Chicago’s Kansas City Chiefs bar fans erupt during playoff win

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

Professional and collegiate team flags hanging from sports bars decorate many streets in Chicago. Outside, it’s Bears, Cubs, Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls country. But inside, each bar shelters a haven of raucous sports fans avid to share the spirit for hometown teams that may be far away.

The AFC divisional rounds of the National Football League playoffs featured the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans on Jan. 12. As a football fanatic with no team in the playoffs, I decided to see what it was like inside these clandestine cocoons that weren’t my own. Would the true believers accept a stranger who was merely there to observe as a reporter?

The Chiefs kick off at 2:05 p.m., and as I approach Toons Bar & Grill on north Southport Avenue, the bouncer warns me that they’ve met capacity. But if I was on my own, I was more than welcome to come in. He says there might be more room in the back, so naturally, I weave my way through the red, yellow and white jerseys to order a Stella at the front.

Toons Bar & Grill is one of two Kansas City Chiefs bars in Chicago. The other is Beck’s Chicago. (Leah Vann/Medill News Service)

“Are you a Chiefs fan?” Chicago-area tax advisor Michael Chung asks me.

“I’m actually not.” I say.

“Me either,” he says.

Chung, a Chicago native, came with his group of work friends, including a large burly Chiefs fan wearing a skin-tight red Chiefs shirt. When I ask his name, he huffs an explicative and says, “My name is f— off.”

Chung tells me to not take offense. The burly friend is in a crisis zone. The Chiefs are down 7-0 within the first four minutes of the game. I manage to befriend the Chiefs fans enough a minute later for Chung to buy me a shot of fireball after Texans cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. returns a blocked punt to put the Texans up 14-0. I’m told by the angry Chiefs fan next to me that it’s imperative I drink it for good luck.

With the Chiefs down 24-0 at the beginning of the second quarter, I’m warned that fights might break out. But that’s Chung’s opinion ,and he’s a Bears fan. The angry shouts soften to a solemn state of shock in the bar, and the hospitality drinks from Chiefs fans keep coming my way, along with a plate of chicken quesadillas.

But the Chiefs make a miraculous comeback in the second quarter. Damien Williams catches a 17-yard pass from Patrick Mahomes to make it 24-7. The next three lengthy drives conclude with short passes to Travis Kelce, spotting a Chiefs lead 28-24 before the half.

The now increasingly raucous crowd in the bar is led by Joseph Geddes and Cal Jones, both Kansas City-area natives who moved to Chicago for its job opportunities.

“Hey! Go Chiefs!”

Geddes leads the touchdown chants sitting atop the bar closest to the door. As the classic “The Hey Song” by Gary Glitter plays, he lifts his arms up on every “Hey” and yells from the top of his lungs,

After two chants of that, the crowd yells, “We’re gonna beat the hell out of you! Who? You! Who? You! You! You!”

With each, “you!” Geddes pumps his fist in the air.

“I moved here 12 years ago, and I found this bar about 2013-14,” Geddes said. “Basically, since coming here and meeting new people, we hang out, we get together, we do an annual Toons Holiday Dinner. Some people have moved back to KC since we started coming, but we’re still tight.”

Geddes’ role leading the touchdown chant is something he adopted when one of his friends left.

“I took over his role,” Geddes said. “I try to put my own little swag on it.”

Across from him is Jones, who sits in a high stool against the wall, but lifts himself above the crowd for the first-down chant.

“That’s good for a Kansas City Chiefs first down!” he shouts. The crowd responds in an earth-shattering fist bump and shout.

After halftime, I’m told the superstition in the bar is that you have to stand in the same spot you’ve been standing in the entire game, so I weave back into the crowd, packed like a sardine in my same spot, beholden to others’ superstitions.

Chung and his friends offer me another beer and a celebratory shot of fireball, rather than the one I had mourning the Texans 14-0 lead early in the first quarter.

At this point, I can’t keep up with the fun the Chiefs fans are having with another bar and game to cover later that day. I trade my beer for water until the Chiefs ride their way to a record-breaking 51-31 victory to advance to the AFC Championship.

It was the first time in NFL history that a team won a playoff game by 20 points after trailing by at least 20.

“I’ve been coming to this bar for almost 14 years,” Jones said. “It’s family, it’s the stadium. You go to Arrowhead Stadium and this it, this is the way it is at the stadium. This is the way it is here.”

Photo at top: Kansas City Chiefs fans gather outside of Toons Bar & Grill to celebrate their victory over the Houston Texans on Jan. 12. (Joe Belek/MEDILL)