KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A few minutes after 8 p.m. on a late-April 2017 night, Patrick Mahomes felt his cell phone ring. The Chiefs were on the other end, and they had been infatuated with the arm talent and the personality, sold by a 56-point loss in Ames, Iowa. (You read that correctly.)
At 8:19 p.m. that evening, the NFL commissioner walked to the podium, on the brink of forever altering the course of Kansas City. The football franchise. The city. All of it.
There was Before Mahomes. The 25 years of playoff futility inside Arrowhead Stadium. The five-decade Super Bowl drought. Life with the backup quarterback as the most popular man in town and a starting quarterback’s injury once drawing cheers from his home fans.
And there’s After Mahomes. A 24-year-old selling out cereal boxes and headbands and showing up on commercial breaks of his own games. A quarterback who offered hope.
Mahomes played no part of the painful playoff history of this franchise, but he absorbed every bit of it, from the hush and tension inside a stadium to a fan leaving after the first quarter, worried he had long fueled some sort of curse.
And in only two swings, he has forever changed it.
The Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl, a 35-24 win against the Titans on Sunday cementing their spot, their MVP quarterback not just a reason but rather the reason.
It comes at long last for a franchise. Forget Patrick Mahomes II — not even Patrick Mahomes Sr. had been born the last time the Chiefs played for a Super Bowl half a century ago.
At long last for a head coach. In 21 seasons, Andy Reid has coached in just one Super Bowl and none in the past years. The winningest coach in NFL history to not win the big one has another opportunity to rid himself of that moniker.
But in no time for the 24-year-old quarterback. Mahomes has started just 34 NFL games on a team that all-too-recently went 22 years without a single playoff win. The Chiefs have turned to 29 quarterbacks since Len Dawson last led them to the biggest annual sporting event in the country.
Number 30 is the reigning MVP for another six days, at least until Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson likely assumes that title Saturday night. But while the latter is no longer playing, the former lived up to the title bestowed to the youngest player to win the award in 35 years.
He completed 23 of 35 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. Broke Alex Smith’s franchise for career postseason touchdown passes, and now is another good time to remind you he’s started two seasons.
But for all of the attention afforded his arm, Mahomes’ masterpiece came on a 27-yard touchdown run, a scramble reserved for a championship game. He escaped the pocket to his left and covered 64 yards in all, according to NextGen stats, more than any quarterback touchdown run in the NFL this season.
He thwarted four tackles and carried another defender into the end zone.
The product on the field transcends a franchise’s history. It transcends his age.
But so does the personality. A week ago, as the Chiefs fell behind three possessions in the AFC Divisional Round to Houston, Mahomes gathered the offense on the bench, reminded them of the time left on the clock and remarked, “Let’s go do something special.” Teammates said the message resonated. Some said it fired them up.
“It’s rare — his leadership ability, his ability to feel. I don’t know if you can teach that part,” Reid said. “You can teach the fundamentals and those things, but then they put their own personality on it. You want to make sure that takes place. He’s done that. He’s been able to lead.”
Two weeks from now, the face of the Chiefs becomes the face of the Super Bowl. The complete package suggests it won’t be his only opportunity, but who knows? The Chiefs, specifically offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, have been keen to mention these chances don’t come often. Nothing is guaranteed.
Mahomes has experienced the fickle nature of football, encapsulated in one season. He sprained his ankle in the season opener, a pain that lingered for months. He dislocated his kneecap in Week 7, an injury that initially looked so bad his teammates ran in the opposite direction and slammed their helmets on that Denver grass.
He banged his hand on the turf in New England, severe enough to prevent him from throwing a deep ball and prompt Reid to adjust his play-calling.
And yet he came through it all.
On Sunday, after he plowed through a defense to that 27-yard run, he stood up and flexed his muscles toward the crowd, staring into a camera lens as if he expected the result all along. But back at the line of scrimmage, now 27 yards behind the play, offensive lineman Eric Fisher stood with his hands on his knees and then his head, expressing his amazement at what just unfolded.
Amazed how quickly one man had altered the course of a play.
A long-suffering fan base could relate.