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After the Floods, the People of Kansas City Are Looking for Montana to Lead Chiefs to . . . : Higher Ground


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Joe Yulich wanted to grab the flag, but there wasn't time.

The nearby Missouri River rushed in one morning in late July, and Vulich had to worry about more important things, such as drowning, so he ran.

The flag, flying from his back deck, remained.

The next day, his house was submerged, his 2,200 acres of farmland had disappeared, most of the things he had acquired in 34 years of living were beneath the swirling brown water.

The river soon invaded the rest of the Missouri town of Waldron, forcing most of its 60 residents to flee to friends' homes on a nearby hill.

From there, what they saw amazed them. For 10 days, one thing was clearly visible above the murky river, floating from one end of town to another.

It was Yulich's flag. A red-and-gold Kansas City Chiefs flag.

"One day somebody up the road would say, 'Saw your flag today Joe,' " Yulich recalled. "The next day, somebody down the road would say, 'Your flag made it down this way today, Joe."

When the waters finally receded, Yulich left the deck to rot in the mud. But he recovered the shriveled and stained flag.

Visit the parking lot outside Gate C at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night, three hours before the Kansas City Chiefs' home opener against the Denver Broncos, and you can see it.

Yulich will fly the flag outside his tailgate party as he has done before every home game during the last four years. Only this time, it will be more than a symbol for a sports team.

It will be a symbol of survival for the thousands of flood victims who, after the one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, are counting on the Chiefs to help ease their pain.

This symbolism is not lost on Joe Montana.

The man many call the greatest quarterback in NFL history came here last spring as one who could lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.

But so much has happened since then. When he makes his first regular-season home start Monday night in front of 77,000 fans and a national television audience, he will be playing for a community's heart.

"During all these hard times, the Chiefs and Montana have given us something different to think about," Yulich said during a recent break from his rebuilding efforts. "Something, you know, to hope for."

Montana, who will start after sitting out last week's loss at Houston because of a wrist injury, recognizes this as easily as the rest of the world recognizes him.

"When a disaster like that happens, you have to give people something to cling on to," Montana said. "That's what sports are for. That's what we're here for."

And that, one senses, is what Montana is here for.

Yulich stared out at his small frame house filled with the sounds of hammering and sawing. He stared over at the miles of fields that have turned brown and useless, and wiped the sleeve of his T-shirt over his forehead.

"Gosh, I wish I had known you were talking to Montana," he said. "I could have gotten you to get me an autograph."


The television cameras Monday night will show some of the NFL's most conservative fans wearing Joe Montana ties.

They will show those fans chanting, "Joe, Joe, Joe," while jingling Joe Montana key chains. There might even be a remote shot of the town of Joe, Montana.

But the cameras cannot show half of it.

They cannot show the woman who phoned the Chiefs' public relations office, crying, asking that Montana autograph her late husband's urn.

They cannot show the fan who ran on the field during pregame warm-ups carrying a helmet. He wanted Montana to sign it.

They cannot show the woman who interrupted a news conference to scream at Coach Marty Schottenheimer for not playing Montana in a preseason scrimmage.

And they cannot show Bob Moore, the Chiefs' veteran public relations director who is on the wildest ride of his life.

Because of Montana, Moore has been forced to add an employee merely to help sort the mail. He no longer has time to answer his constantly ringing phone.

When he is not taking calls from television broadcasters in Guam, he is speaking to the five networks that broadcast NFL games.

Producers from every pregame and halftime show have requested interviews with Montana in each of the first three weeks of the season. It is suddenly as if there are no other players in the league.

Moore is also in charge of turning down each of Montana's hundreds of public appearance requests for fear that fans will be injured in mob scenes.

This meant even saying no to the good people of Topeka, Kan., who wanted Joe to judge a cattle contest.

Surveys have shown that Montana is the second-most recognizable athlete in the United States behind Michael Jordan. Now imagine Jordan living and playing in, say, Sacramento.

"I knew what sort of storm this guy could create when he came here, but even I am continually surprised by the level and intensity of excitement," said Carl Peterson, the Chiefs' general manager. "I mean, this is a guy who had played one half of football in two years."

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