It was the mid 90's and I was the slightly pudgy kid sitting in section 338 of Arrowhead stadium every Sunday the Kansas City Chiefs had a home football game. You see, my dad and I had a set routine.
We'd stop at the same McDonald's every morning on our way out to Arrowhead and I'd get two sausage biscuits and a Dr. Pepper. We'd listen to the same pre-game radio show and talk about the opponent all the way from Stilwell to Independence. It never failed, except on Raiders' days because the mood was always a little more intense. And no, I'm not kidding. It runs deep, always has.
I remember my favorite parts of the day were doing the tomahawk chop as we walked all the way up the circular ramps until we got to our section, and then walking through the concourse and out the tunnel to our seats. The thought of that view still gives me chills to this day.
Witnessing the likes of Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith playing the game they loved at the highest level was something that I took for granted as a kid. In my defense I'm not sure I was supposed to know any better. But as a kid these guys were larger than life. They made thousands of people stand and cheer so loud that seats would shake throughout the entire stadium and thus help shape the mystique Arrowhead still has to the players of today.
As I got older in age and therefore closer to the age of the players out on the field things seemed to change a bit. Some of it had to do with seeing guys that I had known of or had played against at some point out there on the field on Sunday's, but mainly my view of these players went from being 'larger than life' to just having a 'deep respect' for what these guys can do out on that field.
In the wake of the events that have unfolded within the past several weeks it seems as if the psyche of the NFL fan has been put to the test.
Fans have seen the constant media attention focused on the New Orleans Saints and their bounty program. It seemed like it was taking an already violent game and throwing gasoline on the burning flame with each and every report. These findings shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise to anyone though. If anything, the only real surprising thing about the whole 'bounty' situation was the lack of awareness from the New Orleans Saints that maybe laying a little lower on this whole program might be the best idea. If Edward Norton and Brad Pitt were smart enough to not print t-shirts that said 'Fight Club' than I would think the Saints' coaches, players, and front office staff might be a little smarter in how they were being dumb.
Then on a Wednesday morning in May one of the most beloved players in recent NFL history and a San Diego Chargers legend, Junior Seau, commits suicide at his home in Oceanside, California.
There have been hundreds, if not thousands of stories from players around the league and people that knew Seau that talked of a man that was known for more than his prowess on a football field. He was known for his love of his San Diego community and his infectious persona that seemed to be described by so many people in so many ways, but with a common theme that painted the picture of a man that was beloved by his teammates, coaches and fans. He was the guy that stayed to sign every autograph, respond to every fan letter, and go out of his way constantly to make others around him feel better.
It's too often that players who don't do the right things the right way are put in the spotlight and it's a shame that it takes something like a tragedy for the good things a person has done to be brought to the forefront. Junior Seau did things the right way during his life according to those who knew him best, and the last decision he made in his life was his own.
We often get critical of players who seem to take for granted, in our opinion, what the life of a NFL player is in today's world. We look at our own situations and wonder how all that money and all that fame could lead someone down a road that doesn't lead anywhere but happiness and joy. We can't comprehend it because we don't know that life, and therefore we can't judge that life.
The media coverage of the Junior Seau tragedy changed from what actually happened to how fans reacted to what happened. The outpouring of fans displayed not only the immense net that was cast during Seau's life, but the emotional attachment that is bonded between fans and their teams' players. Chiefs fans know this feeling all too well with the loss of Derrick Thomas back in 2000.
It didn't take long for word to spread on the death of Junior Seau as players from every generation went to twitter to express their feelings. From former Chiefs legend Christian Okoye to former Notre Dame player and current New Orleans Saints' offensive lineman Eric Olsen. Olsen used twitter to tell a story of how Seau helped him discover his love for football without even knowing it.
Are we as fans a little hypocritical though? I mean, I won't sit here and say that I haven't been annoyed at the lengths that Roger Goodell has gone to make it nearly impossible for there to be many big hits in NFL games without a flag or fine happening. But it's hard to look at those things now when you hear of all the problems associated with multiple concussions and the toll the game takes on the body of these players over time. We're past coincidence with concussions and depression.
It's understood from everyone that puts on that uniform that there are risks that go along with playing the game. It's there and they know it's a part of the deal. The hypocrisy is that we don't acknowledge the risks to the players while complaining of softening of the game, and it takes a tragedy for people to understand its' place. There may not be a good answer for any of this because players will still play the game and as players get bigger, faster and stronger, the toll on the body will only deepen.
The role of fans in the wake of tragedy has been defined a little more over the past few days though. As Seau's legacy will be cemented by those who continue to spread the word about his life, it's the responsibility of fans to understand when decisions regarding players' safety occur to not just turn a blind eye to the rulings and disagree. There should be no more snap judgement when talking about rules regarding safety on the field of play because we're ultimately talking about these players' lives.