Life lessons learned on the gridiron

By Dennis Minich

Like most everyone else in these parts, I was glued to the television Sunday watching and hoping the Kansas City Chiefs would win the conference and be headed to the Super Bowl. Unlike most younger fans, there are a group of us around who do remember when the Chiefs won the big game 50 years ago and three years prior to that when they played in the title game, even though it was not then titled Super Bowl.

In my younger days, football was ingrained in life. Everyone watched football, played football, talked football. But through the years and you have to remember, 50 years is a long time, some of the bloom came off the rose for me. Granted there are teams out there that have never been to a Super Bowl and even more who have never won one, but the wait did not titillate me, it more facilitated a cynicism about all things Chiefs.

When I was in college, some friends who had never been to a game wanted to go. My roommate aptly pointed out, “Some people sit and hit themselves with a hammer, others go to Chiefs’ games.”

I don’t go to games anymore. But there was a time I was there weekly. I remember one game, with my brother at the old stadium, where the temperature was -6 with a windchill of about 25 below zero. It is on days like that, you really learn to dread how long television timeouts take.

Through the years at Municipal Stadium and the early days at Arrowhead, I spent a lot of time watching the locals. Somewhere along the way, my enthusiasm waned, even as the excitement in the city grew. I had been teased with winning too many times and was not going to be fooled again.

The giant monkey came off the team’s back this week, and now it’s fun to anticipate what may lie in the very near future.

I have several Chiefs’ stories, many of which I have never shared. I thought it might be fun over the next couple weeks to tell a few.

The first came when I was in seventh grade. I was the center on my junior high football team. Seemingly from day one, my coaches yelled at me daily that it was my responsibility to take out the middle linebacker. I didn’t know much else, but I knew regardless of the play, my job was to take to take out the middle linebacker.

One day during practice, a giant of a man came limping down the hill toward our practice field. When he got close, we could see it was E.J. Holub, who was once a Chiefs’ linebacker, but was then the team’s center. He was friends with our coach and he came by to give us a motivational talk.

He asked, “Who is the center?” I raised my hand. He then asked, “What is your primary responsibility?” I replied, “To take out the middle linebacker.” One of my teammates said, “To snap the ball,” which was indeed the correct answer. I still cringe at that.

For fun, he then decided to line up against us like a defensive lineman. We went to the line to run our play and he lined up straight over me like a nose tackle. I was so excited, it was my chance to show a Kansas City Chiefs player what I could do. The quarterback barked signals and, at the appropriate moment, I hiked the ball and drove full force into the mammoth man across the line. Unfortunately, in my eagerness to start the block, I forgot to get the ball clearly into the quarterback’s hands and so while I blocked, he dove for the fumble.

In the two encounters I successfully demonstrated, I couldn’t remember my primary duty and when given the chance, couldn’t perform it either. And I had trouble figuring out how I was demoted to a lower level team the following year. As the year went on, I did a better job of snapping the ball, but it should be noted that 50-some years later, I still remember my primary job was to take out the middle linebacker.

One final note on E.J. Holub. While watching the game Sunday, I was looking online at some famous sports quotes. One was from Holub. During his career he had 12 knee operations. When asked, he said,

“My knees look like I got in a knife fight with a midget.”

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