Winston doesn't understand KC fans yet
OCT 08, 2012 8:00p ET
Roll the tape. Were the fans at Arrowhead Stadium cheering louder when it became clear that quarterback Matt Cassel had gotten hurt? Or was it when backup Brady Quinn entered the game?
Eric Winston knows what he heard. Knows what he felt. And when offered a chance Monday to reconsider -- or even recant -- his widely-circulated Sunday rant ripping Kansas City fans, the Chiefs' right tackle stood his ground.
"I get the (love for) the backup quarterback," Winston said. "But to me, and everyone I've talked to, there was a pretty clear differentiation in there. And I saw it and felt it and I know a lot of those guys in the locker room felt it, too. And Brady didn't come on the field until after Matt was off the field, so I think that's pretty clear."
Back, and to the left.
Back, and to the left.
"Looking back on it, I'm happy with what I said," Winston continued. "I guess the only thing I didn't clarify when I was saying it (was), I didn't mean, I guess, all 70,000 were cheering.
"You know, it might've been 7,000. Might've been 700. Still too many."
Fair enough. It's a free country, and Winston has every bit as much of a right to shred the locals as the locals do to boo his backside.
"I had to learn that as a kid growing up," he said. "You're never going to make everyone happy."
So maybe Winston won't get the key to the city of Overland Park. Fine. Dude calls it like he sees it. The former Houston Texan is one of the designated lightning rods in a locker room that's generally pretty reserved after wins and an absolute morgue after losses. Plus, hey, we like candor. As a general rule, the Chiefs aren't much on candor. Candor is new. Winston is new.
And as such, you can't help but think he misunderstood what was happening Sunday. Not the what -- the "what" was wrong, there's no excuse, no defense, for cheering a man getting drilled into the turf by Haloti Ngata. No, what Winston didn't get was the why.
The easy narrative -- especially on a national level -- is to lump Sunday in with the fans at Kauffman Stadium who booed Robinson Cano at the Home Run Derby, that Kansas City is somehow Philly West, a bunch of mouth-breathing, rib-chomping savages without a soul or a clue.
And that's wrong. They're not cruel. They're not callous. They're not sadists.
What they are is frustrated as hell.
The Chiefs have made the playoffs three times in 14 years and registered exactly zero postseason wins since 1994. The franchise has won just 14 of its last 43 home games. There were banners flying over the stadium before Sunday's tilt calling for general manager Scott Pioli to be fired and for Cassel to be benched. Combine that with the generation of angst built up over the Royals, and you have a community, collectively, that's been sitting at the tipping point for a while now.
Which brings us to Sunday. The 7,000 -- or 700 -- cheering when they saw Cassel laying on the turf probably weren't screaming because they wished to see the man in physical pain. They were cheering because they wanted to see him out of the game. Or rather, they were cheering because someone else was going to be playing quarterback.
They were cheering because they were finally going to be sated, and they knew someone, or something, had finally forced coach Romeo Crennel to make a change that he'd seemed unwilling to do of his own volition.
Did they want to see it happen the way it happened? No. Were they thrilled? Yes. At the fact that it meant someone else was under center. They were cheering the football gods finally tossing them a bone, an excuse to release weeks of frustration. It's not fair to take out your disgust with Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt or Pioli -- all deserved -- out on Cassel, but there he was. And out it came.
It's a nuanced thing, and nuance doesn't play well in the heat of the moment. Nor in a tense locker room of a 1-4 football team that's staring into packs of waving microphones and probing questions.
"Oh yeah, I sense a great amount of frustration," Winston said. "Texas is a football state. Kansas City is a football city, without a doubt. And they are passionate. And you can tell that because (of) how frustrated they are. And listen, I think Ryan Lilja said (it): We're the most frustrated. We felt like this was going in a much different direction than it has the first five games. We've got two-thirds -- a little over two-thirds of the season to go to try and right the ship.
"At the same time, I'm not going to go down that path and try to minimize what happened by saying it was, you know, oh, frustration, or, 'They're playing bad, so it's OK.' I think there's a pretty clear line of what's OK and what's not OK."
He's right: In principle, it's not OK. At all. But the joy wasn't in seeing Cassel hurt, or lame, or concussed, or to see his life shortened in any way. They wanted to see him out of the ballgame, away from a position of control, away from a position of authority within a community heirloom they hold dear to their hearts and their wallets. Especially their wallets. They wanted change, and they cheered that it was finally happening. It wasn't personal.
Which raises another point. Kansas City is a pro city with pro sports and big-time culture and and big-time restaurants and big-time traffic and all the other trappings that come with being a major metro. But, at the core, really, it's a big town with a small-town heart. A gentle giant.
It doesn't just want to like its super-star athletes; it wants to love them. It wants to keep them around forever, like extended family. It wants to have them over to dinner, babysit their kids, pick up their lunch tabs. Kansas City watched Len Dawson torch AFL defenses on Sundays, then let him into their homes as a local sports anchor for decades after that. George Brett and Bobby Bell weren't from here, but they played here and, after their careers were done, stayed here. They called it home.
A Chiefs fan went on one of the metro's talk-radio stations early Monday afternoon and made a very reasoned, very telling statement. In so many words, he said, as one of the diehards, he wants to like this Chiefs team -- but he doesn't.
He feels he doesn't know them, that he can't trust them. That he simply can't invest in them emotionally, let alone financially. Folks on either coast can laugh at such sentiments as hokey, Hooterville stuff -- these are pro athletes, after all, mercenaries and entertainers by nature -- but that hokey, Hooterville stuff has real currency in these parts.
For decades, the Chiefs gave the impression of being a mom-and-pop, family organization in a family town. When Pioli came over from New England, installing The Patriot Way, cutting off access, distancing himself, his staff and his coaches from the community and the press, it resonated.
When you're 12-4, an iron hand can be overlooked, even embraced. When you're 1-4, there's going to be fallout, most of it unpleasant. There's going to be moments like Sunday. More banners. More sound bites. More cringing.
Back, and to the left.
Back, and to the left.
"Kansas City has passionate fans; we all know that when we first stepped in town," tight end Tony Moeaki observed. "They're passionate fans, and we understand that. They want to win. So do we. And so we know how passionate they are."
Winston doesn't quite get that passion. Not yet. Not really. He doesn't understand the why. Don't worry. He will soon enough.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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