Everyone has a cross to bear. Everyone has a part to play in the cosmic order. Some fans are destined to celebrate countless championships in exchange for their souls; they can be found at places like Yankee Stadium, TD Garden, or Staples Center. Browns fans exist so that the rest of us know the universe isn’t fair. Mets fans root for their team so that the rest of us can laugh. Patriots fans serve as a warning of what can happen to a fan base that goes from the outhouse to the penthouse and forgets where it came from.
We Kansas City Chiefs fans occupy a sort of purgatory between the two poles of the human experience. It has been our destiny to serve as a prop in the playoff highlight videos of other teams, the henchman who the protagonist kills on his way to getting the girl and defeating the boss—and not even the final boss at that. Like any two-dimensional villain, the Chiefs always look formidable on paper, but have one key weakness that can be easily exploited once it’s identified.
And that weakness is always easy to identify, because it never changes. The Chiefs, you see, are also destined to answer the same cosmic question year after year: Is it possible to win in the NFL without an elite quarterback?
I have been a Chiefs fan for 30 years, and over that span the Chiefs have done, at various times and sometimes even at the same time, everything right—except employ an elite quarterback. In those three decades, the Chiefs have succeeded in winning, at various times and sometimes even at the same time, everything there is to win in football—except a crucial playoff game. But there has been a rift in the cosmic order. Suddenly, it feels like the first sentence in this paragraph no longer rings true. And I’m starting to believe that the second sentence won’t be true for much longer.
The Chiefs had an elite quarterback once upon a time. His name was Len Dawson, he washed out of two other organizations before catching on with the franchise (back when it was still the Dallas Texans) at age 27, and in 1962 he lifted the team to an AFL championship while leading the league in touchdown passes and completion percentage. The team moved to Kansas City the following year and Dawson would remain its quarterback through 1975, leading the newly renamed Chiefs to two Super Bowls and one NFL championship on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Dawson was a great quarterback by the standards of his era. The standards have changed a bit since. The iconic photo of his career may be this one of him smoking a cigarette while in uniform. At halftime. Of the Super Bowl.
Here's Len Dawson smoking a cigarette and drinking a Fresca *during halftime* of Super Bowl I. pic.twitter.com/ldNF4bbR3z— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) January 29, 2014
Dawson retired the year I was born. It would be inaccurate to say that the Chiefs have been looking for another Hall of Fame quarterback ever since, because for long stretches the team honestly didn’t seem to care whether it had a Hall of Fame–caliber quarterback. The Chiefs thought they could win a championship without one. They were wrong.
I became a fan of the Chiefs in the late 1980s, around the time that head coach Marty Schottenheimer arrived in town with a mission to reverse the malaise that had afflicted the franchise for the 15 years after Dawson retired. In 1990, the Chiefs made the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons, with veteran game manager Steve DeBerg as their quarterback. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen the words “veteran game manager” and “Chiefs quarterback” used together, I’d have enough money to buy a replica Dave Krieg jersey.
DeBerg led the Chiefs to an 11-5 record by playing largely mistake-free football; he threw only four interceptions all season and posted the best interception rate in the league. And in the first Chiefs playoff game I ever witnessed, he managed the action enough to take Kansas City to a 16-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter. DeBerg acquitted himself well even if he wasn’t a Hall of Fame quarterback.
But on the other sideline that day was Dan Marino, who was a Hall of Fame quarterback. Marino was a perfect 8-of-8 on pass attempts in the fourth quarter, including two that went for touchdowns. The Chiefs lost 17-16.
Kansas City would make the playoffs again after the 1991 season, and this time DeBerg won the opening round, despite throwing for just 89 yards. (It helps when your opponent starts Todd Marinovich, who threw four picks.) But in the second round the Chiefs were steamrolled 37-14 by the Bills and their Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly. The next year, the same story: The Chiefs got shut out in the wild-card round 17-0.
