Field of Play: Mark Dent and Rustin Dodd’s new book Kingdom Quarterback uses football to tell a story far more important to KC’s future

Untitled Artwork

Illustration by Jacqulyn Seyferth

Had he played for the Chiefs in an earlier era, Patrick Mahomes II most likely wouldn’t have been allowed to buy or even rent a house in the Country Club Plaza. In 2023, however, he is the face of Kansas City—and the entire National Football League. 

How did we get here?

Kingdom Quarterback, a new book by KC journalists Mark Dent and Rustin Dodd released in August, attempts to weave a narrative of a symbiotic relationship between the city’s history and the football team that has called it home since 1963. 

It opens not with Arrowhead or 13-second miracle drives but with scenes of the WWI Liberty Memorial completion in 1926. 

“The people of Kansas City simply thought that constructing a giant new memorial might change the destiny of the place,” Dent and Dodd write in the introduction.

That project was guided by the forceful hand of J.C. Nichols, a controversial founding figure in the metro’s history who built the Country Club Plaza and designed “model” neighborhoods that included hard, racially restrictive housing covenants.

“We grew up in Kansas City in the ‘90s at a time when—especially if you grew up in the suburbs—you knew the broad strokes of the J.C. Nichols story. But the true, unvarnished story was rarely told to a wide audience,” Dodd says. “As we were doing our research, we couldn’t find a very clear, easily understandable [source] that could explain exactly what happened.” 

The book addresses these inequalities and the city’s complicated relationship with people of color as it traces the city’s transformation from cow town to Pendergast years, follwed by the upbringing and mayoral tenure of Quinton Lucas, the rise of the KC Tenants in city politics, and the Chiefs’ second Super Bowl victory in four seasons. 

Dent and Dodd both grew up in Overland Park—one of KC’s “manicured suburbs”—and met in 2006 while they were both journalism students at the University of Kansas.

“We were good friends, but we always stayed in touch professionally as well, just sort of enabling each other as friends in the business,” Dodd says. “We have a similar writing style, and we kind of look at journalism very similarly.”

Dodd is now a senior writer at The Athletic out of New York City, and before that, he was a sportswriter for the Kansas City Star from 2010 through 2017. Dent now lives in Dallas but has had his work published in outlets like The New York Times, Texas Monthly, Vox, Wired, and more.

In 2020, following the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV win, Dent proposed the book idea to Dodd, suggesting they co-write it. Dodd agreed, and from there, the two split duties required to submit a proposal to publishers. They eventually signed a contract with the Penguin imprint, Dutton.

“We’d won the World Series a few years before, but this still just felt a little different. It felt like there was still so much more that was going to happen with Patrick Mahomes and with the Chiefs. I just kind of got to thinking, ‘Okay, so what does this mean for Kansas City?’ Because you could tell that it was changing in a lot of ways, in the sense that it had been growing in population for a while, especially downtown,” Dent says.

Over the next 18 months, the pair versed themselves in the city’s lore and conducted as many as 100 interviews. Dodd was at Super Bowl LVII, while Dent, at one point, made the roughly 100-mile trek to eastern Texas to visit Patrick Mahomes, Sr. in Tyler. 

“I think the most interesting, shocking thing that I discovered during the reporting process was the highways. We know US-71 goes through that stretch there on the east side, but that was actually just one option,” Dent says. “The other, of course, was to go through the Country Club District, and there were actually some plans for it [along the Trolley Track Trail]. I talked to some people who lived on the east side at the time, and, as they put it, there was no chance it was ever going to be built on the Plaza or near the Country Club District.”

Kingdomquarterback Full.indd

Kingdom Quarterback. Courtesy image

When the Chiefs couldn’t run it back following a Super Bowl LV loss to Tom Brady’s Bucs in 2021, the authors were granted some more time to sift through the archives. The discoveries and revelations kept coming, strengthening the final narrative.

“I think one thing we found was that at places like the Kansas City Call, Black journalists in KC throughout the 20th century were telling these stories… and nobody was listening,” Dodd says.

On the sports side of things, Kingdom Quarterback is littered with deeper cuts like Curtis McClinton, a Black player who scored the Chiefs’ first-ever touchdown in 1963—a preseason game, though he still went for 73-yards—and who was later discriminated against when trying to find a home near the Plaza. 

The book also tells of the unconventional and sometimes contradictory nature of the late Lamar Hunt’s style of ownership, how he almost considered keeping the Texans’ team name when the franchise moved from Dallas to Kansas City in 1963, as well as his hiring of Lloyd Wells, the first Black scout in NFL history. 

“Hunt was never confused for a progressive. He was, however, a strident capitalist, an AFL outsider trying to disrupt the establishment NFL,” Dent and Dodd write. “So Hunt hired Wells. The relationship came to change the fortunes of the Kansas City Chiefs—and alter the face of professional football.”

Wells was responsible for the decision to draft Buck Buchanan in 1963—the first time an AFL or NFL team would draft a Black player first overall. Buchanan played 12 seasons with the Chiefs as an offensive lineman, won a Super Bowl, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Another third of the book discussed Mahomes’ upbringing, his natural tendencies to experiment on the field, the “contours and influences of his raspy, twangy, Kermit the Frog voice,” and most importantly, his place as the standard-bearer of a long line of Black quarterback trailblazers like Marlin Briscoe, Warren Moon, and Doug Williams.

Just like the restricted “Troost Divide” housing ecosystem was long and quietly enforced, the league-wide cultural stigma against Black quarterbacks took decades to begin to dissipate. Mahomes and contemporaries such as Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts have achieved new heights for the cause’s visibility.

After the Chiefs won Super Bowl LVII earlier this year, the final pieces of the puzzle began to fall in place as if Mahomes was firing them off left-handed on a bum ankle in the playoffs. 

“Some of this stuff sounds a little cliche at this point, but the Chiefs are never really out of a game. You literally just have that feeling of, ‘they’re going to win,’” Dodd says. “I’m not sure KC has ever had that feeling about anything.”

The timing was perfect, with the pair finding time between championships to interview members of KC Tenants, including leader Diane Charity. The conversations proved to be key in bringing the Kingdom Quarterback story full circle (or as close as possible while the saga is ongoing).

After explaining over a century’s worth of history on redlining and similar racially discriminative city planning practices, Dent and Dodd found the city’s current emphasis on affordable housing to be another hint that greater progress off the field is also beginning to take place.

“The Tenants help illustrate what’s happening with these issues now that people are a lot more alert about the wrongs that were done in the past and thinking of ways to fix them,” Dent says. 

In many ways, the final product—a 388-page (306 without the post-script) fusion of sports, urbanization, politics, and the human spirit—is almost more about the good, the bad, and the ugly of KC history than it is about Patrick Mahomes or his dynasty. 

“I think our book kind of explains what happened to the American city—and Kansas City is easily the American city,” Dent says. “I think for people who live elsewhere, it offers a valuable lesson—both to understand what happens to cities and to see what people are doing about it now.”

The football stuff, while fantastic and insightful, often plays the role of the appetizing topping to a story that deserves to be told with or without sports. With them, however, the book’s many overlapping topics work together in tandem with shorter chapters that alternate from subject to subject on their way to presenting a narrative that feels shorter than it actually is. 

As Dodd says, “Write the things that you really want to read.”

As it turns out, Kingdom Quarterback is exactly that.

Kingdom Quarterback can be ordered or downloaded as an e-book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major retailers, as well as on the shelf at your local bookstore. 

Categories: Culture, Sports