On a good day, you can get from Kansas City’s Lincoln Prep to Arrowhead Stadium in less than 15 minutes.
Weave through suburban K.C. neighborhoods, head east on Interstate 70, get off at the Royals’ ballpark exit and boom, you’re there.
Just don’t ask Charles Harris for directions.
The native Missourian wasn’t a Chiefs fan growing up. Heck, he wasn’t even a football fan.
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But six years after his senior season at Lincoln Prep — which was just his second playing organized football — Harris is back in town.
And he wants to ruin Christmas for his family and friends. The Dolphins play in his hometown on Christmas Eve, and he knows what he wants from Santa.
“A win,” the Miami defensive end said. “Of course a win. Making everybody that’s Chiefs fans mad. Making them very decisive as to who they should cheer for. That would be a great Christmas.”
Sadly, it would not be a perfect one, however. While more than a dozen loved ones have requested tickets to the game, his mom, Deborah Clark, will not be in the stands.
She has multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. His mother’s illness had a profound impact on Harris’ life, so much so that he wore cleats with her name and her disease for the NFL’s My Cleats, My Cause initiative.
“She’s to the point now where she can’t walk at all,” Harris said at the time.
When asked if it would be be bittersweet returning to his hometown but not having his mother at the game, Harris replied:
“I don’t really want to think about it right now. It ain’t nothing I’ve thought about. It’s just my job. I still got to do my job, no matter who is there.”
His job will be to get after Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. The Chiefs are fifth in total offense (373.1 yards per game) and sixth in scoring (25.6), and Smith is having the best statistical season of his career.
Harris, the Dolphins’ first-round pick, has just one sack in his rookie season — and finds conversation about that drought to be “irritating.”
Still, the Dolphins are not at all disappointed by how Harris has played, pointing to his impact on the game beyond the stat sheet.
“We’ve tried to take sort of a long-term approach,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “I thought he actually played fairly well last game. He played with a lot of energy, was running around and chasing. It was a big game for him — obviously with some faster guys in terms of quarterback and running back and those sorts of things — for his athleticism to show. We’ve just been trying to have Charles progress and progress and I think he’s done that. It’s another, obviously, big challenge this week with the offense we’re facing and I think he’ll be ready to play.”
Harris knows the Kansas City offense well after a week of film study.
But just a few years back, Harris would struggle to name three Chiefs players, even though their stadium was six miles from his high school.
Asked by a reporter this week to name his favorite football player while he was growing up, Harris replied:
“I didn’t have a favorite player in football. I didn’t know anything about it. ... I never went to a Chiefs game, cared about them.”
His only tie to the team as a kid? A poster of a mustachioed Chiefs player hanging in his grade school.
“What’s his name? ... Tony Gonzalez,” he said. “I really didn’t care about it.”
Basketball was his first love. He would play at the YMCA and the Southeast Community Center. Harris wanted to play hoops in college, but learned quickly that football was his best chance at a scholarship.
Harris went to Missouri, and actually played at Arrowhead with the Tigers in 2015. Mizzou beat BYU on the neutral field.
Two years later, he is back — but this time, it will very much be a road game. Arrowhead is one of the most daunting home fields in football. The Dolphins have won there just four times in 45 years (granted, this is just the Dolphins’ eighth trip ever to that stadium).
“Great facility, great field, fans, everything,” Harris said. “Great atmosphere.”
And great opportunity for Harris to play Grinch.