So heading into the 1993 season the Chiefs decided that, hey, maybe they needed a Hall of Fame quarterback of their own. The 49ers then had two of them, which is how Joe Montana, in the twilight of his career, became a Chief. Montana was 37 years old and had missed almost all of the previous two seasons with injuries. But he was still Joe Montana. The Chiefs went 11-5, the fourth season in a row in which they won 10 or 11 games, and things were different in the playoffs. After all, they had Joe Montana.
In the wild-card round against the Steelers, the Chiefs found themselves trailing by a touchdown, at home, with less than two minutes to play. On fourth-down-and-the-season from the Pittsburgh 7-yard line, Montana hit wide receiver Tim Barnett for the game-tying score. The Chiefs went on to win 27-24 in overtime. The following week, the Chiefs traveled to Houston and spotted the Oilers a 10-0 halftime lead before Montana threw three second-half touchdowns and the Chiefs won 28-20.
It would be their last playoff victory for 22 years.
It’s not that the Chiefs have been bad over the past generation—quite the contrary. From 1990 to 2017, the Chiefs are one of just nine NFL franchises to win 244 games. (The other eight—the Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Eagles, Broncos, Cowboys, Colts, and 49ers—have all won at least two conference championships and one Super Bowl during that span.) The Chiefs have had elite running backs, from Marcus Allen to Priest Holmes to Larry Johnson (briefly) to Jamaal Charles. They’ve had elite defenses; the 1995 and 1997 Chiefs both allowed the fewest points in the NFL. They’ve had elite offensive lines; the 2002-2003 line of Willie Roaf, Brian Waters, Casey Wiegmann, Will Shields, and John Tait was one of the most impenetrable fronts this century. They’ve had elite special teams guys like Dante Hall and Tyreek Hill. They’ve had everything—except a top-of-the-line quarterback. If the Chiefs were a royal house, their coat of arms would be a GIF of a screen pass on third-and-long.
They’ve had good quarterbacks, and quarterbacks good enough to win championships when paired with an elite defense. If Trent Green or Alex Smith had been at the helm of the 1995 or 1997 Chiefs, those teams could have won it all. But the 1995 Chiefs had Steve Bono, and the 1997 Chiefs had Elvis Grbac. Despite both going 13-3 and having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, those teams lost their first postseason games in excruciating fashion, and in both cases Kansas City’s quarterbacks failed to come through with a game-winning drive in the pivotal final minutes.
The Chiefs’ playoff drought finally ended after the 2015 season, when Smith led the team to an emphatic 30-0 victory in Houston—where the Texans countered with journeyman Brian Hoyer behind center. The Chiefs have dropped three more playoff games since, bringing their record to 1-11 in their past 12, with seven of those postseason losses coming by a touchdown or less. Smith played as well as he could have in his four playoff losses, and is mostly blameless: The Chiefs blew a 28-point lead in his first playoff game with the franchise when Andrew Luck picked up a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown; the Chiefs blew an 18-point lead in Smith’s last playoff game with the franchise when Marcus Mariota caught his own deflected pass and ran it in for a score.
But in both games, Smith had the ball as the clock ticked toward zero and only needed to get the Chiefs into field goal range to win. In both games, he was unable to do so.
Smith was the 15th different quarterback to pilot the Chiefs to a win since 1990, and those 15 quarterbacks share one incredible thing in common: Not one of them was drafted by the team. For 30 years, the Chiefs outsourced the drafting and developing of QBs to other organizations. Smith was, in fact, the fourth different starting quarterback the Chiefs had acquired from San Francisco alone (after Montana, Bono, and Grbac). It’s not that the Chiefs have repeatedly tried to find a homegrown QB and failed—they simply haven’t tried at all.
In 1983, the Year of the Quarterback in the NFL draft, six QBs were selected in the first round. John Elway went no. 1 overall, but the other five were still on the board when the Chiefs picked seventh. They chose Todd Blackledge, who would record 29 career NFL starts, a completion percentage under 50, and more interceptions (38) than touchdowns (29). At no. 14, the Bills selected Kelly. At no. 27, the Dolphins took Marino.
