Sunday, after putting the finishing touches on the next magazine issue of Warpaint Illustrated, it dawned on me that I have a week off – a week to reflect, rest and re-charge my batteries. After reading Jason Whitlock’s most recent column, I found a cord of connection.
When OTAs start this year, Warpaint Illustrated will turn five years old. That’s hard to believe, really hard to fathom if you ask me. After reading some of the first articles I wrote five years ago, I have to admit they were painful. To be honest, they were brutal.
I’ve been a writer since the sixth grade – or as some of my critics claim, a wannabe writer. Regardless of the labels I’ve earned, the road to where Warpaint Illustrated is today has been a great one.
So join me as I take a walk down memory lane and reflect on the last five years covering the Kansas City Chiefs.
When Jon Miller from Hawkeye Nation and Insider.com founder Brian Kosar (Bernie’s brother) recruited yours truly to assist in launching the website and magazine, I jumped at the chance.
It wasn’t easy by any stretch, because I’d be accountable for my opinions. I’d be on the hook for my comments.
At first I wanted to be controversial like Whitlock, but I learned quickly in year two that wasn’t my path. I had a long chat with a member of the Chiefs organization, Lynn Stiles, who delivered some key advice.
Stiles told me to stay true to my opinions and bring out my passion for the Chiefs while making sure the facts were correct. He was right. I’m an old Huddle Club kid who had the honor, as many of you already know, of living next door to Bobby Bell and down the street from Hank Stram. At times I had forgotten that.
Since my conversation with Stiles, he and I have been great friends. We talked this past weekend and were enthusiastic about the direction of the draft. The Chiefs found some good players.
But more importantly for me personally, our talk was a reflection of how far Warpaint Illustrated has come as a Chiefs community.
It’s not been easy, and there have been some downsides. I could describe them in intricate detail, but I won’t. Most people know of my battles with others in the Chiefs message board community, but that’s part of the process.
As we start our sixth year, I can recall a multitude of landmark moments, such as my first one-on-one interview, with ex-Chiefs defensive end R-Kal Truluck. He told me how he used to fall asleep most nights in the Bronx projects to the sounds of gunfire.
A year later I conducted a candid interview with former Chiefs wide receiver Eddie Kennison, who for the first time told the real story about what happened in Denver and what led him to Kansas City.
That opened some more doors with other players, including my first interview with running back Larry Johnson during diapergate and his battle for playing time with Priest Holmes.
Those interviews were fun, but nothing compared to my first sit down with President Carl Peterson. Since that moment we’ve had a mutual respect for one another. Say what you want about his player personnel decisions and the legacy he’ll leave behind when he steps down after the 2009 season, but nobody can take away the fact that he put Kansas City back on the NFL map.
Though some have other issues with him, what I learned the day of our interview was how much Peterson cares about the Chiefs. He also left me with a word of wisdom that still resonates today.
Peterson told me of a conversation he had with the late Lamar Hunt, who told him after the 1997 playoff loss to the Denver Broncos that it all boils down to luck. And that does play a large part in determining who goes to the Super Bowl.
This journey hasn’t been completely smooth, however. There have been some moments where I’ve said some really stupid things. One such moment was calling for Dick Vermeil’s job on 38 the Spot, my weekly TV segment with NBC Sports Anchor Jack Harry.
After a midseason loss at Buffalo in 2005, I wrote a column suggesting Vermeil should step down as head coach and made identical remarks on TV later that evening. Though Vermeil eventually retired at the end of the season, writing that piece was a mistake - it was one of the few times the fan in me took over (OK, maybe more than a few).
The next day I ran into Vermeil near the locker room. It was obvious he had either seen my appearance on TV, read what I wrote, or was told about it. I was never particularly close to Vermeil, but was that morning as we stood nearly nose to nose.
He came right up to me. All I could do was apologize for letting a loss get the best of me. He smiled, shook his head, turned and walked away. It was either a sign that he took no issue with my reaction, or thought I was a buffoon. My guess is that it was the latter.
