Another NFL season kicked off last week, and the opening spectacle in Kansas City was most unprecedented, in more ways than one. Commentator Victor Wishna expounds on the situation in this month’s edition of “A Fan’s Notes.”
If all you knew about Sunday’s win at Arrowhead was the final score, you’d think the Kansas City Chiefs had done exactly what they were supposed to do. After all, the six-point margin was just a half-point off the Vegas line, and with four straight victories over San Diego, beating the Chargers had become routine.
Of course, it was anything but. Trailing by 17 with 12 minutes left, the Chiefs’ chances for victory stood at 0.1 percent, according to Pro Football Reference. When quarterback Alex Smith plunged into the end zone for a walk-off win in overtime, he completed the biggest come-from-behind triumph in franchise history.
“The comeback” is one of the greatest spectacles in sports, showcasing all the highs and lows and in-betweens—tension, despair, joy, relief—as hope is lost and then renewed and then realized. An unexpected epic, in one afternoon.
But here’s the thing: While it’s true that the team scoring first wins most of the time, comebacks aren’t all that uncommon in sports. “No lead is safe,” “down, but not out,” and “it ain’t over ’til it’s over” are all clichés for good reason.
From the 2014 Wild Card Game to last year’s World Series to the Chiefs’ record-setting streak to the playoffs, Kansas City fans already know that odds are just meant to be beat.
In baseball, teams come from behind to win roughly a third of the time. The fourth-quarter comeback is such the hallmark of a great QB because it happens more than you think. All-time rally champ Peyton Manning marched his team to late victory nearly once every five games. And a New York Times study of NCAA basketball matchups revealed that a team narrowly behind at halftime was more likely to win.
There are lessons in here about motivation, and effort, and the dangers of complacency.
But there’s also this: The rules of the game allow for the lagging challenger to have every fair shot to get back in it. And when there’s a level playing field—yes, literally and figuratively—a momentary disadvantage (like the score, or a penalty, or even an injury) is just that. Though human and imperfect, the system is still designed for everyone to have a chance.
On the NFL’s opening Sunday, the storyline was supposedly bigger than any game—it was the 15th anniversary of 9-11 and uncertainty reigned as to how some players might respond, not on the field but on the sideline, standing—or not—for the national anthem. At Arrowhead, Chiefs players and coaches linked arms as broadcasters read an official statement explaining their “respectful…solidarity” and also their intention “to be proactive when change is needed.” At the end of the chain, cornerback Marcus Peters silently raised a gloved fist.
What started weeks ago as a protest over racial inequality has evolved into a call to action, to open lines of communication and back community-building initiatives. It’s good that the league and its leaders—including Chiefs Coach Andy Reid—recognize this. “What the players are doing right now is important,” he said.
Fair play is a sacred ideal in sports. It’s also a promise—at least in theory, and the 14th amendment—on which our nation rests, and that our anthem supposedly represents. If not, then what exactly is it that so proudly we hail?
One way to honor those who fight for our rights is to exercise the right to fight, and correct, apparent injustice. Sometimes you need to rally…to make things the way they are supposed to be.
Victor Wishna is an editor, sports fan and writer and is a regular commentator on KCUR's Up To Date.