Arrowhead Stadium. The sun is setting. The parking lots are overflowing with fans, grills, games, and footballs. It did not take long for you to remember that this was no ordinary night. When you start seeing Waldo, Mario, Luigi, Hulk Hogan, & Snookie it registers pretty quickly that it’s Halloween and plenty of people are out in costume for this game. The published “no masks allowed” policy wasn’t going to hold up no matter how much they wanted it to at the gates. Once inside the first thing we got were those little white towels with a Chiefs logo. After being at this game I understand why teams do this. The camera shots simply look really cool when a packed house is wearing red and waiving white. Next we walked through the new Chiefs Hall of Fame area on the lower level. It’s a well executed area and is definitely worthy of your time if you get a chance to check it out. This night they were adding former Defensive Back Kevin Ross to the team Hall of Fame. Then it was time to hit our seats….
Once we got to our seats and began looking around you could start feeling the differences of this game from a normal Sunday afternoon game. There was already a buzz in the stands and there were already more people than normal in their seats this early. Then you take in all of the extra cameras and personnel that were on the sidelines to make this must see TV. Behind us and to the left we could look up and see Tirico, Gruden, & Jaws starting the broadcast. You also started to hear people mentioning names of former players that were there that they had just walked by. It was a genuine excitement building. The National Anthem was done well and was capped off with a nighttime flyover that added electricity to an already rowdy crowd. And we were just getting to the kickoff.
I got the feeling that there wouldn’t be much sitting and I was right. In fact this was a rare case where the crowd was on its feet for all of all 4 quarters and the overtime. By the end my legs were complaining, but I really wouldn’t have wanted to experience this any other way. The crowd was definitely the 12th man on this night. From the first drive you could tell that it wasn’t going to be an easy night for the Chargers to communicate. Every single time they lined up on offense the crowd was roaring. A couple of false start penalties early only fed the crowd. After forcing a punt the Chiefs started their opening drive. Only a few plays in Matt Cassel ended up scrambling for a first down while breaking 4 tackles. The place went nuts and he jumped up and showed that the players could also feel that this night wasn’t an ordinary game and they were already feeding off the crowd. At this point the game started settling in. The Chiefs were constantly predictable on early downs and left themselves too many 3rd and long situations. After coming up short, we settled for a 3-0 lead on a Succop field goal. Later on in the quarter the Chiefs showed a flash of explosion as Cassel went downfield to find rookie Jonathan Baldwin for a great touchdown catch. This was the first time the crowd flirted with being louder than a sonic boom. Unfortunately after this point things started getting stagnant on both sides. (Though kudos to Dwayne Bowe for being the biggest cheerleader. He was constantly imploring the crowd to make noise for the Defense).
At the half it was 13-3 Chiefs and the crowd was treated to many of the Chiefs Alumni being in the house. Some of the biggest ovations were given for Priest Holmes, Dante Hall, Len Dawson, Christian Okoye, and 2011 UFL Champion head coach Marty Schottenheimer. It was pretty neat to see. After the induction of Kevin Ross we actually had a couple of moments to sit down and think through the first half. There were definitely some oddities. I have never seen offensive pass interference called 3 times in a game, much less in a half. It had also been a while since one player seemed to be mentally overmatched, but San Diego’s Left Tackle definitely looked it. Early on it seemed like it was the crowd messing with him, but then it shifted to him just being jumpy because of having to go head to head with Tamba Hali over and over again. By the end of it all he would give up 7 penalties, 2 sacks, and a critical drive stopping forced fumble in overtime. Absolutely staggering.
The 3rd quarter was simply a quarter of ineptitude by the Chiefs offense and a quarter of bend but don’t break from the Chiefs defense. (Brandon Carr did most of the bending as it appeared he wanted the Chargers to get 20 yards per pass completion). The Chargers chopped the lead down to 1 on 3 more field goals. When it was 13-12 the buzz in the crowd grew but there was definitely a nervous element pervading it. In the 4th, the offense started to show some life again and clearly began wearing down the Chargers front line finally. Jackie Battle was finally able to pick up yards in chunks and the offense finally stopped trying to run 170 lb. Dexter McCluster between the tackles. As Jackie vaulted over the pile for a TD (tangent… he needs to protect the ball better when he does that. There is a defensive coordinator somewhere drooling at the opportunity to punch that out when he does it) the crowd breathed again for the first time in a quarter. But it was answered all too quickly by the Chargers with a TD and a 2-pt conversion that both had to go to replay to prove out. After more poor offense by the Chiefs, the Chargers began driving and eating clock. A gnawing feeling began growing in my stomach. After the Chiefs used their final time out and the Chargers were able to pick up a first down, I turned to one of my cohorts and said, “it will take a fluke or a miracle for us to be able to win”. There was no way that anything should stop them and there would be no time left. The crowd was still yelling (and our voices were feeling labored at this point) on every play, but there was definitely a feeling of impending doom. And then it happened. Maybe it was because it was Halloween. Maybe Phillip Rivers had done so much crying throughout the game (my favorite sign in the crowd was one calling him ‘Phillip “Cry me a” Rivers’) that his hands revolted. There really is no explanation. But here’s what it looked like from my seat at the opposite 20 yard line: The crowd was yelling a worried drone. There is the snap and then a pile started forming as only happens when there is a fumble. As improbable as it could be at that moment, the one thing the Chiefs needed looked like it was happening. The noise level began building and building. People were on their tiptoes. The officials were trying to pull people off as they continued to fight for the ball. And then, while the officials were still looking at the pile, the crowd sees as #96 Andy Studabaker (who by the way was the 5th or 6th person to jump into the pile…thus making it clear that he was RIPPING for that ball once he arrived late) emerges from the pile with the ball in his outstretched hand. This is when Arrowhead transformed. I feel confident that it crossed the 120 decibel mark in that moment. The noise had been building, and when he came out it was simply an explosion. The crowd (who were virtually all still at their seats despite the late hour) was jumping, screaming, & high five-ing anyone and everyone. The improbable hope became reality.
From that point the Chiefs tried to drive, but came up short and then the Chargers took a knee to send it to Overtime. During the coin flip both kickers were practicing on our side of the field and both of them missed kicks of 40-45 yards. This little nugget ended up influencing Todd Haley (he admitted later) on where he would want to be before trying a kick. The Chargers won the toss but were stymied courtesy of Tamba Hali. And once the Chiefs got the ball it was as though it was truly destined. The coaches FINALLY figured out that Dexter is a weapon if you get him the ball with space around him and used it on back to back plays to get things going. Then they got contributions from Battle, Keary Colbert, Jonathan Baldwin, Dwayne Bowe, and a HUGE 3rd down play from Steve Breaston. It was a fantastic drive and set up a 30 yard chip shot for Succop. And when that final kick went through it was euphoria. The crowd didn’t want to leave and neither did the players. Some of the defense even eschewed the no masks rule by emerging from mid-field with 6-8 of them in “Scream” masks to the delight of the crowd that they celebrated with. It was an incredible experience.
I can tell you this, if this was the first time a person had ever experience football, there isn’t a chance that they would become anything other than a football fan for life. It was an amazing Treat for Kansas City fans (and quite the cruel Trick for Charger fans).