The Chiefs didn’t select another quarterback in the first round for the next 34 years. Only one team—the Saints, who haven’t picked one since Archie Manning in 1971—had gone longer without reaching for a first-round quarterback. For as long as I had been rooting for them, the Chiefs had been content to make do with castoffs from other organizations at the most important position on the field. That can work if you get lucky, if another team moves on from a Hall of Fame quarterback after he suffers a serious injury (like when Denver landed Peyton Manning or New Orleans got Drew Brees), or if you steal away another team’s young quarterback before his greatness is apparent (like Green Bay trading for Brett Favre). It can even work if a journeyman QB in his mid-30s abruptly embarks on a four-year run as one of the best players in the league, like when Rich Gannon joined the Raiders after he was let go by, um, the Chiefs.
But you have to get lucky. The Chiefs almost did when Montana became available; even in the twilight of his career, he was good enough to take the team to the AFC championship game for the only time in the past 48 years. The Chiefs haven’t been lucky since. They’ve had quarterbacks who were just good enough to lose in the playoffs, year after excruciating year. And after a generation of this, us Chiefs fans have grown more than a little restless. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, well, all the warning signs were all there.
Or maybe we were just waiting for the right guy to come along. One day, Kansas City would get the Quarterback That Was Promised.
I was on to Patrick Mahomes II early, but only because I’m on to every potential first-round quarterback early, because my brother Roukan won’t leave me alone. I’m a Chiefs fan, but he’s a Chiefs fanatic, the kind who drives seven hours to Middle of Nowhere, Wisconsin, to watch the team train; the kind who—despite having no college football allegiances—pores over tape of every draftable quarterback in an attempt to figure out who he wants the Chiefs to take. “What do you mean you don’t want to watch this highlight package of Mike Glennon with me?”
He’s the one who broke the news to me first. “Patrick Mahomes II is The One, Rany. I’m telling you.” I knew Pat Mahomes well; I had drafted him on my fantasy baseball team when he was a rookie pitcher 25 years earlier, and had observed his thoroughly mediocre 11-year MLB career from a distance. I experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance upon learning that his son was a top NFL prospect, but once I got over it, I was in. Mahomes seemed like the full package: the cannon for an arm, the elusiveness, the Favre-like ability to make awkward throws on the run with accuracy as well as juice.
Which meant there was no way the Chiefs would actually draft him. Smith was—and still is—a very good quarterback, and in 2017 the Chiefs had far bigger holes to fill on their roster. Beyond that, they drafted no. 27 overall; there was no way Mahomes would be left at that spot.
But then the whispers began to spread that this time might be different. Head coach Andy Reid is a quarterback whisperer, and word was he wanted to develop his QB of the future from within. Even more intriguing, word was that he liked Mahomes. But it still didn’t make any sense: The 2016 Chiefs had finished 12-4, Smith was a good enough quarterback to keep Kansas City playoff-bound for years to come, and spending a first-round pick on a developmental project is the sort of thing 12-4 teams never do. Trading up for Mahomes would be bold, risky, and a little reckless—and the Chiefs, like their quarterbacks, have always prioritized decisions that are safe, conservative, and sober.
However, such is the pull of a franchise quarterback, for a franchise whose fans under 50 have never known one. Even though it didn’t make a lick of sense, I found myself hoping against hope that the Chiefs would find a way to move up and grab a raw gunslinger who wasn’t even expected to play in his debut season. And damned if they didn’t do exactly that.
The legend of Patrick Mahomes II grew before he ever threw an NFL pass. No one expected him to play much during the 2017 season, as he would instead focus on learning his craft from one of the game’s most respected quarterback gurus, with one of the position’s most polished veterans as his guide. For a 21-year-old kid coming out of Texas Tech’s spread offense, it seemed like the perfect situation. For Chiefs fans, it elevated Mahomes’s practice happenings into critically important developments.
