Column: Turkeyman "Winning one (or more) for Sam"

Posted by: MBR on Tue Dec 8th, 2020 5:54 am

Winning one (or more) for Sam

By Bob Neal

 Every time I watch a Kansas City Chiefs game, which is whenever CBS shows one, I keep an ear cocked to the west. I`m listening to hear if Sam rolled over in his grave again.

 It first happened late one Sunday night last February. When the Chiefs won the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, my second thought was of Sam. I`m sure that the roars from the stadium in Miami stirred his bones that night.

 Sam was Loren G. Lickteig, who died in 2012. Sam loved nothing more than his family, his city (Grandview, Mo.) and the Kansas City Chiefs. Probably in that order.

 When Sam died, his daughters let him take a parting shot at his beloved and in those days woebegone Chiefs. His obituary in The Kansas City Star began, "Loren G. `Sam` Lickteig passed away on Nov. 14, 2012, of complications of MS and heartbreaking disappointment caused by the Kansas City Chiefs football team.

 That obit drew news coverage all over the country, including a few lines on NPR.

 Fans outside Chiefs Kingdom wouldn`t remember that the week Sam died, the Chiefs were 1-9 and had just lost to Cincinnati. Yes, Cincinnati.

 But as the 2019 Chiefs were tightening the fourth-quarter knot on the San Francisco Forty-Niners for their first Super Bowl title in 50 years, I thought again of Sam. "How `bout those Chieeeefs!" I could hear Sam shout across the decades.

 For three years in the 1960s and `70s, I covered the city of Grandview for The Kansas City Star. Sam was a city councilor. All good beat reporters have a few go-to folks on the inside to help explain what`s happening on the beat and to tip them to rumblings beneath the surface that we reporters might not always hear.

 Sam was one of my three go-to guys for Grandview.  

 I spent many an afternoon schmoozing in Sam`s office, where he sold houses in one of several developments springing up in Grandview. Greater Kansas City was pushing southward, and Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base was growing. Business was good for Sam. Between 1960 and 1970, Grandview grew to 17,456 from 6,027. 

 Sam was bullish on Grandview. He predicted the city would swell to 50,000 residents. Grandview did continue to grow, to about 25,000 by the turn of the century. But when Richards-Gebaur closed in 1999, the boom stopped.

 In those afternoons in Sam`s office, we talked about many things, but he always wanted to talk about the Chiefs. I`d like to believe he envied me just a bit because when I had been night manager of a small market on Kansas City`s South Side, two of my regulars had been the early Chiefs linemen Ed Budde and Dave Hill. A couple of times a week, Budde and Hill dropped by to pick up supper for their young families. Sam asked such things as what kind of guys they were (friendly) and what they got for supper (steak).  

 Sam was as bullish on the Chiefs as he was on Grandview. Bullish on the Chiefs was easy at first, from playing in Super Bowl I in 1967 to being the team that cemented the AFC`s legitimacy by winning Super Bowl IV in 1970. But bullish on the Chiefs got hard as the years went by. So hard that Sam used his obituary to take out his frustration. 

 Sam`s love for the Chiefs grew from his roots. He was a Kansas City and Missouri boy all the way, if you overlook that he had been born in Ottawa, Kansas, 53 miles west. He graduated from Redemptorist High School in Kansas City and attended the Kansas City Art Institute and what was then called the Missouri School of Mines in Rolla. He served in the Air Force. 

 Note that: church-educated, art school, engineering school, military. A renaissance man, a Kansas City man, a Chiefs man. Sam and his wife, Joan, had five children. Joan died four months before Sam died.

 Sam`s deep devotion to the Chiefs wasn`t unique. Betty Johnson was a retired school-bus driver who held season tickets for years. The players knew her, called her "Grandma."  She died in 2015. Dwayne Bowe, a former Chiefs receiver, flew back to Kansas City from Cleveland for her funeral. Bowe wasn`t the only one. Former Chiefs` kicker Nick Lowery was visiting Grandma in hospice when she died.

 This tight bond between team and city may not be unique to Kansas City, but perhaps in not every city is the bond so strong that the dying write about the team in their obituaries  and that former players come back for a fan`s funeral.

 For Super Bowl LIV, some ex-players returned to Chiefs Kingdom to watch Patrick Mahomes and pals pull out yet another and win it all for Coach Andy Reid. I hope they won it a little bit for Sam Lickteig, too. And for Grandma.

 How `bout those Chieeeefs?

 Bob Neal`s first thought when the Chiefs won their second Super Bowl was a nostalgia trip back to 1970. Fifty years is a long time. Sam would be proud. And happy.