On eve of 2020 kickoff, Patrick Mahomes' focus on 'just playing' is stronger than ever

Dan Wetzel
·5 min read

For many (or even most) Americans, 2020 has ranged somewhere on the scale of awful to horrible.

Then, there is Patrick Mahomes, who just this year:

1. Led the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl title.

2. Signed a contract extension worth up to a half-billion dollars.

3. Got engaged to his longtime girlfriend.

And he’s still got nearly four months to go.

The NFL season opens Thursday, with Mahomes and the Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans. Lamar Jackson is the reigning MVP. Tom Brady is attempting a late career reboot in Tampa. Los Angeles and Las Vegas are unveiling new palaces. From Drew Brees to Dak Prescott to Cam Newton to whatever happens in Chicago, rich storylines are everywhere.

Yet, this Mahomes’ league right now.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has had a year to remember. Now, he's focused on getting back to the field and aiming for another Super Bowl title. (Ed Zurga/AP)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has had a year to remember. Now, he's focused on getting back to the field and aiming for another Super Bowl title. (Ed Zurga/AP)

He’s still incredibly young — turning 25 on Sept. 17 and entering his third season as a starter.

He’s still incredibly talented — his ability to complete passes few of his peers can even attempt is generational.

He’s still growing as a player — in March, he revealed on HBO’s “The Shop” that he didn’t know how to read defenses until the middle of the 2019 season.

“I understood coverages, but [not] how to be able to pick up little tendencies defenses do, [the] stuff that Brady and them have done, they know it, and they just do it,” said Mahomes, who didn’t concentrate fully on football until quitting baseball as a sophomore at Texas Tech. “I was just playing.”

That means back in 2018, he threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns and was named NFL MVP by ... “just playing.”

He’s always “just playing” though.

It’s why no matter how great his 2020 has been — did we mention he became a part owner of the Kansas City Royals? — he’s most excited about “just playing” again, especially in a year when the season wasn’t always guaranteed to happen.

“I’m just as excited, I promise you that,” Mahomes said this week. “Every time I get to go to the football field, go to Arrowhead Stadium, or wherever we are playing, and suit up for the Chiefs, I have the ultimate excitement. [It doesn’t] matter if it’s preseason or it’s in the Super Bowl.

“I’m just going to go out there and embrace the moment, getting out there with our brothers and playing the game we love because we didn’t know if it was going to happen.”

This is the attitude that anchors everything with Mahomes, the basic mindset that leads to nearly every accomplishment in life.

From an early age, as the namesake son of a major league pitcher, his life has been just about having fun competing in sports. The stage and paychecks have changed. Not much else has.

He played baseball, of course. Everything from starring as a pitcher in his native East Texas to shagging fly balls before his dad’s games at an age so young that MLB coaches at first worried he’d get hurt. He’d eventually play college ball and get drafted by the Detroit Tigers. He credits his pitching for his arm strength and ability to throw a football at all sorts of unusual angles.

He played basketball, as you can tell when he runs and passes in the open field. He was a pure point guard, and many back in Whitehouse, Texas, believe he had the most natural athleticism in that sport. He just lacked the height (6-foot-3) to be a truly big-time prospect.

He played football, but it was more about the competition than anything else. “Football was my No. 3 sport,” Mahomes said. And while he was a quarterback in youth and junior high football, he didn’t hesitate to switch to safety as a high school sophomore just so he could get on the field. (Whitehouse High had a senior QB who would play college football.)

He’d play anything though. He can crush a golf ball. He’s relentlessly competitive at ping pong. He was an impressive high jumper in junior high track and field. Friends still talk in hushed tones at the way he could make a wiffle ball bend. Even into high school, the naturally right-handed-hitting Mahomes would sometimes bat lefty, just for fun.

“He was that kid in gym class that could just do everything better than the other kids,” said Adam Cook, Mahomes’ high school football head coach.

He’d basically hang out with the same group of friends and just play. The seasons and sports would just run together.

“We all played baseball,” Mahomes said. “We all played basketball. They were my wideouts. It kind of started there with my creativity. They would run routes and then change the route because they knew how to get open.”

What emerged was a player of immense talent, with competitive instincts and a true joy in competing. Part of that comes through in what he can do on the field — the no-look passes, the deep bombs. And part of that comes through in how he does it — in ways no one is expecting, with a huge smile on his face.

Now and then, same deal. So even in a year when he’s accomplished nearly everything he could have dreamed, he mostly just wants to get started again.

“Run it back,” Mahomes said, not shying away from trying to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

Of course.

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