And thanks to social media, virtually everything he did went viral, whether he completed an impossible throw to his right while running to his left, or uncorked a laser beam that hit a receiver on the numbers while repping with the practice squad on a Tuesday morning. When a highly touted QB is a dud, it’s rare that you hear about bad things on the practice field. It’s more that you just don’t hear about good things. The first bad sign is the lack of a good one. With Mahomes, there were good signs from the start.
That extended to the way he endeared himself to the fan base. During a Royals homestand last August, Mahomes wandered across the parking lot from Arrowhead Stadium just to say hi to unsuspecting fans taking in the ballgame from the concourse. As it happened, I had loaded up the family minivan and taken my wife and four daughters on a road trip from Chicago to Kansas City for a Royals game and a prime spot to view the total solar eclipse—the exacta of sports nerdery and science geekdom. While walking around the concourse, my wife, who knows little about football but can sniff out a celebrity from three miles away downwind, noticed a commotion to our left. “Who’s that?” she asked while nudging me.
That’s how I wound up with this picture. And before you say anything, yes, we coordinated our dad socks ahead of time.
I texted the photo to my brother, with no explanation. He replied instantly. “Get it framed. Now.”
The hard part about drafting the Quarterback That Was Promised is having the willpower to wait for him to fulfill his prophecy. Most first-round QBs start right away, or close to it; the days of Carson Palmer being drafted no. 1 overall and sitting on the bench for an entire season are long gone. Even if Chiefs fans knew it was in everyone’s best interest for Mahomes to marinate last fall, we wanted to tear the wrapping paper off our long-awaited present.
Finally, on the last day of the 2017 regular season, we got a glimpse of the future. The Chiefs had gone 9-6 without any help from their first-rounder, and clinched the AFC West with a game in hand. With nothing to play for and a home playoff game coming up, the Chiefs had the perfect opportunity to rest Smith for a week and take their shiny new sports car for a test drive.
If anything, that drive only made it harder to put the car back in the garage for the following nine months. On the first series of his professional career, Mahomes faced a third-and-10 … and instead of opting for the type of safe, inoffensive screen pass to a running back that Chiefs fans have become accustomed to during the past 30 years, he unfurled a gorgeous deep ball to Demetrius Harris for a 51-yard completion.
This throw was unbelievable. Window was incredible small. I also like that he (from appearances) came off a pair of reads before going down the middle. Right, left, middle VERY quickly. pic.twitter.com/2vuQ1dlo8O— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 2, 2018
Mahomes would finish 22-of-35 passing for 284 yards. While he didn’t reach the end zone and was intercepted on a terrible overthrow, he led the Chiefs second-stringers to a 14-point lead in Denver midway through the fourth quarter, at which point he was pulled. On third-and-14 in the second quarter, he made a flat-footed throw with a defender strapped to one leg and still nailed Albert Wilson for a first down.
Instant pressure from blitzer, Mahomes slows him down with a quick movement sideways, stays on his feet despite getting dragged by a LB, then fires an off-platform STRIKE to Wilson. Actually managed to time it well w/ the route despite the pressure. pic.twitter.com/D909uqXRzu— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 2, 2018
He also threw a no-look pass for a 24-yard gain.
RT if your quarterback throws NO LOOK PASSES 15+ yards down the field after calmly stepping up to avoid immediate pressure. pic.twitter.com/FYYCaHPX1Q— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 2, 2018
And then, after the Broncos came back to tie the game with less than three minutes remaining, Mahomes was put back in. Starting at his own 21-yard line, he calmly marched the Chiefs 67 yards to set up a game-winning field goal as time expired. On that drive he completed the first of a career’s worth of ridiculous throws, fading to his right as two Broncos converged but still finding Demarcus Robinson between three defenders for a first down.
