The National Football League holds nothing in such high regard as the National Football League.
No judgment there. The league recognized, under the stewardship of Pete Rozelle, a marketing man turned NFL commissioner, that it had to brand the product and then protect the brand.
NFL Films became a part of that marketing arm and, beginning in the 1960s, turned out countless short segments of football stars running in slow motion to martial music alongside scripts replete with heroism and derring-do.
In one, the narrative summoned the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, dead 80 years by this point, that “a man must either be anvil or hammer.” Subverting the intent, then, a voice said, “but Larry Wilson was both.”
For a kid growing up at that time in eastern Missouri, Wilson was an easy guy to root for.
He was the best player on the St. Louis football Cardinals. One of my earliest memories of professional football was a picture of Wilson, scowling across the field, his front teeth missing.
A five-time member of the league’s All-Pro team, and a future Hall-of-Famer, Wilson played in the defensive backfield and became associated with an innovation known as the “safety blitz,” 190 pounds of terror visited upon opposing quarterbacks.
In November 1965, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wilson played with two broken bones. Despite having casts on both hands, he intercepted a pass.
One memory surfaces as vague, a gas station giveaway or some such, Cardinals for collecting. My dad returned from fueling his pickup with a Charley Johnson card, the quarterback, or the one for running back Johnny Roland or receiver Sonny Randle.
Never a card for Larry Wilson. I assumed the gas station proprietor’s son had purloined them.
St. Louis got the football team from Chicago in 1960, the Cardinals getting perennially overshadowed by the Bears.
In St. Louis, the team shared the city only with the baseball team, also named the Cardinals, requiring the clarifying word “football” during an overlap of seasons.
A last-ditch effort to retain the Cardinals in Chicago involved an influx of cash, and majority stake, by investors that included Lamar Hunt. Spurned in this, Hunt and some of the others decided to form a new professional football league.
Hunt’s team would be the Dallas Texans. In 1963, it moved to Kansas City to become the Chiefs.
None of this history, mine or generally, seems particularly relevant today. Nor does the NFL’s stranglehold on its own image and its insistence on legal action against commercial use of “Super” and “Bowl” in near proximity.
What matters today is a Texas-born quarterback, the best kind, who landed in our midst, genial and unflappable.
It matters today that a mastermind head coach, a ninja of play design, gets his due, a triumph in the biggest game, one won by lesser-light coaches in the past.
It matters, too, that a fan base, a widespread “kingdom,” has its fidelity rewarded.
(It would be wrong to describe this group as long-suffering because, given the tailgate culture, the Arrowhead legions had a pretty good time except for the occasional heartache. Even that appeared to unite them.)
Let the legends build on the back of today’s win, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes elevated from merely human to lore, carved into the memories of Kansas City and, with training camp pride of ownership, St. Joseph.
Be a fan this day, and don’t overthink it. “The supreme excellence is simplicity,” Longfellow wrote. But that jet sweep run by the Chiefs just might do the trick.