Sam Mellinger

KC sports fans have a terrific dilemma as Chiefs and Royals vie for their attention

T.J. Jackson memorialized a key moment in Royals history with a handmade crown scoreboard around his television. But he and other Kansas City sports fans must decide today which Kansas City team will get the TV.
T.J. Jackson memorialized a key moment in Royals history with a handmade crown scoreboard around his television. But he and other Kansas City sports fans must decide today which Kansas City team will get the TV. Submitted photo

The civic treasure sits on carpet in the finished basement of a house in Harrisonville. Our six-county area’s greatest television is a 55-inch Samsung LCD surrounded by three large pieces of wood crafted in a labor of love into a monument for this city’s best sports moment of the last 40 years.

It is a replica of the crown scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium, and it is amazing.

T.J. Jackson, who works in radio, built it with help from his dad. Nearly 8 feet tall, including the four points of the crown that he traced with the help of a schoolroom projector and finished off with two strands of white Christmas lights. He used an old photograph to nail all the details, right down to the line score and time of the Royals’ win over the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. Someone from the Royals saw the picture on Twitter and is sending a ball signed by Billy Butler.

Jackson now has something like a real dilemma. As much as he loves the Royals, he loves the Chiefs just the same. On Sunday at noon, one of his teams will be playing its first game of a hopeful new season at Arrowhead Stadium, and the other will be playing at New York in an increasingly gripping pennant race.

As fabulous as that television is, it does not have picture-in-picture. Parents like to say they love their children the same, but all across the Kansas City area on Sunday, fans like Jackson are going to have to pick a favorite. Or at least a favorite for a once-a-decade alignment of the barbecue gods in which the Royals and Chiefs are each worth the city’s full attention at the same time.

“I’m 35,” Jackson said. “Most of my adult life, (the Royals) haven’t been any good. So I want to stick with this, see this through to the end. It’s just the first Chiefs game.”

Not that Jackson won’t hedge his bet a little. He’ll flip over to the Chiefs between innings, and maybe glance at Twitter or a score app between pitches. Jackson’s conflict speaks for a lot of people in Kansas City.

As of Friday, a highly unscientific poll by The Star found sports fans in the area split nearly down the middle about their plans for Sunday. About two-thirds plan on watching one game and flipping to the other, with slightly more stationed on the Chiefs-Titans than Royals-Yankees. About one-third plan on sticking with only one game, again, with slightly more watching football. (Two percent of respondents either hate fun or have more important plans than watching sports. Maybe they are emergency room surgeons scheduled to work Sunday afternoon.)

TV ratings for the NFL always beat baseball, mostly because the NFL beats everything, and also because there are 162 regular-season baseball games and just 16 in football. But the Royals have been the top-rated prime-time TV show in Kansas City since the start of the season. August (with an 8.3 rating) was the team’s highest-rated month ever on Fox Sports Kansas City, and September (10.8 entering the weekend) is tracking to surpass that.

The most recent instance when the two teams played at the same time was last week, when the Royals played the Twins at home and the Chiefs played a preseason game at Green Bay. With the caveat that it was just a preseason game — and, as it turned out, a particularly wretched one for Kansas City — the Chiefs (13.7) beat the Royals (12.0), but barely.

Chiefs regular-season games drew a 42.9 rating last year, a fairly absurd number, and it’s very likely that many more Kansas Citians will watch football than baseball on Sunday.

But all across the city, sports bars are trying to figure out a way to accommodate everyone. Most will have televisions on both games, as well as other games around the NFL. Some have different “sound zones” for people to be engaged in whichever game they choose.

This is the entirely foreign, entirely euphoric state of Kansas City sports these days. One of the things that people in other parts of the country don’t understand, and that has become such an accepted way of fan life here, is that the Chiefs and Royals are never good at the same time.

Much of that, of course, is that the Royals have been mostly terrible for the past two decades. But there has been an apparent shift in cosmic energy at Truman Sports Complex, with only enough juice for one team to be good at a time. For most of the 1970s and 1980s, of course, it was the Royals. For most of the two decades since, it’s been the Chiefs.

The last time a Chiefs team was coming off a playoff season and the Royals were in a legitimate playoff race was 1987. In 1994, the Chiefs were coming off their last playoff win, but the baseball season ended in August with the strike and the Royals four games out of first place.

In 2003, the Royals smoke-and-mirrored their way into first place in late August, but that team was always a fairytale, fading into third place and seven games out by the end of the season. The Chiefs went 8-8 in 2002, and then 13-3 with the no-punts playoff loss in 2003.

In that way, you can make a case that this is the best time to cheer for both teams in a generation. It’s interesting, though obviously just a coincidence, that this comes at a time when the relationship between both teams appears fairly strong.

It hasn’t always been like that, you know, with petty jealousies and silly arrogance sometimes floating across the parking lot. But in recent years, the Royals moved their game from evening to early afternoon to accommodate the Chiefs moving from a Sunday afternoon to Monday night back in 2010 (the first regular-season game at Arrowhead after renovations).

Maybe that sounds like a simple thing, but the Royals didn’t have to do that — and, in fact, the Orioles refused to make a similar concession last year in Baltimore, forcing the Ravens to open their Super Bowl encore season on the road.

There are genuine friendships between some Royals and Chiefs players, perhaps most notably pitcher Luke Hochevar and punter Dustin Colquitt, who go back to college at Tennessee. Royals players have been invited to Chiefs practices in recent years. The Royals even flew a Chiefs flag outside Kauffman Stadium for Red Friday.

These are high times for our teams, however you look at it, and there is no better sign of that than the decision Kansas City sports fans have about how to spend Sunday afternoon. On Sept. 14, the Royals will play the Red Sox at 1:10 p.m., and the Chiefs and Broncos will kick off at 3:25. The same thing will happen on Sept. 21: The Royals play the Tigers at 1:10 p.m., and the Chiefs and Dolphins will kick off at 3:25.

So this weekend could be the only time this fall that the teams will completely overlap.

If you want to dream, the truly historic stuff would come late this month and into October. The Chiefs play host to the Patriots on Monday Night Football on Sept. 29, which would be the day of a potential one-game playoff. If the Royals make the playoffs, it would set up potential conflicts with Chiefs games at the 49ers (American League division series), at the Chargers (AL championship series) and against the Rams (gulp, World Series).

Speaking of potential conflicts, Jackson — our guy with the magnificent crown scoreboard television — has prepared himself for the ultimate. He posted the line score from Game 7 of the 1985 World Series in chalk.

That way, he can update it if the Royals win another championship.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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