ATLANTA — The scoreboard read New England Patriots 14, Kansas City Chiefs 0, and as the home team trudged into the locker room at halftime of the AFC championship game, quarterback Patrick Mahomes was downright furious.
The 23-year-old Mahomes, who would go on to be named the NFL’s youngest MVP since Dan Marino in 1984, couldn’t believe what he’d just seen. For two quarters, the Chiefs had been outplayed everywhere, and worse yet, weren’t even matching the Patriots’ intensity.
So Mahomes decided to take things into his own hands, pledging the Chiefs would put up 30 points in the second half if his teammates would join him in ramping up the intensity.
“Not only did Pat challenge us, he let us know that they were manhandling us at every single position and that everybody needed to step it up – you could see how pissed he was in his eyes,” tight end Travis Kelce told Yahoo Sports. “Guys looked at him like, ‘Yeah, you’re right, we have to go out there and man the hell up.’”
The world of professional football is filled with empty bluster, but Mahomes had spent the previous five months performing at an MVP-level and doing what was necessary in the locker room to not only be critical in that moment, but actually have his message resonate.
“You can’t say those kind of things and get the reaction he got if you don’t [do all the other stuff],” Kelce told Yahoo Sports. “He’s a friend and a brother to us before he’s Patrick Mahomes the star football player, and that’s how it all started, with him in the locker room.”
The Chiefs marched right down the field to open the third quarter, as Mahomes went 3-for-4 for 71 yards and a touchdown pass to Kelce on the drive. And Mahomes ultimately delivered on his promise, tallying 230 yards and three touchdowns as the Chiefs one-upped the Patriots’ press man-heavy scheme to drop 31 points in the second half.
Kansas City still lost, as the great Tom Brady got the ball to start overtime and did what he does against a beleaguered defense whose coordinator would soon be fired.
But Brady, The Greatest Quarterback of All Time, was so impressed with Mahomes that he sought out his young counterpart after the game and reminded him that he’d been in the same position and to use the loss as fuel, while also noting he had a chance to be the future of the NFL.
Still, the young quarterback remained frustrated afterward, though he tried to soldier through it with the same uncommon grace he showed during a crazy season in which his life began to change in ways both big (like the respect he gained from his teammates) and small (like the constant adoration he now receives in public).
And now, as Mahomes heads into the first offseason of his NFL career as a bonafide star, several people close to the quarterback who spoke to Yahoo Sports for this story made it clear that they are determined to ensure that Mahomes will have all the support he needs to successfully navigate his newfound stardom going forward, and live up to Brady’s silent endorsement.
“He’s prepared for all of this,” said Leigh Steinberg, who co-represents Mahomes with Chris Cabott. “And his basic personality and temperament will not change. He’s so grounded — he was raised that way — and he understands the temporary nature of all this.
“The newspaper clippings will fade, but in the end, what you’ll have are relationships, and how you make a difference.”
‘Him just walking in can electrify a room’
Long before he was named the MVP, long before he became Kansas City’s very own football “John Wick,” those closest to Mahomes say all the eyes in a room started shifting his way, even during the preseason.
“It was pretty crazy,” said his father, Pat Mahomes, an 11-year MLB veteran. “You had people who recognized him coming in, and of course they would rope us off a room where we could eat and everything, and by the time we finished eating an hour or so later, they’d still be standing outside waiting to take pictures and do autographs and things like that.
“He’s a kid where, he doesn’t want to disappoint anybody. So he’d be there signing autographs and taking photos until one of us would finally say, ‘We gotta go now.’ And that was in the preseason. And once he started off hot, we pretty much knew all that was out the window.”
Now, Mahomes often stays at his residence in Kansas City and orders in for his family. But he insists the extra attention isn’t a burden.
“Most of the time, I’m just at home,” Mahomes told Yahoo Sports. “But when I do go out, I usually just call ahead and get a reservation before I get to go eat. People in Kansas City are good. They make sure I get to wait until I’m done eating before they take pictures and do that stuff so it’s not too bad.”
But going out, even when he’s with his teammates and team security, still comes with certain challenges.
“The biggest thing is, when he goes out everybody’s excited to see him,” Kelce told Yahoo Sports. “When you see him, it’s like you’re seeing a walking legend in the beginning [of his story].”
