Signing for a football memory

By Dennis Minich

Virtually every teacher to ever stand in front of a class has uttered that trite refrain, “There are no dumb questions.” And for equally as long, there has been some student who disproves that credo. There are similar examples in real life and here is a great example: how many people have asked you this week, “Are you going to watch the game Sunday?” Face it, virtually everyone living within a few-hundred-mile radius of Kansas City is going to watch the game.

I heard it reported that when the Chiefs were in the AFC Championship game two weeks ago, 94 percent of the televisions in Kansas City were tuned into the Chiefs game. The figure is likely to be higher Sunday.

The real question is, “Where are you going to watch the game?” Everyone has many options. Bars and restaurants are virtually all holding specials, there are public parties, like the one the Chamber of Commerce and the Love the Square organization are holding at the Beck Event Space. There will be many private parties in homes and, of course, everyone has the option of staying home.

A very fortunate few will go see the game in person in Miami, which is a good gig if you can get it.

I personally fantasize about watching the game from the press box. In the past, I spent many games perched in the press box at Arrowhead. Unfortunately, in nearly all of those years, the team was bad. But even in the worst of years, there were still highlights.

I think one of my fondest Chiefs memories, if not one of my fondest sports memories, occurred following a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the home finale of the 1977 season. In front of just more than 22,000 fans, the Chiefs lost their 11th game of the season and would lose another the next week, finishing a 2-12 year.

It was sadly a shame that so few attended the game, because it was the last home game in the career of Willie Lanier. The now hall-of-fame linebacker had played on some of the greatest teams in Chiefs history, but his final bow came on a real stinker of a team.

I was in the press box for that game. As a little background, things in the press box were much different back in the olden days. One of those things was the team had a clubroom in the back of the press area, which once the game concluded, was open with a full bar of adult beverages.

It was kind of a mingling area. Not only were media types in there, but there were also team executives, I assume sponsors and staff family members, so it was mostly a place to unwind following the game and sip some refreshments while whatever crowd may have been there made their way to the exits. Daily media were typically working on stories, so they missed much of the revelry, but folks like me who were not on a deadline were able to imbibe.

I remember going in following the game and my drink of choice was not overly manly. I think it was something sweet like a Collins of some sort. While sitting and talking to others, I managed to consume two or three or five or six drinks. I finally decided it was time to leave, so I took one for the road and headed for the elevator. Instead of it stopping at the street level, it went all the way down to the field level where the locker rooms were located. When the door opened, Lanier was standing there, dressed ready to go home. Before the doors had closed, he asked me what I was drinking. I told him and he asked for a sip. As I assumed, his sip was the whole thing. He said that tasted really good and maybe we should go up for another. Who was I to argue with Willie Lanier?  So, we went back to the press room party area and stepped up to the bar. He was greeted by everyone in the room, but he stayed by my side and we chatted for a few minutes, just two guys having a drink.

When it was time to go, we headed for the elevator together and this time it stopped on the street level. We walked out through the doors as I had many times before, but this time a hoard of autograph seekers converged, wanting Lanier to sign his name. I took a step aside and said goodbye, but instead of getting away, Lanier told the kids, “Wait, you’re going to want his autograph.” Suddenly I had my own line of autograph seekers. I really didn’t know what to do.

I dreamed of being a star athlete. I read about them, I studied them, I knew all about them. I had once seen Len Dawson’s autograph and had spent many hours imitating his penmanship and actually got to where I was pretty good at it. If you haven’t guessed, about 50 kids walked away that day with one of the finest Len Dawson autographs ever forged.

When I finally slipped away, I looked back and saw Lanier busting a gut laughing at my angst. Ironically, in all the hustle, I never asked him for an autograph, but it’s really OK, because I have a memory so amazing, I still laugh about it to this day.

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