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10:53 am
Tue November 26, 2013

A Fan's Notes: The Comforts of Home

There's nothing like watching the game after Thanksgiving dinner.
There's nothing like watching the game after Thanksgiving dinner.
Credit Nate Bolt / CC

We’ve heard the statistics: Over the next two days, some 44 million of us will pack ourselves into trains, planes, and automobiles for Thanksgiving—and perhaps a few more for Hanukkah. Nearly all of us will be headed home. Why? Because even in this age when “contact” is for lists, “touch” is for screens, and “FaceTime” is an app, it’s being at home, together with family, that still brings out the best, or at least, the most emotional, in all of us. Home is where the heart is.

Sports fans know the importance of home, too.

Sure, I’ve talked before about how being a sports fan transcends time and space, how it’s a connective fabric that gives you a sense of place no matter where you are. But, really, it’s better to be home.

Just ask Sporting KC. On Saturday, the team came from behind at home, finally beating recent nemesis Houston to win the conference for the first time since 2004—and will now host the MLS Cup Final in two weeks.

“To be at home helps us more than anything,” said Dom Dwyer, who scored the winning goal. “It’s motivating. We want to put on a good show for the fans.”

Filling home stands is the one way the fans are part of the game and not just its source of revenue.

It’s called home-field advantage for a reason, and it’s backed up by the numbers. Toby Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim, in their book Scorecasting, quantified just how big the home edge is in every pro and college sport. In Major League Soccer, the home team wins a whopping 69 percent of the time. In the NFL, it’s 57 percent.

And it is higher in Kansas City. Even counting their dreadful seasons of 2012, and 2009, and 2008, and 2007, the Chiefs have won about two-thirds of their home games since 1990, fifth-best in the league.

That’s why the Chief’s first season loss at home on Sunday felt like such a desecration. It wasn’t supposed to happen—certainly not the way it did, in a shoot-out. Sure, the offense looked alive, but injuries felled the team’s—and the league’s—two top pass rushers. And without Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, we have a problem. The combined 79 points were about twice as many as had been scored in any other contest at Arrowhead this season. It was a violation of the sacred acre this team had spent so many weeks re-consecrating. All 137.5 decibels of the loudest outdoor stadium in the world were, ultimately, silenced. In short, this wasn't the home we know.

It’s enough to make you downright sentimental.

But whoever said, “you can never go home again,” hasn’t checked the NFL schedule. As millions hit the road, the Chiefs, like Sporting KC, get to stay home for the holidays and for their biggest challenge yet. The Denver Broncos, probably a bit homesick after their turkey of a game at New England, are coming to our place for Thanksgiving weekend. And a win this Sunday, the fourth day of Hanukkah, will, for now, make everything kosher again. The Chiefs can still reclaim first place and take a step toward the playoffs and that all-important home-field advantage.

It won’t be easy, especially short-handed. But for sports fans, there’s no impulse like hope. And there’s no place like home.

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