Advertisement

Neal: As Mahomes nears legendary status for Chiefs, a former Twin saw it coming

It was spring training of 2017. Former Twin LaTroy Hawkins, a special instructor during camp, was in the middle of a conversation with a sportswriter when talk turned to the approaching NFL draft.

"The Chiefs are in love with Pat Mahomes," Hawkins said. "They think he could be great."

The sportswriter, me, didn't think much of the statement at the time. But Hawkins was a former Twins teammate of the senior Patrick Mahomes and is the godfather of his other son, Jackson. So he was aware of the interest Mahomes II was receiving from Kansas City following his career at Texas Tech.

The next month, the Chiefs showed how strongly they felt about Mahomes, trading with Buffalo to move up from the 27th spot in the draft to 10th. It cost them a first- and third-round pick that year and a first-rounder in 2018.

On Sunday, the Chiefs are playing in their fourth Super Bowl in the past five seasons. They could become the first team to win consecutive Super Bowls since the 2004 and '05 New England Patriots. They are not in this position without Patrick Lavon Mahomes II.

Mahomes is the gold standard of quarterbacking in the NFL and is on the path to becoming one of the greatest signal-callers ever. He promotes a different way to play and evaluate the position. He can be a pocket passer or a scrambler. He has completed passes with each hand. He began his career throwing deep to Tyreek Hill. Now he can dink and dunk defenses into distress and spread the ball around.

When some teams questioned his mechanics and footwork coming out of college, and noted that he only played in the shotgun, the Chiefs saw something different.

Former Vikings coach Brad Childress, who was 39-35 in four-plus seasons in Minnesota, was the Chiefs assistant head coach the year Mahomes was drafted. He told me the other day that the Chiefs interviewed QB prospects Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer, Chad Kelly, Deshaun Watson and Joshua Dobbs in addition to Mahomes. Childress said Mahomes was "tremendous" during his interview, which helped win them over.

They drafted him and have not had a single regret.

"Now remember, I'm scarred from Brett Favre rolling right and throwing back left and getting picked off and [the ball] going the other way," said Childress, referring to the interception Favre tossed late in the Vikings' 2009 NFC Championship Game loss to New Orleans. "It's a little bit more accepted these days, except when it goes wrong."

Mahomes has changed all that, Childress added — "The no-look passes and the side arm, shaping it around someone [like] turning a double play."

One of the conversations during Super Bowl week has been Mahomes chasing quarterbacking legend Tom Brady, who has won seven titles. Mahomes is going for three. It's pointless to use rings to determine who is greater, although we do it. While quarterback is one of the most important positions in sports, there are still things a quarterback can't control, like kicking and defense. So why hold that against the guy under center?

Instead, look at how Mahomes is tracking Brady in other ways.

Mahomes, 28, has 14 career fourth-quarter comebacks. Brady had 14 by age 28. Brady is the all-time leader in postseason comeback wins with nine. Mahomes already is tied for third with four. And all four of Mahomes' postseason comeback wins came when trailing by at least 10 points. In addition to that, Mahomes is 14-3 in the postseason with 4,802 yards and a 106.3 passer rating in those 17 games. Two of those losses were to Brady-led New England and Tampa Bay teams, but an .824 postseason winning percentage is nonetheless outstanding.

"He is a closer," Hawkins said. "He is Mariano Rivera. He is Michael Jordan. That is what sets him apart from the other guys."

The 49ers had to rally to beat both Green Bay and Detroit on the road to the Super Bowl, but now have to scheme against a proven winner who will make them pay if their coverage and pass rush are not in sync. They are facing a great quarterback who is on the path to becoming legendary.

I should have paid more attention that day in spring training when Hawkins warned me about Mahomes.