direct correlation to what’s happened across the parking lot of the Truman Sports Complex since may be a contrived concept or wishful thinking.
One way or another, though, they set a riveting example.
The Chiefs were so conscious of it that many couldn’t wait to find out how Game 5 of the World Series was going as they flew back from London on a plane with no Wi-Fi access.
And the arc of the Chiefs’ season so far also has been all about coming back from an impossible predicament. They kept the line moving, so to speak, when they were 1-5 and might have splintered.
Instead, quarterback Alex Smith said Wednesday, the “huge wake-up call” put them in the mindset to live day to day and focus on the bite-sized pieces.
Coach Andy Reid looks back and reckons that it was largely a matter of trust in one another.
There is a lot more to what’s happened since, of course, but the bottom line is … shazam, the Chiefs have won nine in a row to become the first NFL team since 1970 to secure a playoff berth after a 1-5 start.
They also now stand a victory away from the longest winning streak in franchise history as they prepare to join the Royals in playoff participation for the first time in the same calendar season.
Attached to this, it’s hard to quantify a moment in local pro sports that would qualify as more simultaneously successful and promising.
Though the Royals and NBA Kings were in the playoffs in the same years in 1980, 1981 and 1984, it’s a more momentous matter for it to be a first for the Royals and Chiefs, whose popularity is on another tier from what the Kings enjoyed.
Surely there was a nice surge of pride here in the mid-1970s, when the Kansas City Scouts of the NHL joined the Chiefs, Royals and Kings to give Kansas City brief representation in all four of the top major sports leagues.
But the Scouts went 27-110-23 and were gone in two years, and the Kings were out less than a decade later.
So maybe the runner-up for best of times was 1969, when the Royals were hatched and the Chiefs were bound for their only Super Bowl title.
Or you could consider 2003, when the Chiefs went 13-3 and the Royals had their first winning season in a decade.
That was, of course, a fleeting time, with the Chiefs losing to the Colts in their playoff opener and the Royals losing 100 games or more in four of the next five years.
And all this prosperity also could prove fleeting.
Still, the meaning of the year of the comeback ought to be forever appreciated.
Even after the Royals reached Game 7 of the 2014 World Series only to fall short, the psyche of local fans still was a well-earned pessimism.
Then 2015 captured the imagination and buoyed spirits and said with certainty that things actually can and do change even when all appears to be lost.
That plucky notion extends even beyond the Chiefs and Royals.
Sporting KC won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this year and was eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs only after a marathon effort against Portland that came down to 22 penalty kicks and a failed final shot that somehow hit both posts without going in.
FC Kansas City won its second straight National Women’s Soccer League Championship — after a 3-5-2 start hampered by four players being gone with the national team.
Of course, Kansas City doesn’t have a monopoly on this never-quit mindset, and it has been known to work the other way: Who could ever forget the Chiefs’ excruciating 28-point cave-in against the Colts in the playoffs two seasons ago?
And if the Chiefs don’t end their two-decade-plus postseason victory drought, this end-of-year vibe will lose some fizz.
But if there’s anything this last year has taught us, it’s that it’s OK to hope for the best … and maybe just gird some for the worst instead of expecting it.
Forty years after the start of the Scouts’ final season here, and 30 since the end of the last Kings season here, and after decades of having nothing to believe in in pro sports, this isn’t a city that people can sleep on.
It’s a city that never quits.