The best part is the anticipation.
It’s not what we remember, of course. The anticipation often turns into disappointment, and if it doesn’t, it’s washed away by some incredible moment, like Sal Perez somehow pulling that ball down the left-field line, or Lorenzo Cain making another diving catch, or, well, I can’t think of a Chiefs moment right now.
But, anyway, the anticipation is always there. You can feel it. I love my job, and I need you to know that, because what I’m about to say could be taken the wrong way. But there are times when being a sports writer feels awkward. You are detached. You are in the press box trying to think clearly and make sure you have something to write, rather than in the stands with an empty beer cup on the ground trying to make sure you remember the feeling.
But the anticipation, that’s there for all of us. It’s the one moment I think all of us — fans, media, fans of the other team, coaches, players, vendors and ushers – are feeling the same thing.
I’ve been lucky to be at a lot of amazing events. Super Bowls. World Series. Final Fours. Usain Bolt at the Olympics. And the more I do it, the more I look forward to that few minutes before anything happens, when the athletes are ready and everyone is at their seat, standing up, that constant, hopeful buzz filling the air. In that moment, anything is possible. This might be a game you remember the rest of your life.
I don’t know if you have to be a sports fan to appreciate it or not, but it is thousands and thousands of people gathered for a common experience, ready to open a vein in the process, and I swear sometimes you can feel that anticipation.
The best events have that. It’s why you can look around in the seconds before an NCAA basketball championship game and see players silently praying. Or in big football games, you see that moment when the coaches have nothing left to say. In London, when Bolt and the fastest men in the world got in the blocks, the only noise in a stadium filled with 80,000 people was a helicopter buzzing overhead. Last year, before the Wild Card game at Kauffman Stadium, James Shields could feel the ground shake beneath his feet.
Kansas City is going to have that moment again this week. Twice. I can’t wait. I think that moment is why a lot of us love sports.
This week’s eating recommendation is the Hook ‘Em at M&M Bakery and Deli, and the reading recommendation is Sherry Turkle on what we’re losing by having so much information available through our phones. I’m trying to get better at this. My wife would almost certainly tell you I stink at it.
… and, as always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.
We’ve probably talked too much about home-field advantage already and, actually, strike that. We’ve definitely talked too much about home-field advantage. I don’t want to get into all the reasons it’s not that big of a deal again, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that the Blue Jays basically gave up on trying the last day of the season and that both the Royals and Blue Jays put out lineups that made it very clear how important they thought the whole thing was.
Put it this way. After the Royals clinched the division, they went through cases and cases of champagne and beer. After they clinched home-field advantage, they played chess. That’s not a joke. Literally, a few of them were playing chess in the clubhouse after. It would’ve been a perfectly appropriate place to study for that Western Civ midterm.
The Chiefs’ offensive line is, at the moment, mostly terrible. But the problem is being compounded by Alex Smith holding onto the ball too long, creating a conspiracy of circumstances that are making Smith an easier target than Matt Williams.
Using Pro Football Focus’ numbers, the Chiefs have given up 14 sacks. Next worse is San Diego, with nine, going into Monday night.
One interesting bit of those numbers, just to reinforce the point about Smith being part of the problem … the Chiefs’ line is 25th in pass blocking efficiency. That’s terrible, obviously, but better than seven teams. Those seven teams have given up nine, eight, seven, seven, seven, five and five sacks. You will notice that each of those numbers is significantly less than 14. Nobody takes more sacks with adequate protection than Smith.
There’s enough blame to go around. Andy Reid, Bob Sutton, the offensive line, most of the defense, Jamaal Charles for that fumble, or Cairo Santos for not kicking 13 field goals the other day. Smith was waaaaaaaaay terrible against the Packers, and better against the Bengals, but some of the problems with the offensive line are on him, too.
So, now the happy players are with the Bears. Jared Allen is probably bummed he got traded. He could’ve done that lasso thing at his old stadium.
This is one of things that you have to decide for yourself, and one of those times where I say nobody can tell you how to be a fan. I know there are many people thrilled that the Royals are good again, and many who feel like they deserve something more than a pennant after 30 years.
Me, I think the Royals just completed their greatest regular season since 1980. I think that puts them in pretty amazing company, because think of how we all view the guys on that team now — George Brett, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, Dennis Leonard, Paul Splittorff, Lary Gura, Dan Quisenberry, on and on.
