After 50 years of frustration, Kansas City football fans are ready to party this weekend.
The Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Kansas City's first trip to the Super Bowl since 1970, and fans standing in line to take pictures with team exhibits at Union Station could barely contain their excitement.
"I've been waiting for this day for 50 years," Deshauna Roberts, a lifelong Chiefs fan from Kansas City, said Wednesday. "I am so amped about the Chiefs. I'm a fan. I can't wait for (quarterback Pat) Mahomes to bring it home. Go Chiefs!"
As they wait, fans are snapping up unusual game-related items, such as cakes made to look like Mahomes' signature headband and curly hair, and visiting stores bulging with every type of Chiefs memorabilia.
Statues are sporting team jerseys, fountains are dyed in Chiefs red and the largest buildings in Kansas City's skyline are bathed in red lights at night, while signs, murals and flags adorn homes, buildings and city hall. Many schools participated in Chiefs Spirit Week this week, and some law enforcement agencies are allowing their officers to wear team hats while on duty.
Katrina Wood, of Independence, was decked out in team clothing and accessories while she waited for pictures Wednesday at Union Station. But she also sported a Chiefs tattoo she got earlier this year. Wood said she has attended Super Bowl parties for years because her husband is a football fan.
"I've never been excited about the games," she said. "I've always gone to Super Bowl parties, but this year I actually care."
The biggest public Super Bowl parties will be at the city's downtown Power & Light District. A pep rally featuring Kansas City native Tech9 is planned Friday night. Thousands are then expected to attend a free outdoor tailgating party at the entertainment district beginning at 11 a.m Sunday that will include games, food trucks and a big screen projecting the game. To hold the crowd, streets around the district will be closed for several hours Sunday.
Law enforcement will be out in force across the city to keep an eye on the revelers. Patrol officers will be fully staffed, joined by dozens of additional officers from other divisions "strategically placed" at many of the city's entertainment districts, police spokesman Sgt. Jacob Becchina. Other officers will patrol searching for impaired drivers and the entertainment districts also will have extra security.
"We want people to be safe as they go to and from watch parties as well," Becchina said. "We also want to remind people to celebrate responsibly and not shoot guns off in celebration. If a friend or family member is planning to get a gun and shoot it off, talk them out of it!"
Despite those concerns, officials know the Super Bowl provides invaluable national media attention, especially coming just five years after the Kansas City Royals won a World Series.
"The idea that we've gotten the Royals and Chiefs into championship games so close together is fantastic," city spokesman Chris Hernandez said. "It's very exciting to go through this again."
From a tourism perspective, the game brings advertising the region "couldn't buy," said Jason Fulvi, president and CEO of Visit KC, a group that promotes Kansas City tourism.
"This international exposure will spotlight our regions to millions who may visit Kansas City in the future, fueling our economy for months and years to come," he said.
While some businesses prepare for larger than normal crowds, at least 15 of the 50 Price Chopper grocery stores in Kansas City and its suburbs will close early Sunday so employees can watch the game.
Barry Queen decided to close his five stores in Missouri and Kansas as soon as the Chiefs won the AFC championship Jan. 18 because he wants his nearly 650 employees to enjoy a special moment. The decision made him popular with his employees and customers have not complained, he said.
Alan McKeever, who will close 10 Price Chopper stores, also wanted to reward his employees and he wasn't concerned about losing too much business.
"I'm pretty sure Kansas City is basically going to shut down during the game," he said. "It was that way during the AFC game and this is even greater. We tried to warn our customers ahead of time but most of them think it's neat, they say they appreciate that we are being good to our employees. We're all just so ready for this."