The sounds and figures of the Wild West resounded vibrantly in modern American sports this past Sunday, as the NFL playoff game unfolded between the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs, two teams whose namesakes hark back to a bygone era of American history. The Buffalo Bills, named in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody, a central figure in the mythology of the Wild West, faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team whose name pays tribute to Native American leaders. In a thrilling encounter, the Chiefs emerged victorious with a narrow 27-24 win, but the game was about more than just the score. It was a reflection of how the history of the American West and Buffalo Bill's Wild West, continues to ripple through contemporary American culture, particularly in the realm of professional sports.
Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show was a defining element of America's cultural landscape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Billed as a historically accurate and education depiction of the frontier West as it really was, Buffalo Bill's Wild West became America's favorite entertainment from 1883 until Cody's death in 1917. Cody's version of the history of the West was so popular that it's version of events became the cultural memory of the West. For many Americans, it was their first live view of cowboys, vaqueros, and bison. It was also their first real-life encounter with Native people. Cody's show featured legendary Sioux chiefs like Sitting Bull, Iron Tail, Flying Hawk, American Horse, Red Shirt, and Kicking Bear. These shows not only brought the stories and images of the Wild West to life but also played a pivotal role in shaping public perceptions of Native Americans. The AFC Divisional matchup of this past weekend, featuring teams named after Buffalo Bill and Native American Chiefs, serves as a modern reflection of this historical intersection, highlighting how these cultural narratives continue to influence and be celebrated in American sports today.
Furthermore, Buffalo Bill's Wild West show was instrumental in another significant tradition in American sports: the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. It was during these opening of Wild West shows that Francis Scott Key's famous song was played while spectators saluted the American flag, a practice long before the song became the National Anthem in 1931. This tradition, started in the arena of Buffalo Bill's performances, has seamlessly woven itself into the fabric of American sports, resonating from the Wild West shows to the present day. Every time the anthem is played at a sports event, from professional leagues to collegiate games, we are reminded of this historical connection and the enduring legacy of the Wild West in American culture.
Historians consider Buffalo Bill's use of the "Star-Spangled Banner" one of the key reasons the song was chosen as the National Anthem, over other contenders like "America the Beautiful," "Hail, Columbia!," or "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." The choice of the Star Spangled Banner as the anthem encapsulated not just a patriotic choice, but also a cultural one, deeply rooted in the imagery and lore of the Wild West. The recent NFL playoff game, with its symbolic team names and the pre-game national anthem ritual, encapsulates how the Wild West continues to be an integral part of America's national identity and cultural heritage, echoing through the cheers, the plays, and the very spirit of modern American sports.