Once said, 'River Falls is where it all began'
They arrived with such fanfare.
Twelve years ago on a scorching Tuesday afternoon, mid-summer life in River Falls eased to a halt and then got all cranked up. It was like the creation of an exotic local holiday.
Sidewalks and intersections were jammed with as estimated 2,000 people, many of them restless children.
A number of spectators, in T-shirts, jerseys and caps, wore the colors, logos and names representing the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, even while holding signs and posters welcoming another pro football team with unfamiliar colors, logos and names.
All waited because, naturally, this sort of thing never starts on time. Eventually a noisy, gaudy procession bearing the Kansas City Chiefs like oversized debutantes at a ball entered the heart of River Falls.
Horns blared. Sirens wailed. Standing and crouching aboard local fire trucks draped in American flags, the players, coaches and staff cruised down Main Street, staring back at the gawking throng and flinging Chiefs buttons to scores of outstretched hands.
The hoopla crawled toward Ramer Field. So-called dignitaries spoke cheerfully through a PA system to an eager crowd. These included River Falls Mayor Duane Pederson, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and Chiefs Coach Marty Schottenheimer.
The coach said that come January, the Chiefs had high hopes of playing across the border in Minneapolis, where Super Bowl XXVI would be held.
Playing up the boosterism, Schottenheimer declared: "I invite everyone here to our parade in Kansas City after the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, when we will say, 'River Falls is where it all began.'"
And the next summer...another parade...this one led by the River Falls high school marching band, which escorted the out-of-state pro football team to a second training camp at UW-River Falls. The greeting was jubilant but not so one-sided.
The mixed welcome was due to American Indian Movement (AIM) sponsored protest against the name of the team, CHIEFS. AIM leader Clyde Bellecourt said the use of the name was racist and demeaning.
More than two dozen protesters slipped in to merge with the Main Street welcoming parade. The peaceful merger was a delightful mishmash.
On the Journal's July 23, 1992, front page is a big photo of Schottenheimer and UW-RF Chancellor Gary Thibodeau. Riding atop a convertible, the two grin and wave to onlookers as they pass a large banner that reads, "Indians are a people/not mascots for American's fun and games."
Some onlookers chanted "Move on, move on," at the protesters, who had blocked the parade's progress by standing still in its midst. Finally, they moved on. No arrests were made.
Main Street opinion toward the protesters was mostly one of exasperation. One young girl said the Kansas City team "would never give themselves a loser name." Her grandmother added, "I think the name Chiefs is a proud, super name."
Still, one young man who joined the protesters, declared, "I came down because (the protest) is the only thing in the whole mess that makes sense."
Needless to say, after the Indian-led protest, parades to "welcome" the Chiefs were no more.
But soon came another big distraction with the arrival of quarterback Joe Montana. He had left the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent and signed with the Chiefs.
The aging Super Bowl winning quarterback drew mobs of national reporters. Cameras were trained on his every move even as Montana often dodged the coverage.
Ramer Field was packed with local fans hoping for a glimpse of Montana and his famous throwing arm during practice.
Yet another major attraction was the first appearance of the Minnesota Vikings for a scrimmage with the team still known as the Chiefs. Some estimates claimed 10,000 visitors coming and going in River Falls that day, which pretty much doubled our little burg's population.
And now the Chiefs have come back to the campus and our community for a 13th time. Parades and protest are history, as are Schottenheimer and Thompson. They have other jobs. Duane Pederson is no longer mayor but still works here in town.
The only thing River Falls has left is the presence of professional football. And next week the Vikings return. Even without the fanfare, it's still the great game of football that's the ultimate attraction.