by Kevin Burton
This was all set. I had this story written in my head by the second quarter. Maybe Kansas City did too?
By now you know my Bengals shocked Kansas City 27-24 in overtime to win the AFC Championship game and go to the Super Bowl. That means my team is in the big game at least two years before I thought it possible.
Just a little background. I jumped off the Cleveland Browns fanwagon two years ago because they drafted Baker Mayfield, an overrated quarterback and a serial jerk. While looking for a place to land my fandom it boiled down to Kansas City, the closest team to me geographically and Cincinnati, my first team way, way back when.
Cincinnati and Kansas City have largely been my sports focus since my parents’ divorce in the early 70s. Dad lived in Ohio, Mom in Kansas.
I was one Chris Chambliss home run away from having a Reds-Royals world series in 1976. Cincy and KC are also linked as the former home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. That team began as the Cincinnati Royals, moved to KC and became the Kansas City Kings (then improbably the Kansas City-Omaha Kings) before moving to California and deep, deep witness-protection-like obscurity.
Jumping on Kansas City seemed more than a little weak to me. They make the Super Bowl and I suddenly switch to them? I am more of an underdog guy anyway. Cincinnati felt better, even when they won only four games last year.
But the Chiefs are always going to be a secondary team for me. Most of my family roots for them. They are on every week here and what’s not to like?
So there I was Sunday, my two favorite AFC teams playing for a trip to the Super Bowl. It was like having two sons playing some big contest. The older, bigger, more experienced son was always going to win the game right? The biggest part of me wanted the younger son to win. But in my mind I had already fast forwarded to the game in two weeks when the older son, Kansas City, would play for it all.
Cincinnati, the younger son, had done great work already, far exceeding expectations by winning two playoff games. Getting to this point was great and the team had nothing but great things to expect in the future.
And when the Chiefs roared to a 21-3 lead, not being stopped or even slowed down on any of their first three drives, they had effectively smacked little brother down. I started writing this post in my mind.
And then, what? Did KC let down mentally?
Cincinnati scored a late touchdown in the second quarter to make it 21-10 and to serve notice that they were not quitting. Kansas City then had more than a minute, which as we now know is five or six times as much time as they need, to score before halftime. When they not only didn’t score a touchdown but didn’t even get a field goal attempt, they left Cincinnati mathematically and emotionally in the ballgame.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow would later call that the turning point of the game. In fact the Bengals have gotten this far because they have taken the field goal opportunities presented them in all three games and have not arrogantly tried for touchdowns on fourth down when drives stalled.
KC then played a flat second half. That wasn’t fatal because they had the superior talent. But late in the third quarter, KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes was intercepted when a pass was tipped and intercepted by defensive lineman B.J. Hill. That was the script-flipping swing that really brought the Bengals back into the game.
There is a joke at our house where Jeannette and I carefully “analyse” a game then conclude that “turnovers will be the key.” Turnovers are the key in every game. Cincinnati won and KC lost because of turnovers.
Surely you’ve read the game details elsewhere by now.
But when the game began to tip seriously in Cincinnati’s favor I got a weird feeling inside, pointing back to the two sons analogy. The younger son was now usurping the birthright of the older. And it began to hit me how crushing that would be for KC.
The worst was seeing Travis Kelce after KC’s loss. I was a big fan of Kelce even before he single-handedly delivered our fantasy team to the playoffs by scoring 41 points in a week 15 overtime win against the Chargers.. Sunday Kelce broke the NFL record for most post-season receptions by a tight end.
So all love to Kelce, but even more to the Super Bengals. Little brother has a place in the big game.