The past weekend was cold and windy and slightly snowy here in Wichita, with plenty of state and national and international and personal problems for everyone to worry about in the upcoming week, but it worked out well for the local sports fans. In the grand scheme of things it’s not very important that the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team both won big games, but at this time of year in this part of the world one relishes whatever good news comes along.
Our beloved ‘Shockers blew a nine-point lead in the final minute of regulation on the road against the University of Connecticut Huskies, but hung on over two hard fought overtimes to escape with an 89 to 86 win. The victory runs their season record to 15-1, one of the six best in the country and second only to the Auburn Tigers’ and San Diego State Aztecs’ thus-far unblemished records, and after a home win earlier in the week against the University of Memphis’ then-22nd-ranked Tigers the ‘Shocks are alone atop the tough American Athletic Conference’s standings and will likely be in both of the top 20 polls today.
More than 50 years of rooting for the ‘Shockers have taught us to not be too hopeful, but we can’t shake a feeling that our boys are pretty darned good this year, maybe good enough for a couple of wins in the March tournament. They’re a very young team with one senior and six freshmen and four sophomores, and most observers expected them to be pretty darned good next year, but they’re already there, which has us looking forward to next year.
Wichita’s greatest sports passion is hoops, but folks also take their football seriously around here. The only college football in town is played by the Quaker-affiliated Friends University in the most tiny-school division, so local college fans are divided between the University of Kansas’ mostly hapless program and Kansas State University’s more respectable team and the perennial powers at the equidistant University of Oklahoma, but most of the football fans root for the nearest National Football League franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs. We’ve mostly given on watching football, what with the prolonged pauses for video reviews and the wife-beating and the head injuries and all, but we’re Wichitans and can’t shake a lifelong habit of rooting for the Chiefs when we check the scores.
We’re old enough to remember when the Chiefs won the IVth Super Bowl, way back in ’70, when star quarterback Len Dawson was smoking cigarettes in the locker room at halftime, and how happy everybody seemed about that. Our parents hosted a Super Bowl party for the neighbors, which was before that became a thing, the kids scrimmaged in the backyard afterwards despite the cold, and we’ve always wanted to enjoy that feeling again. Over the subsequent years the Chiefs have some great offenses and great defenses, but rarely at the same time, and every season has ended in a heartbreaking loss. The past few years the Chiefs have been pretty darned good, though, and this year they’re one win away from a shot at another Super Bowl title.
The Chiefs embarrassed themselves in the first quarter of their game against the Houston Texans, falling behind by three touchdowns, but we missed that and didn’t tune in until the second half when they finished off a 51-to-31 romp, so they looked good to us. The Tennessee Titans also scored a big upset win against the odds-on Super Bowl favorite Baltimore Ravens, which means that Kansas City and its superstar and non-smoking quarterback will be playing in famously loud Arrowhead Stadium as the odds-on favorite. Which means one can hold out realistic hope.
Which is no big deal, as we said before, but it seems to lighten the mood and bring people together around here. For reasons we cannot explain the Chiefs have a large following among Wichita’s lesbians, and all the ones on our block in the fashionable Riverside are flying Chiefs flags cheering loudly enough for us to hear them whenever the Chiefs score. If you find yourself standing in a long line at a bank or grocery store it’s something safe to talk about, even a sort of superficial bonding, and everyone’s a little cheerier despite the massive layoffs at the big aerospace factory in the south part of town because somebody at Boeing screwed up the 737 Max airliner.
We’ve lost enough games over the years to empathize with those fans in Memphis and Baltimore and Hartford and Houston, who surely have their weather and other problems to cope with, but we hope they’re brought closer together in commiseration, as always happens here in Wichita. As silly and pointless and head-injury-inducing as it might seem, sports has socially redeeming qualities.
— Bud Norman