A Long Time Coming

This year, another of the long, painful legacies finally came down.

OK, my friends who are Cubs and Red Sox fans are probably laughing themselves silly. After all, when your wait for vindication approaches or even exceeds the century mark, that’s a special kind of pain right there. Never mind the poor, hurting teacher I knew who was both a Cubs AND a Red Sox fan – an exercise in masochism if there ever was one.

Still, 50 years between championships is long enough to wait. And so, despite my own passion for the division rival Denver Broncos, I couldn’t help cheering along with my friends and family from Kansas and Missouri (yes, I know my geography) as the Kansas City Chiefs finally brought home the big one.

Naturally, they didn’t do it easily. The Chiefs rarely do anything easily. Every single playoff game, right up to the Super Bowl itself, had the same script:

  • Come in full of promise, heralded as one of the best teams in the NFL.
  • Fall behind. Maybe way
  • Find a way back that John Elway himself would envy.

If the last five decades could be translated into a single football game, that’s about what it would look like. And it’s why Chiefs fans went absolutely nuts afterward and a lot of the rest of us with them. The wait is painful. But the end is all the more glorious for it.

But putting it that way overlooks something.

It assumes that all you have to do is wait. Have patience, and the good things will happen.

That’s never been true. In football or the larger world.

For the last five years, the musical “Hamilton” has been a phenomenon on Broadway. Part of the attraction is the contrast between the show’s version of Alexander Hamilton – energetic, impatient, fighting to burn his name in the history of the world – and Aaron Burr, a charming man who plays his cards close to the chest, waiting for the right opportunity to show itself. At a crucial moment, when Alexander has just cut a deal to put his long-sought national bank in place, he taunts his rival:

 

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game,

But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game,                          

You get love for it, you get hate for it,

You get nothing if you wait for it, wait for it, wait for it.

 

There’s nothing wrong with playing the long game. In fact, it’s vital. Most rapid revolutions fail, and many of the ones that succeed turn on themselves – the English saw it with Cromwell, the French with Napoleon, the Russians with Lenin and Stalin. The movements for change that win have a foundation underneath that is built from a long span of patient and often-frustrating work.

But the work has to happen.

If the Chiefs had blown off the draft year after year – if their fans had never bought a single ticket or tuned in any of the sponsored games – there’d be no trophy, and probably no Chiefs.

If the American colonies had never made a single move toward self-sufficiency over the decades that preceded the Revolution, the fight would have failed, if it had come at all.

If the civil rights movement had waited for rights to just happen, instead of constantly working, constantly struggling, constantly refusing to be put down despite yet one more failure, all of America would be poorer for it.

It’s still true today. Transformation doesn’t come from a single election. Victory or defeat in a cause doesn’t stem from a single action on Capitol Hill. Those are just individual notes in a greater melody. What makes the difference is constancy – not quitting, not turning away, taking the time that needs to be taken without assuming that all that’s needed is time.

Victory is never guaranteed. But it’s that sort of stubborn persistence in pursuit of it that can shape lives. Or histories. Or even the occasional sports franchise.

It’s no fun to endure. But the reward is worth it.

Just ask the Chiefs.

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