When Herm Edwards took over as head coach in 2006, something changed. After we first sat down in March of that year, I sensed we’d strike a strong bond. We have, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed our chats about matters completely unrelated to football.
It’s never easy to be objective with someone you have a personal relationship with, and in this business that generally means you’re virtually one-sided in your opinions and analysis. But despite the fact I support Edwards (especially with the youth movement) there have been times we’ve disagreed.
And I’ve told Herm that on more than one occasion. That’s what makes our relationship so unique.
However, later that year, things got a bit tense. After receiving a phone call, I learned that defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was upset with something I allegedly said on a local sports radio show. Edwards wasn’t happy with me, either.
I went to the stadium the next day and talked to Edwards, explaining what I said. He understood that my comments were taken out of context, but Cunningham was still mad.
I didn’t want Gunther mad at me - who would? I had already sent him an e-mail explaining my position, but Edwards kindly set up an interview with his defensive coordinator and the three of us spent nearly two hours talking life and football. During that conversation, Cunningham, Edwards and I got off on some pretty funny tangents and everything was smoothed over.
At the end of the interview, Cunningham told me he kept the e-mail I had sent, and told me how much he appreciated it - it meant a lot to him personally. It also meant a lot to me.
Last summer at training camp, I had my first candid interview with Chairman of the Board Clark Hunt. It was interesting, to say the least, because he and I are roughly the same age, but he’s the gatekeeper to the greatest kingdom on earth - Chiefs Kingdom.
I wish more people could get to know him in a simple setting. We sat in the River Falls cafeteria, ate dinner and talked about his team. Afterwards, I came away with the sense that he isn’t quite the same as his father. The elder Hunt groomed his son to take over the Chiefs, but it’s clear in time Clark will make his own mark and take the franchise in a new direction.
But as I reflect, it’s worth noting that nothing has changed me more than my week last October with the Voice of the Kingdom, Mitch Holthus. That project was years in the making, because Holthus had to completely trust me if I was to do the interview justice. As many of you have learned via the three-part article we ran on the website this past weekend, Holthus is a man of many talents.
I learned about the hundreds of hours he spends preparing for his broadcasts, but it was his motivational speaking that really interested me. Because he was willing to open so much of his soul to complete strangers, I learned more about him than ever before.
In this business, for the most part, the only human side we see stems from anger and disappointment. It’s not often that we learn from those things and turn them into triumphs. Holthus showed me how to open my soul and look at life in a way I had previously ignored.
We’ve become good friends since, and that week was one of the crowning jewels of my experience at Warpaint Illustrated.
In the last five months, our community has reached new heights. That is in large part to the people who have helped me personally along the way - Mike Campbell, Mike Nugent, Justin Olson, Lynn Schmidt, Kenny Holland, O-Zone and C.E. Wendler to name a few. They’ve all made me a better writer, but more importantly a better man.
All have been instrumental in developing the Out of Bounds Podcast, our website and magazine. We’ve spent hours upon hours producing the show and talking about the Chiefs. We’ve been determined to make it interesting and it’s grown beyond any of my expectations.
Last year’s Boomer Grigsby Show was also a wild and rewarding experience. We never had a concrete plan for the show, but instead just showed up 15 minutes before 6 PM, hung our banners and let it fly.
We had some amazing guests, like Larry Johnson at the 810 Zone, who simply showed up unexpected after his injury. We ended the season with Jared Allen in our most entertaining show of the year. Hopefully we’ll put together another player show for 2008.
As I reach the end of this reflection, there’s been one constant, a single force that drives me to do what I do every single day – the Warpaint Illustrated.com community.
That’s the primary reason that we all do what we do. It’s impossible to thank the entire group, but the friendships I’ve forged with members like KLG61, Shaggyshane, Alphaman, DizzyKC, Chiefsfanforever and Kmartin have made the message board community the best anywhere.
Warpaint Illustrated is my family. No matter many how many times I interview Herm Edwards, Clark Hunt, Carl Peterson or any player, I don’t forget the community that means the world to me.
So consider this a big thank you to everyone who has been a part of making Warpaint Illustrated a truly special place over the last five years.
We’re not done. The best is yet to come.