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Super Bowl-Bound Chiefs Re-Energize Kansas City

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl for the first time in half a century. Despite the drought, it is a bit of a homecoming. The Chiefs played in the first-ever Super Bowl, and the team's original owner was instrumental in forming the modern NFL and its championship game. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) We are the champions. We are...

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: At Johnnie's on Seventh in Kansas City, Kan., the diverse, working-class counterpart to the larger Kansas City on the Missouri side, Simon Thruga (ph) is moved almost to tears watching his hometown team win a place in the Super Bowl.

SIMON THRUGA: That Super Bowl is coming home, baby. It's coming home.

MORRIS: Magdalena Wagner admits that she's not really that into football - or wasn't before the Chiefs started winning. But sporting her new Chiefs jersey, Wagner says she loves what the team is doing for the city.

MAGDALENA WAGNER: It brings the whole city together - Kansas City together as a city. That's what I like about the Chiefs football - is just feel like a family. We're all united.

MORRIS: Of course, it's hard to quantify the benefits of a winning sports franchise. But Corinne Foreman (ph) says successful baseball and soccer teams have energized Kansas City before.

CORINNE FOREMAN: The city came to life. People moved here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And people loved each other.

FOREMAN: And people loved each other, and the city was happy. And I think this is going to be amazing for Kansas City. I think this is the next big boom.

MORRIS: Kansas City has a long history with the Super Bowl. The Chiefs were originally a part of the upstart American Football League, a rival to the older, established National Football League. In the mid-1960s, owners hatched the idea of a game between the champions of the rival leagues. The owner of the Chiefs then, Lamar Hunt, came up with the name Super Bowl, based on a remarkable new toy ball his kids were playing with. Here's Hunt in a video produced by Royal House Studios.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAMAR HUNT: And it was very much like a golf ball, except it was rubber. And you could bounce it on concrete, and it would bounce over a house. And it was called the super ball.

MORRIS: The Chiefs played in the very first Super Bowl. And after the owners consolidated the two leagues into the NFL, the game became a match between the winners of the two conferences. The Chiefs won Super Bowl 4 in 1970. They haven't been back since.

And one of those little boys bouncing a super ball, Clark Hunt - he's now part-owner and CEO of the team. Last night, he hoisted the American Football Conference championship trophy, named after his dad. So the jubilation over getting back into the Super Bowl was widespread throughout Kansas City.

Up a normally quiet residential street, here comes a guy, Alex Pazarro (ph), all decked out in Chiefs gear...

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM BEATING)

MORRIS: ...Beating a drum.

ALEX PAZARRO: This is my kids' drum. I told them, let me borrow it real quick. And I already broke it. Look. You see? - banging it too hard.

MORRIS: So what are you doing? Where are you going to go?

PAZARRO: I'm just walking around, banging the drum. I'm not going to stop till my hands get tired. They probably won't get tired.

MORRIS: Probably not - at least not until Sunday, February 2, when the Chiefs meet the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City goes to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KANSAS CITY")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Kansas City... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.