Miller is able to get some pressure and force Mahomes off his spot. He gets outside the pocket and makes one of the best throws of the year by any quarterback. Unbelievable final drive. pic.twitter.com/x6LGt10fs2— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 2, 2018
Mahomes became the first quarterback drafted by the Chiefs to win a game for the team since Blackledge in 1987. Three hours into his real NFL career, he won at Mile High Stadium, something Trent Green never did during his six-season tenure with the franchise. Smith started the next week’s playoff game against the Titans, a devastating 22-21 loss. Then we had to wait eight months for another test drive.
In those eight months, Smith got traded to Washington, Mahomes was anointed the new starter, and Mahomes’s legend blossomed with every intrasquad scrimmage and pop-up appearance around Kansas City. Maybe he was determined to ingratiate himself to the local fans before ever playing a game in front of them, or maybe he was just trying to immerse himself in the culture of his new city. Either way, Mahomes reached peak Kansas City this spring when he showed up to Kansas Speedway wearing jorts and a sleeveless T-Bones jersey:
Patrick Mahomes, blending in best he can at the NASCAR race, jorts and a cutoff T-Bones jersey. pic.twitter.com/WbqSSO6cVn— Sam McDowell (@SamMcDowell11) May 12, 2018
The only thing Mahomes could have done to fit in better would’ve been to cover himself in barbecue stains while chomping on a Z-Man from Joe’s Kansas City. By the time he took the field in a Chiefs game with actual stakes for the first time less than four weeks ago, it was impossible for the local fan base to love him more. And it wasn’t possible for our expectations to be higher. We had waited 35 years for this guy.
The Chiefs surrounded him with arguably the best collection of skill players in the league, from Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt to Hill and Sammy Watkins. I was worried, frankly, that it was a little unfair for a 22-year-old to have the dreams of an entire fan base thrust on his shoulders, especially one that had been waiting for the Quarterback That Was Promised since breakdancing was cool. There was a tiny part of me that was concerned that a generation of playoff heartbreak had allowed us to build Mahomes into something he was not.
And then the season started.
There’s almost no point in reviewing this season’s games, because if you haven’t seen the highlights of Mahomes lighting up the league like the Griswold house at Christmas, you probably don’t follow the NFL. The numbers are a theater of the absurd. He had four touchdown passes in Week 1, six (tying Dawson’s franchise record) in Week 2, and only three in Week 3—but with two Hunt rushing scores mixed in, as the Chiefs’ offense had a literally perfect first half and tallied 35 points on five possessions.
Mahomes holds the all-time league record for most touchdown passes through the first two and three weeks of a season. He holds the record for most touchdown passes in a quarterback’s first three and four career starts, even though he didn’t throw any during his first one. He’s turned in more three-touchdown games this fall than the other two first-round QBs in his draft class (Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson) combined, and he’s five months younger than Baker Mayfield, the quarterback who was taken no. 1 overall this spring. Mahomes is on pace to finish this season with 4,800 passing yards, a 65 percent completion clip, and an NFL-record 56 touchdown passes against zero interceptions.
Along the way, he’s changed how I and Chiefs fans everywhere see the world. Third-and-long no longer fills us with despair. We no longer assume that not only will the Chiefs fail to convert a first down, but they won’t even try—that they’ll settle for an 8-yard gain and better field position when Dustin Colquitt punts it away. In the season’s first game, it was this pass that stuck with me more than any of Mahomes’s touchdowns:
This will be the difference for the Chiefs this year. 3rd and 13, up 12. This is where the offense failed a lot last year. Instead, Mahomes calmly steps out of the pocket and throws the ball 30+ yards on the run to Hill (who had done a great job getting open). pic.twitter.com/xbKhWBevLM— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 11, 2018
For 30 years, whenever I saw a quarterback launch a 30-yard completion after being forced to scramble on third-and-long, it was thrown by the guy playing against the Chiefs. Now, that QB is on our team.
And then there was this play against the 49ers in Week 3, when Mahomes fled left after the pocket collapsed on third-and-goal, got chased back to the 25-yard line, spun around, tripped and nearly fell, and then delivered a sidearm rocket to an unmarked Chris Conley in the back of the end zone.
