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Midwestern grit had to have played role in title run

Nicolas Shump
Special to Gannett Kansas

This week, the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years. While I was alive for the last win in Super Bowl IV, I have no memories of this event.

As I followed the Chiefs throughout their Super Bowl run, I continued to be impressed by the ability of this team to fight back from deficits in each of their playoff games. Even during the Super Bowl, as the Chiefs trailed the San Francisco 49ers by 10 points during the fourth quarter, I felt there was time for the Chiefs to come back to defeat the 49ers.

As I tried to understand what led this team to bring home the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in my memory, the concept I returned to was what psychologists call “grit.”

Many of you might have seen the TED Talk by Angela Duckworth “Grit: the power of passion and perseverance.” Duckworth went from teaching middle school math to a career as an academic psychologist after trying to understand why certain students succeeded when some of their more talented classmates did not. As she continued her research at places like West Point or the Scripps Spelling Bee, Duckworth concluded this success was based on grit. She defined grit as “passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long-term goals.”

I cannot think of a more apt description of this Kansas City Chiefs team. As he stated in the post-Super Bowl press conference, Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a few goals: 1) To win the Lamar Hunt Trophy as AFC Champions, and 2) To win the Lombardi Trophy as NFL Champions.

At the beginning of the season, team owner Clark Hunt said the same thing as he addressed the players. From the end of last season, Coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs team spoke about being “four inches short” of reaching the Super Bowl.

To argue the Chiefs possess grit is not to diminish the extraordinary talents of players like Patrick Mahomes, Damien Williams, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu and others. However, even talented teams might have doubted their ability to come back from double-digit deficits as the Chiefs did in these playoffs.

Some teams might have worried about their season when their MVP quarterback went down with an injury early in the season. The Chiefs did not because they had the grit to keep their eyes on the prize of winning the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in a half-century.

As I watched the Chiefs come back from improbable odds, I could not help but think of a similarly magical run of the Kansas City Royals only a few years earlier. At numerous times, the analytic win probability apps gave the Royals less than 1% chance to win some of the games on the way to the World Series.

Similarly, my son texted me during the Chiefs game that he felt San Francisco had a 99% chance to win. However, the players don’t pay attention to this. They play the game until the very end.

I like to think this grit and resilience comes from a Midwestern ethos, though I have no evidence to support my hunch. Nevertheless, the fact remains that both the Royals and the Chiefs led their teams to world titles often against improbable odds.

Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at nicshump@gmail.com.