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Chiefs Petition a Protest From the Heart

Nov 5, 2009 – 5:00 PM
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Dan Graziano

Dan Graziano %BloggerTitle%

Chiefs fanThe Chiefs fans who want Larry Johnson off their team aren't your typical angry fans, lashing out over something as unpleasantly common as another losing season. The online petition they started, which was barreling toward 20,000 signatures Thursday afternoon amid a surprising run of national publicity, says nothing about wanting a coach fired or demanding that an owner sell. It is a petition from the heart, whose roots lie not in anger over the team's record or current stretch of on-field futility, but rather in a deep and abiding love of the team and its history.

"People in Kansas City, we don't mind losing," Dan Cataldi said. "We get used to it, actually. But it just gets frustrating when we don't like the team. That's what we can't stand."

Hence, this petition, which is addressed to new Chiefs GM Scott Pioli and makes the simple plea to remove Johnson from the field and/or the team before he collects 80 more yards and surpasses Priest Holmes as the team's all time leading rusher.

"Priest was one of the good guys in the NFL, and we were proud and happy to have him as a Chief," said Andy Phelan, another of the petition's founders. "We have a unique relationship with our players in Kansas City. They're a part of our community. It's not like it is in bigger cities. There's an intimacy there that we really kind of cherish, being Kansas Citians, and what Larry's done over the past few years has really been a slap in the face."

Johnson's rap sheet from prior years includes assault charges, suspensions from the team and the occasional public comment that's made it clear he doesn't have much use for that "unique relationship" between Kansas City and its sports heroes. More recently, he made waves with a Twitter explosion that was derogatory toward new Chiefs coach Todd Haley, used homophobic epithets toward members of the media and now finds himself in the middle of a two-week suspension."People in Kansas City, we don't mind losing. We get used to it, actually. But it just gets frustrating when we don't like the team. That's what we can't stand."
-- Dan Cataldi

So this has been a big topic of conversation among Chiefs fans, as you might imagine. And Cataldi (who now lives in Des Moines), Phelan (Chicago) and Pinsky (Seattle) were having a conversation last Wednesday when Cataldi mentioned that Johnson was 80 yards away from erasing Holmes from the team's record book and must be stopped.

The three friends wrote e-mail letters to Pioli through the teams' Web site, but they kept getting bounced back, so they decided to try the online petition.

"We figured probably 100 or so posts, get it some attention on Facebook, you know, have a little fun with it," Cataldi said.

Then TMZ found it. Then ESPN, Fox News, USA Today ... before they knew it the thing was at 18,428 signatures (as of 4:30 PM ET on Thursday) and climbing.

"It kind of went viral on us," Phelan said.

And good for them, because this really is coming from a place where fandom is deeply and honestly felt. What Phelan said about Kansas City and its sports fans is true. They embrace their teams through good and bad. They continue to sell out Arrowhead Stadium every home game, no matter that the team has won just seven of its last 40 games. When the Royals fielded a surprise contender in 2003, fans flocked back to a ballpark that had once been home to baseball's model franchise. When Derrick Thomas died in a car accident in 2000, it was a community tragedy, intensely affecting people who'd never even met the man.

"We're really loyal people," Phelan said. "I'll always bleed red and gold, and blue and white. No matter what."

As a result, they appreciate when the players reciprocate. They loved Holmes because he was a single dad who drove his daughter to school every day and picked her up, because he stayed and signed autographs for two hours after home games, because he worked in local soup kitchens.

So this guy Johnson? Well, he doesn't really fit in with what the people of Kansas City are looking for in a running back. And it's not just because he's not playing well.

"We won't stand for a player like Larry Johnson," Cataldi said. "I mean, this isn't his first incident -- it's like his fourth incident. We just don't want his name being in the record books forever. I mean, how many strikes does he get before it's enough?"

There remains the chance that these guys get their wish. Even once Johnson's suspension is over, the Chiefs could still release him, or simply deactivate him every week. If they choose to pursue either of those avenues, they're likely to face some push-back from the league, the union, Johnson's agent or all of the above. But who knows? If Pioli can wave tens of thousands of signatures in front of Roger Goodell or an arbitrator and make the claim that his paying customers desperately want the guy off the team ... that could actually help.

"That would be beyond our wildest dreams," Cataldi said. "But if it did, that would be great. We're comfortable now that they're very aware of the petition and the groundswell of support for it. I'll never fault the Chiefs for taking their time. I just hope, in the end, they do the right thing. Whether they cut him, whether they deactivate him, whatever it takes, we just don't want him to carry the ball."

A simple request from a fan base that really doesn't ask for much. These guys aren't whining or pouting or demanding that things turn around right now or else. They just want to be able to be proud of the people they root for. And in an era where impatience, incivility and winning at all costs dominates the sports landscape, the Chiefs fans' humble sincerity really makes you hope they get what they want.
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