In the middle of that throw I yelled at my TV: “If he completes this …” I didn’t have time to finish my thought before he did. I’m not even sure how I would have finished it. I probably would have said, “If he completes this … he’s The One.” He completed it. I think he’s The One.
And that brings us to Monday night, which was simultaneously Mahomes’s worst statistical game of 2018 and the most compelling performance any quarterback has delivered all season. Playing in Denver, against Kansas City’s toughest rival in what might be the toughest road environment in the league, the Chiefs were out of sync for three quarters. The offensive line was flagged for false starts, receivers were dropping balls, and Mahomes wasn’t at his best. He had the wherewithal to take off on a third-and-goal from the 8-yard line and score the Chiefs’ first touchdown, but after the Broncos made a field goal to open the fourth quarter, the Chiefs found themselves down 10 points at Mile High with under 13 minutes left.
Mahomes methodically led the Chiefs on a 12-play drive that was capped by a touchdown. That possession featured a 15-yard completion to Hill on a third-and-16 and a pass to Hunt that went for 22 yards on fourth-and-1. (Would YOU punt on fourth-and-1 if you had Mahomes?) After the Broncos called a timeout on first-and-goal, Mahomes noticed that the Broncos came out slow to line up, and quick-snapped a pass to Kelce for a touchdown.
That was just the appetizer for one of the most clutch drives I’ve ever witnessed. The Chiefs forced a three-and-out and got the ball back with under five minutes to play, and Mahomes decided to show off. On a third-and-5 with the game hanging in the balance, Mahomes went full-on Dread Pirate Roberts, throwing the ball left-handed for a first down.
After an intentional grounding call and an offensive holding penalty pushed the Chiefs into a second-and-30 situation, Mahomes didn’t flinch. Heck, he didn’t even need a fourth down. He twice escaped the Broncos’ pressure, twice rolled out to his right, and threw a 23-yard strike to Robinson and then a dart to Harris that turned into a 35-yard catch-and-run.
This is when I knew the Chiefs would score and go ahead (not "win," because the defense scared me). 2nd and 30 and Mahomes gets back 23 despite pressure because he's not human. pic.twitter.com/cxusiGhWKE— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 2, 2018
Of the 304 yards Mahomes threw for on Monday night, 192 came while he was outside the pocket, the most by any NFL quarterback in more than a decade. The Chiefs emerged with a 27-23 victory, improving to 4-0 behind Mahomes’s second career game-winning drive in Denver to come with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Before this week, Dawson was the only Chiefs quarterback to have won more than two games in Denver by any score. Mahomes already has as many game-winning drives with less than two minutes to go in Denver as every other Chiefs quarterback combined—Smith in 2016 and Montana in 1994 being the others.
Thirty-five years ago, in the same draft that Kansas City took Blackledge, the Broncos maneuvered their way into trading up to nab Elway, who had made it clear that he had no intention of playing for the no. 1-pick-holding Baltimore Colts. For the next 16 seasons, Elway tortured us Chiefs fans. He beat us in the regular season, like in 1992, when the Broncos were down 19-6 late in the fourth quarter before he engineered two touchdown drives to win, 20-19. He beat us in the postseason, like in January 1998, when the Broncos came into Arrowhead and dethroned the top-seeded Chiefs 14-10 in one of the two most painful sports losses of my lifetime. The only thing that could have made that 1998 loss worse was if the Broncos went on to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl—and of course they did, and won it again the next year for good measure, after which Elway retired.
In Elway’s final game against the Chiefs, on December 6, 1998, the Chiefs held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before Elway brought Denver back for two touchdowns to win by four. Now it’s our turn. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and by Mahomes. And it’s glorious.
