Tomorrow is the Super Bowl. In case you’ve somehow missed it, Kansas City’s team - of which I am a fan - will be participating in it for the third time in the last four years. I would say that I could get used to this, but the truth is, I already have.
Beyond even Super Bowl appearances, Kansas City’s football team has made it to the AFC Championship game for five straight years. They’ve won their division seven years in a row and made it into the playoffs as at least a Wild Card contender for nine of the last ten seasons. That is a whole lot of playoff football.
In contrast, over the same span, the Royals have won their division only once and made the playoffs a total of two times. They have finished fourth or fifth in their division for five straight seasons. The two teams seem to stand in direct contrast to each other.
I once theorized that the 2014 and 2015 Kansas City Royals used up the town’s quota of sports luck. Patrick Mahomes has proven that to be completely incorrect. The other thing Patrick has done, is prove that I was right to be disappointed in the Royals’ two World Series appearances.
Anything can happen in the playoffs
OK, let me rephrase that for a moment. Obviously, I was ecstatic for the team to take the Giants to Game Seven of the World Series and to defeat the Mets the next year. One of the most fun things about those playoffs was how the Royals had miraculous comebacks early in each of them. But that’s also why they were so frustrating.
Imagine, for a moment, that the laws of probability had ruled the day. We would have been left with two Royals teams that lost in the first round of the playoffs they appeared in in 2014 and 2015, followed by a bunch of losing teams. There’s actually even a reasonable argument to be made that if the Royals lost in the Wild Card game to the Athletics that Moore and Yost would likely have been fired and the team would have been ripped down to the studs instead of winning more games than anyone else in 2015.
Even if they had won all those games but lost in the ALDS against the Astros the Royals need only look at the 2001 Mariners to see how they might be remembered. Except that that team won 21 more games during the regular season.
The point is that the 2014 and 2015 Royals won in the playoffs a lot and it was great but it just as easily could have been different.
Enter the 2022 Chiefs. In the Division round against the Jaguars, Patrick Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain early in the game and suddenly their hopes of winning that week - and especially the following week - were greatly diminished. It would have been a disappointing way for the season to end, to be sure, but it wouldn’t have been as devastating as those Royals losses could have been. Why? Because the team had already been to the Conference Championship game four times in a row! They have a quality roster which suggests the run of playoff appearances is not likely to end any time soon. And, if by some fluke it does, they’ll just start a new streak the following season.
The saying goes that flags fly forever, and that’s true. But I’m not here forever, I’m only here for now. The Royals also have a championship flag from 1985. That’s great and all, but a flag from before I was born (if only just) doesn’t mean much to me. The flag from 2015 means a bit more because I was there for it, but I want to watch more winning baseball now. And the more times a team reaches the playoffs the more likely they are to earn more of those flags.
If you could take me back to 2013 and offer me the result the Royals ended up with over the next decade or a promise that the team would make the playoffs for seven of the next ten years but with no guaranteed World Series victory, I’d take the latter every single time. Given the randomness of sports playoffs, I’d have to imagine the Royals won at least one World Series in those seven playoff appearances, but even if they didn’t, I’d have had seven years of rooting for a good baseball team instead of two.
I get that those of you who defend the World Series appearances we did get value what actually happened over theoretical possibilities. I just don’t understand how you can do that. Maybe one of you can explain it in the comments to me. But so far as I can tell, it’s a bit like saying, “Bartolo Colon hit a home run once, so I’m OK with him getting as many ABs as he wants in the future because I got to see the unlikely, but very cool result that one time.”
When Salvy popped out to end the 2014 World Series I was completely devastated. I didn’t know if the Royals would ever make the playoffs again in my lifetime, much less sneak all the way to the World Series. I’ll watch tomorrow night's game and I’ll be rooting for a Kansas City win. Still, if they lose to the Eagles I won’t worry too much. After all, they’ve got a pretty good shot of doing it again next year.