I know it’s about more than 1980* but I do think a lot of the guys on the team now will be remembered similarly. This is the group that brought baseball back to Kansas City, which means that as time goes on and we all get older that accomplishment is going to stick.
* Most of those guys were on the 1977 team, widely considered the best in franchise history, and most of them were on the 1985 team, the only world champion in franchise history.
So, I don’t know, like I said, you have to decide this for yourself. But for me, baseball’s playoffs are such a lottery, unless the Royals embarrass themselves — unless there’s a Bill Buckner moment — I can’t see judging this season as a failure.
They won 95 games. Won the division. Best record in the league. More people bought tickets to watch in person, and planned their days around watching on TV, than ever before. They backed up a playoff run with a dominating 162. They proved that last year was no fluke which, whether people want to admit it now or not, was a real fear among many fans. I just can’t see how that turns into a failure.
But I do think this, and this is part of what I wrote the other day: their greatest accomplishment is playing so well that they will be devastated if they don’t now win the World Series.
So, can we pump the breaks here a little bit?
The Chiefs have played like dogs. There isn’t much to like at the moment. They have blown a game, they have been blown out, and they have been overwhelmed. They have not, to be fair, given much indication that they are good enough for the playoffs, and certainly not much evidence that they’re a threat in the division.
But, I don’t know, are we really giving up on the season? Their defense is not as bad as it has appeared. They’re giving up 4.0 yards per carry now after 4.7 last year. The pass defense has been shredded, but they’ve also played a quarter of their games against Aaron Rodgers, and all but one of them without their best cornerback.
They are around a 9 1/2 -point favorite against the Bears this week. After that, they play the Vikings*, the Steelers** and Lions***.
* 2-2, and giving up 4.7 yards per rush.
** At home, and without Ben Roethlisberger.
*** They got hosed last night, but still, they’re 0-4 with way more problems than the Chiefs.
You telling me it’s impossible they go into the bye week 5-3?
They’re not this bad. Smith has a low enough ceiling that it is infuriating when he has turd games, but he has a track record that shows he’s usually a solid quarterback. There are enough stars around him, and Andy Reid — I’m going to duck after I say this, but it’s true — is too good of a coach for this to continue.
The whole thing is smelling very 8-8 to me. That stinks, because 8-8 means you’re not going anywhere, not building, not nothing. But it’s also competitive, and enough that in the offseason we all might convince ourselves that the right moves fixed the offensive line and this, finally, will be the year.
We’ve seen dumpster fires, in other words. This is not that.
That’s not nice.
Maybe I’m stubborn, but I want to see the defense struggle a few more weeks before I think they’re this bad. I just don’t believe it.
I tweeted the stat about them giving up more points in EACH of their last three games than ANY game from last year, which is horrific, but they are giving up fewer rushing yards and they have been without their best cornerback against some good teams.
I wouldn’t defend anything they’ve done so far, and I can only make guesses about what’s different, beyond Sean Smith. I think three quarterbacks in a row have done a very good job of picking on specific cornerbacks. I think two offensive coordinators in a row have done a terrific job of exploiting some weaknesses, and calling the right protections, and generally doing everything football people do.
If the Chiefs are, like, 2-6 or even 3-5 going into their bye we can probably shut the door. But it’s still early, and there are still good players on that team.
Honestly, I’m not sure any. Ned’s 3 might be the best bet, just because the first manager who won the World Series is up there, but it involves a lot more. Those other numbers are for a top-tier Hall of Famer, and an eight-time Gold Glove winner born and raised in Kansas City and the crowning achievement of the Royals Academy. That’s a pretty big standard.
I do think there will be a rush of team Hall of Famers, similar to the guys of the late 70s and 1980s. All those guys you mentioned have a chance. Alex Gordon, to me, could not play another game for the Royals — actually, there’s a good chance he won’t play another regular season game for the Royals — and still be a lock for the team Hall. Yordano Ventura will get some years in. Mike Moustakas has a chance. Wade Davis. Greg Holland. Escobar, maybe. Johnny Giavotella. I’m kidding about one of these.
But those numbers on the Hall of Fame, to me, that should be a very, very high standard. There’s a difference between a retired number and a plaque.
So, here’s a question we were kicking around at the office today: if Aaron Rodgers could start at quarterback and had a full week of practice, could Kansas beat Baylor this weekend?