Mahomes’s success isn’t just a product of his arm strength, which is seemingly unmatched in today’s NFL and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s not just his ability to dissect defenses in real time, or his knowledge of where all his receivers are and where they’re going. It’s not just that he can make progressions and hit his third option when most quarterbacks would be looking for their second; that he’s mastering the position’s nuances, like using his eyes to lead defenders in one direction before slinging the ball in the other; or that he possesses enough speed to keep defenses honest but not so much that he’s tempted to tuck the ball and run when he has so much magic in his arm. It’s that he seems capable of anything, frankly, except throwing a pick.
He is the Quarterback That Was Promised. He has an unparalleled collection of playmaking artists at his disposal, and he’s using them to sculpt his David of the gridiron. He’s the biggest story in the sport, and he’s made the Chiefs—our Chiefs—must-see television. He’s running as electric an offense as the NFL has seen since The Greatest Show on Turf, and the difference is that unlike Kurt Warner, who was 28 when he emerged from obscurity to guide the 1999 Rams to a championship, Mahomes just turned 23 last month. He’s changing the trajectory of an entire franchise. And he’s changing the way the fan base of that franchise sees itself.
We all have a cross to bear, but what if it no longer has to be borne? We all have a destiny, but that destiny isn’t written anywhere that man can see. What if destiny can change? What if destiny is destined to change? The Browns weren’t losers forever, and the Patriots weren’t winners forever. Sometimes fortunes flip in a moment, like when a long kick is made in a blizzard after an inscrutable rule provides a second chance. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of securing the no. 1 pick in a draft when Peyton or Troy Aikman is there for the taking. And sometimes it’s having the foresight to draft your quarterback of the future when your QB of the present is still pretty good, because your head coach is the quarterback whisperer and there’s a kid out there who has the skill set to one day rank among the all-time greats.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see the destiny of a franchise change once before. It happened four years ago this week, when the Royals made their first playoff appearance in 29 years and won the greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen in person and the most thrilling MLB wild-card game to date. The Royals wouldn’t lose again until the 2014 World Series, and after coming within one swing of winning it all, they came back the next year and did just that. Even though the Royals are back to their old selves—they lost 104 games this season—my relationship with the franchise has been forever altered. I’ve been to the summit with them. I’ve seen the view from the top. And after seeing them do it once, I’ll never doubt that they can do it again.
Mahomes isn’t giving us Chiefs fans the view from the summit, at least not yet. But he’s giving us a view of the summit, that moment when explorers cross a continent and first bear witness to the purple mountain majesties, peak after peak stretching as far as the eye can see. Suddenly, there’s no hurdle that seems too high, no goal that seems out of reach. If this is not our year, then some year soon will be. Because the way Mahomes is playing, the Chiefs aren’t just a threat to go to their first Super Bowl since before Pat Mahomes Sr. was born. They’re a threat to win it. And they should remain a threat to win it for many seasons to come.
For an incredibly complicated game, the secret to success in football is really quite simple: have an elite quarterback. Since 1983, 10 guys have thrown for 300 career touchdowns. Nine of them have gone to the Super Bowl, and eight of them have won at least one. Use a different metric if you want, the results are much the same. Pro-Football-Reference.com has an advanced passing metric known as adjusted net yards per attempt; of the 12 guys since 1983 with the highest rating (and at least 2,500 career pass attempts), 10 have gone to a Super Bowl and nine have won one. Because the value of star QBs is so high and because the league’s free-agency rules are so restrictive, every one of those quarterbacks except Brees went to the Super Bowl on the first team with which they found success.
That’s what Mahomes means to us. He means that a fan base that has watched its team lose 11 of its past 12 playoff games can seriously dream about the Super Bowl. He means that I can get that picture framed. He means that destiny can change, that we don’t have to be the out-of-focus uniforms in someone else’s highlights forever. He means that maybe we’re not cursed, that maybe all those heartbreaking defeats were just a product of not having the Quarterback That Was Promised leading the way.
But he’s here now, and the future looks limitless. We all have a cross to bear. We’ll leave the burden of having to stop Mahomes to everyone else.