By the time the regular season was over, when he did go out in public with his teammates, it would cause a minor commotion. Kelce recalled a dinner on New Year’s in which a bunch of players and their significant others went to a restaurant, and as Mahomes walked in ahead of him on the way to their private table, Kelce watched all the eyes in the public seating area be drawn to this quarterback.
“I mean, everybody was yelling — the room got louder,” Kelce told Yahoo Sports. “Him just walking in can electrify a room, especially in Kansas City. You can tell he was just a little … shy, for real. Believe it or not man, he felt the crowd and you could see his head kinda like ducking. So I wouldn’t say he’s embracing [the celebrity] as much he’s [navigating] it.
“I don’t necessarily know if he likes the attention as much as somebody like me, where I would walk in and say ‘hi’ to everyone like I’m the man.”
That’s probably why those in Mahomes’ inner circle have kept a close, loving eye on him, though they absolutely love what they’ve seen out of him so far.
“He always understood that interviewing with media, being gracious to fans, is part of the process,” said Cabott. “He really just naturally gets what goes into being a pro athlete at an elite level.”
‘To much is given, much is required’
Mahomes’ graciousness around media and fans is no coincidence. Mahomes spent lots of time in big league clubhouses growing up thanks to his father and godfather, 21-year MLB veteran LaTroy Hawkins, and since the two have 32 years of big-league experience between them, they’ve been able how to best advise him on how to avoid landmines off the field.
For instance, you remember the deferential way Mahomes entered the locker room as a rookie? His father and godfather suggested that. The reason he’s so patient with fans and the media? The same, though some of this comes naturally because he genuinely cares for others.
“To much is given, much is required — and he understands that, so he doesn’t have room to change,” Hawkins told Yahoo Sports. “He has to stay humble, and he has to stay humble because of mom, Randi, is not gonna let him not stay humble, and I’m not gonna let him get too far and and his dad’s not, either … because as fast as you rose, you can fall even faster. It takes a little while to climb that tree, but you’ll always get down a lot faster.”
This is where Hawkins and Mahomes’ father also credit Randi for instilling a sense of humility in him as a boy growing up in Whitehouse, Texas, while both of them were off playing baseball.
“She was the one that had to make sure that he always cared about what everybody else was feeling and didn’t try to make others feel [not as] important and to just be a humble kid,” Hawkins said. “She did a hell of a job with him.”
And Mahomes’ father also credits Brittany Matthews — Patrick’s girlfriend since the 10th grade — for having his son’s back as he enters a new stage of his life.
“She pretty much handles all the other stuff off the field — the ticket requests, getting the family here and all that,” Mahomes’ dad told Yahoo Sports. “She does a hell of a job making sure he can just play football.”
Hawkins — who is part of a group text that includes Mahomes and other members of his core circle — communicates with his godson regularly and rarely asks about football, instead preferring to check in on his psyche.
“I ask him stuff like, ‘How are you doing mentally? How are you handling all this? What do you need? Do you need anything from me? What do we need to do? Because I know [this life] is crazy, but that’s why I’m here — to help you get through this,’ ” Hawkins told Yahoo Sports.
“And I tell him, ‘If there’s anything we need to talk about, if I haven’t been through it, your daddy’s probably been through it. If your daddy hasn’t been through it, Leigh has probably been through it. If Leigh hasn’t been through it, Chris has probably been through it.’ We’ve got people in our circle [to look out for him].”
And Mahomes, for his part, loves it this way.
“I just love being with the same circle of people I’ve been with since the beginning,” Mahomes told Yahoo Sports. “I still have all the same best friends, the same people I grew up with since I was a little kid, and the same people around me.
“It’s all about keeping your circle tight, making sure the people who are around you are there for the right reasons and not because you’re here at the Super Bowl and getting to go to NFL Honors, but have been with you since you were a little kid with a hoarse voice growing up.”
But living up to his vast potential is also about plotting out a pathway to success, and that’s where Steinberg and Cabott come into the mix.
‘It’s the most organized I’ve been my entire life’
When Mahomes was courting agents after he decided to enter the 2017 NFL Draft, his father and Hawkins whittled down the list of potential agents to five or six before Patrick decided who would represent him. He was an adult, they figured, and since it was his life, he needed to make the choice, though they would be damn sure it would be from someone they felt comfortable with.
