The Road To Glory: Part XV

Kansas City Chiefs 27, Denver Broncos 24

Kansas City Chiefs/Andrew Mather

In 2022 the Chiefs have gone 5-0 against AFC West opponents, and won by margins of 3, 1, 3, 6, and 3. Five wins and a +16 point differential is about as slim as it gets, but why waste a bunch of time wondering how Kansas City have done it and instead focus on the fact that they have. Year after year they find a way to win these close games, and the rest of the division is stuck in the trap of believing if the ball had just bounced a little differently they could have come out on top.

It’s Tuesday morning and the Chiefs stand atop the AFC standings, in line for the number one seed with a win next week against the Las Vegas Raiders. No, it wasn’t because the Buffalo Bills lost to the Cincinnati Bengals — which was the only conceivable outcome that could have delivered such a scenario — but instead the unthinkable happened.

With 5:58 remaining in the first quarter of the biggest, most impactful Monday Night Football Game in recent memory, Bills safety Damar Hamlin made what appeared like an innocuous tackle on Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, got up for a couple seconds and fell straight backwards, collapsing on the field and requiring not only CPR to resuscitate him but an ambulance to rush him to the University of Cincinnati’s medical center.

Both teams came together in prayer and occupied the field for the better part of the next hour. Players were visibly sobbing and in shock, a natural response to a scene on a football field that none of them have experienced, and none of us, the viewers, have ever witnessed. In the midst of all the chaos word came down from the ESPN broadcast booth that the NFL were to give both teams five minutes to warm up and gather themselves before resuming play.

During that slight intermission Bengals coach Zac Taylor walked across the field to meet with Bills coach Sean McDermott, and after meeting with officials both teams exited the field to their locker rooms and by then it seemed fairly obvious that there would be no more football.

It took more than an hour for Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, to claim that “Frankly, the competitive aspect never crossed my mind, never crossed our mind internally,” but it is telling that it took so long and even more telling that one of the NFL’s biggest partners, ESPN, who pays billions of dollars annually to broadcast Monday Night Football, came out with the five-minute timeframe in the midst of one of the most tragic spectacles sports fans have ever seen.

It just begs so many questions. As I said, why would ESPN make up the artificial and arbitrary five-minute figure out of thin air? Why, in all the time between the point when Joe Buck said that and all the time ESPN spent in studio talking about the “temporary suspension” of the game did one of the producers not step in and rectify the situation? Why did the NFL not go to Twitter or ESPN — during a live broadcast, mind you — to clarify that they in no way implemented a five minute warmup period? Why was Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs seen on the sidelines rallying his fellow teammates to get their minds right before continuing the game? Why, after all of this, was it necessary for Zac Taylor to walk across the field and have a conversation with Sean McDermott?

These are just questions, of course. I am the furthest thing from a conspiracy theorist, but to me it seems fairly obvious from my bird’s eye view that the NFL just assumed a player went down and the rest of the guys on the field would want to continue. And when it became clear that the player’s cared more about the safety and well-being of one of their brothers — a fairly natural human response, if you were to ask someone like me — the NFL backtracked and played the public relations game that major corporations do and pretended like they cared about the player’s safety, too. That they cared more about a backup player, a sixth round pick from 2021, than they did the tens of millions of eyeballs that were watching the biggest Monday Night Football game of at least the last three years.

If you are reading this and know anything about me then you know I am calling bullshit, but that’s to be expected. I love the NFL and consuming football in virtually every capacity imaginable, but I’m also the dude who calls out the NFL every chance I get. I wrote multiple articles about concussions and CTE. I wrote about their problem with Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter. I willingly opt in to a business that is beyond brutal. It’s one of the clearest forms of capitalism and anti-labor practices in the world. And I love it because the product on the field is better than any other.

But never forget that there is a good chance, perhaps as high as an absolute fact, that in the middle of a drama unfolding in realtime when a player was possibly dead on the football field, the NFL’s response was to give both the Bills and Bengals five minutes to gather themselves and warm up to continue playing a game. Five minutes. Don’t ever forget that. I never will. But I’m also not sure if I would have expected anything different.

What I think actually happened is that the players were given an ultimatum to keep playing and they gave the NFL the middle finger. And the NFL had no arrows left in their arsenal to sling; they had no leverage in the matter. So they caved to the wants and needs of the football players. And then they came out some hour-plus later to issue a statement saying they never implemented a five-minute window, knowing in retrospect how bad of a look it gave them.

But that’s just my opinion. I can’t verify it. I just think it makes sense. Knowing how bad the NFL has always been at dealing with issues such as domestic violence (which is still a problem), concussions and CTE (which are still problems), players protesting police brutality (which is still a problem in America), and everything else, I don’t know why anyone would take their word for anything. Ever. They might as well be Amazon, or TESLA. They are run by some of the wealthiest men in the world, people who lack empathy and couldn’t give a single shit about any of you or any of the members of their own football teams. We are all numbers. We are cogs in the wheel without any purpose other than filling their pockets with even more money than any of us could conceive of.

It’s a shame I’m writing about this in lieu of the Chiefs being 13-3, or of the magnitude of a potentially 13-3 Bills team, or of the potential of the Bills and Bengals both being 12-4. I should not be talking about insane practices of a multi-billion dollar business while I am writing for pleasure about my favorite football team.

I take no pleasure in this. I love football, but I hate the NFL. I love Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, yet I have nothing but disdain for the cudgel of billionaires who write the checks.

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