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Chiefs reward community with extended contract

Amid celebrating the 15-year procession of Kansas City Chiefs training camps Monday, local officials learned the Chiefs will be back for sure in 2006.

The NFL team also agreed to a series of "one-year option" contracts that would keep training camp at UW-River Falls through 2010. Those option contracts declare the Chief's intent to stay in River Falls, though they are not guaranteed commitments.

Chiefs president Carl Peterson made the announcement at the official grand opening of the new locker facilities at the university's Hunt/Knowles Arena.

Present at the opening was Gov. Jim Doyle, who helped gain funds to improve the school's athletic facilities for the Chiefs as well as the student body.

Doyle said some golfing buddies needled him last year when he played a round clad in a shirt that bore the Chiefs logo - instead of the familiar green and gold.

"The Chiefs are our favorite AFC team," Doyle said, "and the Chiefs are definitely a part of the Wisconsin family. Our relationship has been nothing but solid. This is a classy organization.

"Every time the Chiefs have said that they would do something in return for something it's been delivered. The Chiefs are a major part of the impetus for this great project but the students are, too - those who are on the campus today and those who will be here in years to come."

Peterson praised the responsiveness by university staff. Chiefs officials declared in 2003 they needed improved facilities to continue holding camp at UW-RF.

Thanks to a $2.49 million package that involved state borrowing, the university has made a number of improvements to the Hunt/Knowles Arena, the school's main field house.

The 12,300 square foot addition made room for 100 pro-style lockers, two spacious shower and dressing areas, and a new training room with seven stainless-steel therapeutic tubs. The entire building is air-conditioned - an additional plus for the Chiefs.

Doyle - who arrived 45 minutes late - teased Peterson that his team came dangerously close to losing his support for the new training facility after it came from behind to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in October, 2003. The Chiefs won the high-scoring game in overtime.

"It showed what kind of a person I was," Doyle deadpanned. "As I left that stadium I didn't think the Chiefs should get anything. But I paused, I reflected, collected myself and realized - it's just a football game."

"We're proud of the River Falls campus and the River Falls community. In many ways the Chiefs being here has allowed us to show that off a little bit to the whole country so that people who maybe have never heard of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls at least get to see it because of the exposure that comes from having the Chiefs," Doyle said.

Peterson reminded the 100 or so people present that he's told the Missouri media that it's "absolutely wonderful that the state of Wisconsin and the University system would honor us and come up with $2.4 million to build facilities that are second to none."

At a luncheon held earlier to recognize corporate sponsors, community supporters and university staff, new UW-RF chancellor Don Betz said he and his wife Susanne have been "Chiefs and Royals fans for most of our adult lives."

Before moving to River Falls, their Oklahoma home was just five hours from Kansas City. "We're thrilled to be so close to (the team) today."

"You've created something that would be the envy of many institutions around the country," Peterson said of the new training facility. "This is a great day for this institution and the relationship that's developed over the last 15 years."

Both team and university officials repeatedly recognized the perseverance and tenacity shown by then-chancellor Gary Thibodeau and vice-chancellor Mary Halada to convince the Chiefs organization that River Falls should become its summer home.

Peterson remembered that first year when the team paraded down Main Street on fire trucks and players noticed lamppost banners touting River Falls as the "Summer home of the Chiefs".

"I don't think anyone thought we would be here for 15 years. But every single year, (Halada) kept asking, 'How can we make it better next year?' You've done it. You've done it. You've done it," said Peterson.

He said the Chiefs too have given materially in ways to benefit the campus, providing air-conditioning units for Grimm Hall and improvements to the practice fields at Ramer Field.

"And new seats for the chemistry (lecture hall). We found out quickly that your students don't weigh 300 pounds," he said.

"You have made River Falls a summer destination, a vacation place, for great number of fans. We don't want to leave. And we're not going to leave in the near future," Peterson said.

Chiefs executive vice-president Dennis Thum said his organization looked at lots of facilities around the nation, including California and Colorado, before Thibodeau and Halada convinced them to sign a contract here.

As he moved toward the podium to make the announcement in 1990, Peterson said Thibodeau teasingly told him, "Now don't screw it up!"

"We haven't screwed it up and you haven't screwed it up," he concluded.

Retired UW-RF Foundation President Chuck Brictson closed the luncheon program with his own hopeful quip:

"I've already put down in my calendar that I'd like to emcee this on the 20th year."