Andy said yes. He thought Rodgers would pick apart Baylor’s defense, control the clock, and not get killed behind that offensive line, though it’s worth noting he does not know Shawn Oakman exists.
Me, I think Andy is nuts. Rodgers can’t play defense, for starters, so even if he made KU’s offense great they’d still be giving up touchdown after touchdown. Plus, the 10 dudes around him on offense would still be worse than the guys they’re going against.
Actually, I know Andy is nuts. Because this is the kind of person I am, I spent much of last night —cliche alert, dammit — eating wings and debating this question with a friend. I think we settled on needing, like, five All-Pros. Maybe six. I’d want Rodgers, J.J. Watt, a d-tackle (Aaron Donald?) and two corners, maybe Chris Harris and Richard Sherman. He wanted to take a center and left tackle to protect Rodgers, and a d-tackle and I think he settled on two corners.
My theory is that Rodgers can be smart and good enough to keep the pass rush back, but I could be talked into trading out some defense for a lineman or two. Maybe get someone like Anthony Sherman to just stand back there and be a bodyguard.
But I would legitimately pay $100 to watch this on pay-per-view.
I want the Yankees, but that has more to do with the idea of going to one of the world’s greatest cities instead of Houston, and also because it’s more interesting when the Yankees are involved rather than the Astros.
But, I also think it’s the better matchup for the Royals. They’d be favored in either series, but the Astros are young, they have energy, I love Carlos Correa and George Springer, they have some guys who can hit it out of the ballpark, and they have some very good starting pitchers — though Scott Kazmir is leaking oil lately.
The Yankees are old. Their best hitter, Mark Teixeira, is hurt. Their second best hitter, Alex Rodriguez, can’t hit power pitching. CC Sabathia just checked into rehab. Luis Severino just got his drivers license. Masahiro Tanaka will have to pitch the Wild Card Game, so you’d only face him once*.
* Dallas Keuchel is pitching for Houston, and on three days’ rest, so it’s the same for Houston.
Both teams are fully capable of beating the Royals. Both teams would need some breaks to do that. The Yankees — who are also bad defensively — would need more.
So, I was in Minneapolis this weekend, so I wasn’t at the Royal, but most of what I heard was negative. I’m sure some of this is just the natural reaction to change, and there’s no question that the event loses a bit of character moving out of the West Bottoms. But it’s hard to imagine the traffic being worse at the stadiums than at Kemper.
There was more to it than this, but in general I like the event being in a place where more people can access it. There is no way it’s ever going to be easy getting in and out. Not with that many people, and there’s also the issue that with a game, 95 percent of the traffic is moving the same direction — in or out — at the same time. At the Royal, it’s more of a mix, making the logistics more difficult.
I also have a theory about Kansas City. One of the great things about living here is the convenience. It is absurdly convenient. My wife moved here from Chicago about five or six years ago, and it still amazes her. You are more likely to park within 20 yards of your destination than you are more than a block away. Traffic is a breeze, lines are rare, everything is very easy.
That’s great, of course, but it also means we have a very low tolerance for inconvenience. You see this every year at the Sprint Center with the Big 12 basketball tournament, and when the Plaza Art Fair has enough people that you have to park a few blocks away. When I wrote that MLB should allow Arrowhead Stadium to open up for Royals watch parties, the ONLY complaint I heard was that it would crowd the parking lot (even though it would be fewer people than a Chiefs game).
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m sure traffic was backed up for the Royal. But inconvenience is such a foreign feeling here, it’s like people in San Diego complaining when the temperature hits 80.
My wife is not only thoughtful, hilarious, caring, rock-solid, smart and smoking hot, she’s also humble. Or maybe she just thought it was stupid.
Pirates over the Royals, because you asked.
I think the Royals are the best team in the American League. I think the Blue Jays’ bullpen is suspect, and I don’t like their rotation behind Price. I think the Yankees are too old, the Astros don’t have enough pitching behind Keuchel, and the Rangers aren’t real.
In the National League, I don’t think the Mets or Cardinals have enough offense, I don’t like the Dodgers’ history in the playoffs, and I don’t think the Cubs have enough pitching after Arrieta.
But, more than anything else, I think I’m making wild guesses on all of this, could make a good case for every team in the tournament to win it all*, and feel 99.9 percent certain that my prediction will be wrong in some way.
* Except for the Yankees. Seriously, I really don’t like the Yankees in this postseason.