‘Mother Nature is a Chiefs fan’: Tailgaters defy ice storm predictions for playoff game

The final score Sunday night meant disappointment and the end of the season, but at least Kansas City fans weren’t robbed of their playoff party.

In the days before the Chiefs’ AFC Divisional playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, meteorologists had warned of a major ice storm. The NFL went as far as to delay the start of the game from 12:05 p.m. to 7:20 p.m.

But Chiefs fans paid that no mind. Tailgaters filled the Truman Sports Complex hours before kickoff to celebrate as they always do.

It would have taken a lot more than an ice storm to keep them away from this game, which ended with the Chiefs losing 18-16 to the Steelers.

Most in the announced crowd of 75,678 were hoping to see a Chiefs playoff win at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since after the 1993 season. Since then there were heartbreaking losses after division championship seasons in 1995, 1997 and 2003, to name a few. But Chiefs fans were disappointed once more.

After scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, the Chiefs didn’t offer an anxious crowd many opportunities to celebrate. The stands were full throughout the game, with a smattering of waving yellow Terrible Towels throughout, into a close finish.

Earlier in the day, huddled under tents and around space heaters in the parking lot on Sunday, fans said they never even considered staying home, even when weather forecasters predicted a winter storm of almost Biblical proportions. Even those who came from as far as Chicago this weekend wouldn’t admit to any second thoughts.

“We were going to be here no matter what,” said Matt Jenkins, a Kansas City native, now living in the Windy City, who brought his family back on Friday, when weather predictions were still dire.

“A playoff game? We’re going to be here,” Jenkins said.

They weren’t alone. Fans lined up at the gates, which opened early at 1:30 p.m.

In the end, the threatened storm never materialized. Tailgaters had to contend only with a light drizzle and temperatures that mostly stayed just above freezing.

Which isn’t to say they didn’t come prepared.

Among the tent shelters, fans in ponchos and winter clothing kept warm with wood fires, space heaters, plenty of beer and liquor, and hot food: bratwurst, chicken wings, burgers.

One crew from Wichita upped their grill game with bacon-wrapped shrimp and venison.

“It’s the playoffs,” said the group’s lead cook, Jim Nowak. “We’re going all out.”

Many fans refused to even acknowledge the chill and persistent drizzle. They lounged in camping chairs as if it were a sunny day and played catch with slippery footballs. No one interviewed by The Star said they ever thought of staying home. When asked, many laughed.

Some planned their tailgate so well as to be fully insulated from the cold. Generators powered all manner of modern conveniences, and some fans kept warm inside their red-and-yellow painted Chiefs bus.

Debbie Ball, of Liberty, and her family arrived early enough to claim their traditional spot on a comfortable patch of hay, cooked a hot meal on their grill and watched the early games on a big-screen TV.

“We’re ready for the weather,” Ball said. “We have a tent, we have a heater, we have everything ready to go. Weather would not have stopped us from being here today.”

Some fans believed they even turned the weather forecast to their advantage, finding reduced ticket prices online, even down to $41, in the days before the game — possibly because other ticket holders got cold feet.

In some cases, defiance in the face of inclement weather, and the Steelers opposition, only made fans more joyous and rowdy.

Lynn “Weirdwolf” Schmidt, in face paint, wolf ears and fur-lined shoulder pads, danced to heavy metal with other superfans in Lot D, which Schmidt called “the biggest party at Arrowhead.”

It was Schmidt, of Kansas City, who designed the 3,296 “Decibels Up” red hand towels that his friend Charlie Eerington hauled down from Des Moines ahead of the game. Schmidt’s only accommodation to the weather was a red wool coat that he added to his costume.

“The big, giant ice storm never showed up,” Schmidt said.

Fellow fan Brad Hanson, also of Kansas City, his red face paint touched up with yellow in his beard, nodded in agreement.

“Mother nature is a Chiefs fan,” he said.

In the end, that wasn’t enough for a playoff win. But it was enough for a good time.