Honoring The Chiefs Old Pardner

In pre-game ceremonies on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs will honor Bill Grigsby.

There’s some question as to whether Grigs will feel well enough to make it to the stadium. I know Grigs is struggling these days but to appear in front of a crowd of Chiefs fans that will shower him with love, he wouldn’t miss it. I’ll know Grigs is really sick if they hand him the microphone and they don’t have to pry it out of his hands to get it back.

For some 15 years I shared the radio broadcast booth in the pre-game with Grigs. For much more than that I’ve been around him as part of the media horde covering the Chiefs. We’ve had dinner together, we’ve played golf together, we’ve had a toddy or two (or three) together, we’ve argued and fought, and we’ve shared plenty of laughs and jokes. It’s been quite an experience that carries plenty of memories. At times is was a joy, at other times it was a challenge and there were a few times where it could be exasperating. Always it was interesting.

Grigs and I would be trying to find a cab early Sunday mornings while we were on the road, hustling to get to the stadium to start the three-and-a-half-hour pre-game. Standing outside a hotel, I would be my normal early-morning grumpy self. By the time a cab showed up, Grigs would already know the name of the bellman and the valet parking guy and he’s be telling him one of his many stories.

Oh those Grigsby stories! Some were true, some were fantasy, and all were embellished as only Grigs could. There was a point where the guys in the radio crew started numbering the stories, we heard them so often. But sometimes there were adjustments made to the characters and locations. Sometimes the General at Leavenworth became the Bishop in St. Joseph.

If you traveled with Grigs the one thing you learned quickly is that people were always happy to see him. Whether it was former players, members of the media or just fans, if you happened to be someplace and there were people there that knew him, it was an instant party. Even people who didn’t know him thought they did because his voice had been coming through their radio for so many years. Everybody was his “Old Pardner.”

He started with the Chiefs broadcasts in 1963 when the team moved to Kansas City, and was part of the crew for all but three seasons in the 1970s when he went to work for a competing station. Last January, he announced on the air that he was hanging up his headphones.

When we worked together on the pre-game show it was a constant struggle at times to keep him focused, because there was always a long line of people stopping by to say hello. Grigs would rip off his head set and start talking to them, even at times he was supposed to be talking on the air. He always had something to stay, although at times it had nothing to do with the game, the team or even football. No subject was off-limits when Grigs got going.

There are so many memories. I’ll never forget one of the Chiefs trips to Tokyo (either 1994 or 1997). It was just before kickoff and the lights in the Tokyo Dome were lowered for the playing of the national anthems of Japan and the United States. If you’ve heard the Japanese anthem you now it’s dirge-like, a very low, depressing song. The Dome was pin-drop quiet, but just as the anthem started, it was time for Grigs to go on the air live back to Kansas City.

“You know folks Tokyo is a great place but they don’t have any of Ollie Gates great BBQ over here,” Grigs was saying in a voice that was echoing through quiet Dome. Carl Peterson was a few rows ahead of Grigs in the press box and he turned around and signaled to Grigs to stop. “And … there’s Carl Peterson waving to us here in the crowd in Tokyo …” was Grigs reply, as he waved back.

An international incident was averted as the broadcast went to another commercial break.

There was the first pre-season game of a season a few years back where Grigs opened his briefcase in the booth to find a single piece of Gates BBQ sausage in there. Somehow in the final game of the previous season, the sausage had leapt into his briefcase and then spent the off-season there becoming as hard as a stalagmite.

After one game he was in the locker room and he’d forgotten his glasses. While there he needed to do a live commercial for Mountain Valley Water. Now Grigs could go on about Mountain Valley Water for days without a script. But there was a phone number he needed to read. Unable to see the card, fans listening would first hear the whisper of engineer Nate Wetmore’s voice as he said “816″, and then Grigs in his announcer voice would say “816.” It went like this for the entire phone number. OK, maybe you had to be there.

There was always a card game in the back of the charter flight with Grigs in the middle. He was the guy who would start a pool to pick a landing time for the flight. If there was a movie playing, he seldom had the head set on. There was too much else to do than to spend that time with a movie he knew he wouldn’t like.

Through all the games and seasons and decades, there was another constant with Grigs – his wife Fran. She’s as close to a Saint as you will find on this earth, just in putting up with a husband that never grew up, if any husband ever does grow up.

Grigs was a hustler, because he had to be. A Depression Era kid out of Joplin, his stories of growing up eating nothing but potato soup became legendary. In the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, being a broadcaster meant you were likely the poorest family on the block. There just wasn’t a lot of money out there for people that talked into microphones. Thus Grigs became a wrestling promoter, something that increased by 50 percent his story pool. He owned a beer distributorship, where sometimes he drove the delivery truck. He handled the broadcasts of the Final Four, the Kansas City A’s, NAIA basketball, the Chiefs and who knows how many other events and teams.

It was some life, one that could have been lead only by a man with a very large constitution. That man was Bill Grigsby.

5 Responses to “Honoring The Chiefs Old Pardner”

  • September 25, 2010  - Niblick says:

    I remember one of Grigs stories. He said after the Super Bowl win he had interviewed everybody in the Chiefs locker room except the security guard.

    I hope he can attend the game tomorrow. Like Bob said, he will be there if at all possible. I will certainly be there to honor him for all his years with the Chiefs.

    Great article Bob.

  • September 25, 2010  - Blake says:

    One of my favorite experiences with Bill was during a team charter flight from Buffalo that became rather bumpy. That was when the plane crash stories would come out, and he would say, “Ladies and gentleman we are about to land in Smithville lake, please insert your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.” I was laughing too hard to notice the turbulance. In his younger days my Dad and his friends used to harass him when he worked as a manager of a theatre in Joplin, distracting him in the front while others snuck in the back. We miss Bill’s voice on the radio very much.

  • September 25, 2010  - dan in joplin says:

    Best chiefs radio…. grigs, gretz & mitch!

  • September 26, 2010  - cychief24 says:

    It breaks my heart that I will miss my first Chiefs home game since ’96 even more knowing they are going to honor Grigs. I slipped on the wet stairs at Arrowhead last Monday night and ruptured my left quad. I had knee surgery this monday and in an immobilizer for 6 weeks. My goal is to make it back for the Jags game.
    Everytime I said hi to him in the Wolfpack Club he treated my son and I like family. At least my son and brother will be there to honor Grigs.

  • September 26, 2010  - Gary says:

    Priceless stories about a KC legend. My favorite, just waving back at King Carl in the Tokyo dome. No Gates but plenty of sushi and sashimi. Thanks for this feature of ‘ol Grigs!

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