TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE/KC STAR
GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was early March, and the most influential voices inside the Chiefs organization were contemplating a move that would stun the football world.
At some point, even as the momentum in the room marched largely in the same direction, forging ahead to trade of an All-Pro wide receiver, someone finally stated the obvious out loud — which head coach Andy Reid repeated this week:
“We didn’t lose Pat Mahomes,” Reid said. “And that was the good thing.”
In one final drive, he’s all the Chiefs needed.
Following an offseason of the most significant change of the Patrick Mahomes Era, the Chiefs are Super Bowl champions once more after a 38-35 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in Glendale, Arizona, in Super Bowl LVII.
They stood atop the stage for the second time in four seasons, and not because of that whirlwind of change but because of the calming constant.
They, indeed, still have Mahomes.
On a high-ankle sprain he re-injured in the first half at State Farm Stadium, Mahomes bossed the NFL’s top-ranked defense to the tune of 21 of 27 completions for 182 yards and three touchdowns, a 131.8 passer rating.
The ultimate footprint will be the final drive. Offered the football with 5:15 to play in a tie game, Mahomes marched the Chiefs to first-and-goal before taking a couple of kneel-downs to set up Harrison Butker’s game-winning 27-yard field goal.
How’d he get there? On the injured ankle.
This was not his first Super Bowl. This will not be his last. But it might conclude as his most memorable — beating the team that got him last year in the AFC Championship and winning a Super Bowl as a playoff underdog for the first time, all while a high-ankle sprain the entire postseason.
A hell of a way to finish this journey.
And a reason to remember how it all started.
The direction of a franchise forever changed at 8:19 p.m. on a late-April 2017 night, as the NFL commissioner walked to a lectern with the Chiefs on the draft board clock.
Behind the scenes, the shift had arrived earlier. As the Chiefs gathered intel about where the needed to position themselves in order to select Mahomes, the most informative source was, well, Mahomes. He had relayed the perceived interest from other clubs so the Chiefs so they could find the right slot.
The point here is that he picked the Chiefs. Lord knows, a city standing by the punch bowl for a quarter-century had been waiting to pick him.
Five years ago, I put out a bulletin for Chiefs fans who had lived through the postseason anguish of the past three decades. Within an hour, the inbox had 500 new emails. The group had rallied on hope but been defined instead by fear of what awaited around the next corner.
Those moments, as it turns out, were merely the buildup for the payoff, and the payoff is sweetened by this history.
Mahomes was not responsible for that anguish, but he absorbed its consequences initially — heck, even as recently as a year ago, some fans left the Bills playoff game before the most memorable 13 seconds in franchise history. They thought they had too often seen what awaited.
They haven’t seen this guy before.
He initially changed the optimism of a city.
And now he’s changed the game.
He is just the 13th quarterback to win multiple Super Bowls. He’s just the fourth to win multiple Super Bowls and multiple MVP awards. He’s the first to do both in the same season since 1999.
The Chiefs are no longer the team for which you feel pity — if you were paying attention at all — but rather the team lucky enough to have this player.
How many times have you watched an athlete at the top of his game and wondered: What would it be like to have that guy?
Leave that to Denver, Vegas and Los Angeles now.
Mahomes is of the too-good-to-be-true mold, particularly for a town in which for so long it was literally too good to be true. The best player in the sport has ingrained himself in a city that might just love its municipality even more than his quarterback. That’s a requirement for hero status here, and Mahomes has jumped in full-bore. The Royals, Sporting KC and Current now call him a minority owner.
His teammates rave about him, a leader whose admiration from the place he calls home is outweighed only by the admiration from those who share a locker room with him.
On Sunday, we witnessed the start — not the conclusion — of a legacy.
The Chiefs are Super Bowl champions in an era in which they are paying their quarterback half a billion dollars. As the Eagles tucked in a quarterback on a rookie contract into a roster littered with investments and the accompanying talent elsewhere, the Chiefs were forced to pay the quarterback and still find a way.
While literally gaining the Chiefs homefield advantage for a championship game every year of his starting career, he is more figuratively winning subtracted an advantage now. He will almost certainly be asked if the second title feels any differently than the first, and he will almost certainly answer than it does — the second came after an honest recognition of its difficulty, a difficulty he learned the hard way a year ago.
He has bounced back from his career’s lowest moment. He has won with less talent around him, or at least with less expensive talent around him.
That is his legacy now.
The aforementioned trade — sending Tyreek Hill to Miami — was a move made out of necessity. If you pay the quarterback like the Chiefs do, well, you can’t pay everyone else you do the quarterback.
The Chiefs’ path to this championship pitted them against teams with quarterbacks still on their rookie contract — not just Hurts but Joe Burrow before him and Trevor Lawrence before him. Time will illuminate whether they can compete in the next era.
Mahomes is now there — that’s the emphatic statement of change that came Sunday — and the lone offensive starter by his side for both titles is his tight end, Travis Kelce. That’s it.
The defense has undergone similar changes — just three starters remained from that 2019 season — but there’s a notable difference in the two units.
The offense is responsible for this. The defense is more like the assistant to the manager. And the quarterback is most responsible for the offense. Kelce pre-dated Mahomes, and historically speaking, his best days should have pre-dated Mahomes. They did not. The Chiefs’ success did not pre-date him, either.
Mahomes is an all-time great regardless of the outcome Sunday — this is a boost to his resume, not to the player he already is. Frequently, he shatters quickest-to-milestone achievements, not just annually but often weekly.
But Dan Marino had the numbers. Peyton Manning too. Troy Aikman and Tom Brady had the championships.
Mahomes has the numbers and now a couple of the titles with them. He is not only unique to KC but unique to the NFL — though he is particularly unique to KC. Mahomes left the field Sunday as the most accomplished athlete to wear a Kansas City uniform, and that’s not recency bias.
He’s still five years younger than when George Brett provided the Royals a World Series championship.
A city had been largely tormented since.
The Chiefs alone turned to 29 quarterbacks in the separation between Len Dawson and Patrick Mahomes, in search of moments that arrived Sunday.
The backup quarterback was among the most popular sports figures in town.
This quarterback is among the most popular in the world.
And he resides in KCMO.