KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The new face of the NFL took the podium Sunday night wearing a Versace jacket and leopard-print sneakers. His shaggy-do hairstyle had long since inspired wigs that sprung up around town mimicking that new look.
Twenty-four year old Patrick Mahomes stared down at an audience during his postgame presser that included not only the media but fawning septuagenarians — 70 year olds – Kansas City Chiefs fans, staff — who had waited half a century to see something like this.
In his second season as a starter, the Chiefs quarterback had accomplished what scores of coaches, general managers and players couldn’t since the franchise’s last Super Bowl exactly 50 years and eight days ago.
The Chiefs won that one over the Vikings in Super Bowl III. It took a kid who wouldn’t even be born for another 26 years for the Chiefs to get back to the championship promised land.
“I’m not going to say we couldn’t have done it without Patrick but Patrick has certainly made a huge difference,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt.
That is the understatement of the half century in this town. Kansas City is still dancing a merry Super Bowl dance after Mahomes was the difference again in the biggest game Arrowhead Stadium has seen, well, ever – a 35-24 win over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game.
It came with equal parts angst and eloquence, longing and loudness, brews and bruises in crazy Arrowhead.
“We collected a lot of rent money [over] the last 50 years,” said defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who has been here all of eight months since signing in March.
It took Mahomes to finally get the payoff.
The kid sprung another comeback with a 27-yard touchdown dash late in the second quarter. Mahomes was flushed from the pocket, angled left and looked to be run out of bounds by a couple of Titans defenders.
Mahomes somehow made the corner, tight-roped down the sideline and stiff-armed defensive back Tramaine Brock Sr. before scoring to put the Chiefs ahead 21-17.
Jaws everywhere dropped. The Chiefs never trailed again.
“I don’t know how he keeps doing this ’cause he’s a big guy,” punter Dustin Colquitt said. “He knows how to do that last little spin, that last little dive. He’s got three eyes or something.”
Mahomes has this city and the entire NFL at his feet at this point. Since the Chiefs fell behind the Houston Texans 24-0 last week, Mahomes completed 42 of his last 62 passes for 572 yards and 8 touchdowns. Three of them came against the Titans.
Once again he was everything, also leading the Chiefs in rushing (53 yards) for the second straight playoff game.
Leading rusher, passer, best dresser. That’s triple threat swag. Might as well throw in most ubiquitous. You can’t turn on a TV these days without seeing Mahomes on a national or local commercial.
“Who he is right now and how he’s been able to take the scrutiny, take the hype that’s a special trait that he has,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “I’m just happy I get to play with him.”
Mahomes has courted all this attention and thrived. The kid who had one Texas Bowl loss to his credit at Tech, is now about to play in the biggest bowl of them all.
“I played at Texas Tech, I put up a lot of stats but we didn’t win a lot of football games,” Mahomes said from that podium.
Mahomes’ MVP season in 2018 ended with an AFC Championship loss here to the Patriots. Tom Brady made a point to seek out Mahomes after the 37-31 Patriots overtime victory. It hadn’t been for the Chiefs loss, that gesture would have stood for some sort of passing of the torch.
Instead, it was fulfillment delayed.
“He gets up there every single day in the NFL,” Mahomes said of Brady. “He treats it like it’s the most important day.
“Having to watch the Super Bowl [last year] without being in it was something I could barely do. I knew I wanted to be in this moment, playing in this game to get to the Super Bowl but I knew it was a day-by-day process.”
Seven years ago, Hunt hired coach Andy Reid after he had been jettisoned by the Eagles. A sure-fire Hall of Famer remains tagged with the label: Winningest coach in NFL history never to win a championship.
That label may be dropped soon. In the boldest decision of his career, Reid made the decision to move up in the 2017 draft to get Mahomes.
Reid put together a plan for Mahomes to “redshirt” in his rookie year backing up veteran Alex Smith. That allowed Mahomes to drink in the enormity of the NFL and reduce it to simple excellence. He threw 50 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. In this season, bothered by injuries, Mahomes threw only 26.
But he matured if that’s possible a year after blitzing the league.
“Pat’s the leader of the team, everybody knows that,” Reid said.
That 2018 season ended with the Chiefs having clinched a Super Bowl berth for a half-second. Except that linebacker Dee Ford lined up offsides negating what would have been a game-clinching interception.
“I haven’t lined up offsides, probably my whole career,” defensive end Frank Clark said in the run up to the game.
“Last year we were four inches short,” Reid said. “The guys made it a point to get better than that four inches.”
So, yeah, the latest in a half century of missteps had stuck with the franchise. Fifty years. From moon landing to Miami. In that span 25 teams have played for the NFL championship, almost three-quarters of the league.
The stadium where Super Bowl III was played at Tulane‘s old stadium in New Orleans is now a lawn. Where Arrowhead Stadium stands was a madhouse. The self-anointed loudest stadium in existence partied away the frustration.
That includes Clark Hunt who was four years old when he “watched” that last Super Bowl.
“I hate to say, I don’t remember it,” he said.
In the subsequent years, Hunt grew up at the foot of his father Lamar. The de facto founder of the AFL brought the franchise here from Dallas in the early 1960s.
When Lamar Hunt died in 2006, Clark took over. He inherited that half century when the Chiefs have been both incompetent and a giant tease.
Somehow general manager Jim Schaaf held on for 13 years until 1988. In that span the franchise went to the playoffs once.
The modern era of Chiefs football basically debuted in 1989 with the addition of GM Carl Peterson and coach Marty Schottenheimer. Marty Ball became the rage, if not the path to postseason heaven.
During that time they traded for Joe Montana for one final lap. That led to the 1993 AFC Championship Game but not more. In 1996, Lin Elliott tore the heart out of a city by missing three field goals in a bitterly-cold playoff loss at home to the Jim Harbaugh-led Colts.
The Chiefs watched Dick Vermeil win a Super Bowl across the state with the St. Louis Rams, then hired him two years later. Kansas City went to one playoff (and lost) in Vermeil’s five seasons.
Reid is the third-longest tenured Chiefs coach behind Hank Stram and Schottenheimer.
Tease? The Lamar Hunt Trophy that goes to the AFC champions is named after the Chiefs owner/legend who coined the phrase “Super Bowl.”
For the first time the Chiefs have won the trophy since it was named after their founder in 1984.
Young and old alike here will not forget it for a while.
Colquitt, in his 15th season in Kansas City, is the only player in the giddy locker room to have known Lamar Hunt. The franchise’s longest-tenured veteran also shares a locker room with the NFL’s Next Big Thing.
Colquitt was allowed to reminisce.
“Once I saw [90 seconds] on the clock and you’re like, ‘It’s done. We just won,’ he said. “I don’t like looking up in the stands a whole lot but I looked up and you could see fans up there in elation. I don’t even know what the best word is. They’ve wanted it too, just as bad as we have.”