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The meaning of a championship

Winning is more fun than losing, but not all winning is the same

Travis Kelce #87 and Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate on stage during the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVII victory parade on February 15, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Travis Kelce #87 and Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate on stage during the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVII victory parade on February 15, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

They say that winning a championship feels like nothing else in sports—to root for your team and to see your team on the mountaintop, finally, alone, victorious. Most fans don’t get that chance, or they get that chance so seldom that they have no comparison.

But Kansas City Royals fans who are also Kansas City Chiefs fans have been blessed beyond measure as of late. The two teams in the two biggest sports leagues in the world (by revenue, anyway) have combined, over less than a decade, to reach five championships and come away with three of them. Those of you who are also Jayhawks fans got a bonus NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, too. Widen the dates to just one decade and the city’s men’s and women’s professional soccer teams have also walked away with a championship.

Remember when Boston kept winning championships a decade and a half ago? When the Celtics won, the Red Sox won a few times, the Patriots kept winning, and the Bruins even notched one in the NHL for good measure? Kansas City is pretty much there now. I think if you were to go back in time and tell that to a 2012 Kansas City sports fan, they might just spontaneously combust immediately after the last sound left your lips.

So, you might ask: what was your favorite moment of the recent championship run? Which one was your favorite? What moment did you treasure most? What was it like watching your favorite team win it all?

I can’t speak for others, of course. But for me, my favorite period of time over the last 10 years was about a four-week period from mid-September to mid-October in 2014. It was when the entire city came alive with Royals fever, when that was all anybody could talk about, and when the joy for the team was nearly palpable in the air.

It was when Kauffman Stadium erupted as James Shields’ first pitch in The Wild Card game was called a strike.

When the Chiefs won their most recent Super Bowl—a crazy statement that I thought I’d never say—it reminded me of a term in topography called prominence. The United States Geological Survey says that prominence “refers to the elevation of a summit relative to its surrounding terrain. This is different from its overall elevation, which measures the height of the summit above sea level.”

Mountains are a common sports metaphor, especially as it pertains to “getting to the top,” which usually means winning an MVP award or a championship. But it is the term prominence that is the most fascinating to me, because a mountain can be prominent even if it’s not particularly tall. The state of Colorado boasts 25 mountains over 14,000 feet tall, often referred to as 14ers or fourteeners. Yet Mount Apo, located in the Philippines, boasts a larger prominence than them all. Mount Apo is not even 10,000 feet tall, but it is one of the most 100 prominent peaks in the world.

Championships tend to have great prominence than normal seasons, just like the list of most prominent mountains in the world reads an awful lot like a list of the tallest mountains in the world. But, somewhat ironically, the championships accrued by Kansas City’s professional sports teams have also taught me that non-championship seasons and events can be just as impactful even if they don’t reach the highest highs technically possible.

There is certainly no doubt that winning a championship is more fun than not winning a championship—and winning championships, plural, is better than winning a championship, singular. Likewise, winning games is more fun than losing games. However, losing games affect a winning season’s prominence much more than winning does. And the Royals’ play before and since the 2014-2015 seasons have made those seasons a Kilimanjaro of sorts, one that magnifies their wonder and their fun when compared to the, er, not so fun that has been the fact of life for Royals fans over much of the past 38 years.

Fortunately, I don’t have to choose whether I want a magical experience like the 2014-2015 Royals or an experience like the Chiefs are currently giving us. I can only live through them. And as Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes and company hype up the city, I’m just thankful that we got what we got on the Royals side almost a decade ago. Those years and memories still mean the world to me.