Both Hawkins and Mahomes’ dad say the primary thing that led Mahomes to pick Steinberg, the veteran superagent who has had 11 different Super Bowl quarterbacks, and the youthful and driven Cabott was the detailed 12-month plan they mapped out for him — literally to the day — that would help him prove himself as a first-round pick and eventual All-Pro.
“We don’t leave anything to chance,” Steinberg said with a laugh.
Mahomes followed the plan, which included intense physical training filled with media obligations shortly after he declared for the draft, to a “T,” so much so that when Mahomes’ radio row performance at the 2017 Super Bowl was one of the most impressive displays of patience by an athlete he’s ever seen.
“When you sign a player, you know 90 percent of what you have and find out the other 10 percent later,” Cabott said. “So when he went on media row and did 30 interviews that day back-to-back-to-back-to-back and didn’t flinch, that was pretty impressive for a young guy. He has a unique emotional balance.”
And while some draft pundits considered Mahomes’ aggressive playing style to be too “reckless” for a first-round pick — despite the fact his porous defenses at Texas Tech practically forced him to score every possession — the Chiefs, led by general manager Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid, fell in love with his arm talent and creativity and traded up to take him 10th overall.
Mahomes, of course, marinated for a year on the bench behind Alex Smith, who was dealt to Washington in Jan. 2018, and Steinberg and Cabott’s detailed offseason schedule — which mapped out everything from workouts to private time — got him ready for what turned out to be the best second season for a quarterback in 35 years.
Mahomes can’t wait to attack this year’s schedule, which was worked on in tandem with the Chiefs and also includes some fun stuff (like golf tournaments) and the money-making advertisements they held him back from last year until he proved himself.
“I’ll be going to Dallas and training, getting some work in and then just doing what I can to get better,” Mahomes told Yahoo Sports. “It’s the most organized I’ve been in my entire life — I know exactly which days I’m gonna be where.
“I’m lucky enough to have a lot of great people around me, and I’ve scheduled it so that I can get as much time in with them as possible. I’m really happy and ready for the offseason to go and get back in the Chiefs’ uniform again.”
Which is precisely the attitude that makes it so easy for everybody around him — his family, his friends, his teammates and more — to believe in Mahomes the man as much as they believe in Mahomes the player.
“To me, life hasn’t changed at all — I’ve just been me, doing that — but people react to me a little different nowadays,” Mahomes told Yahoo Sports with a laugh. “They see the hair and they want to come up and take pictures and sign stuff. But that’s awesome, because I live in a great place, a great city, where the fans are awesome and I’m happy to do whatever for them.”
Mahomes’ actions shortly after winning the MVP award at the NFL Honors ceremony on Saturday sure seemed to suggest that the sentiment behind that statement is genuine.
An epic night, capped by one more promise
Once actor Paul Rudd made Mahomes’ coronation official at the Fox Theater, Mahomes stood and hugged Matthews first, then dapped Kelce, who was sitting behind him. He finally turned to his left, hugged Randi and Pat, then walked onto the stage.
And even though he knew before the event that he would win, he started to get a little choked up once he started reading off the iconic names on the MVP trophy — names like Elway, Favre, Manning and Brady. He thanked God, then his tearful parents and siblings. Next, he thanked Matthews — “My rock, who keeps the show rolling everyday,” he was sure to note — Chiefs’ ownership, Veach, the entire offensive coaching staff and his teammates, many of whom displayed their loyalty to him by tweeting words of support after this speech.
“This is a reward for all of us,” Mahomes said to them.
But it’s what Mahomes said — and who he thanked — next that, certainly to those closest to him, provided the best glimpse of the promise to come.
Despite all the ways his life had already changed — from the lack of privacy, to the constant autograph and picture and interview requests — and surely still will in the coming years, Mahomes was sure to cheerfully thank the fans of Kansas City, many of whom made the trip to Atlanta and were sitting in the Fox Theater to revel in one of the most special moments of his short life.
“Last, I want to thank Chiefs Kingdom,” Mahomes said, his voice rising forcefully as he nodded to Chiefs fans cheering from the upper deck. “Exactly. Your passion and love is unmatched. You’re here, no matter when and where.”
Mahomes then looked directly toward the camera, and decided to make another promise, not entirely unlike the one at halftime of the AFC championship game.
“This is just the beginning,” Mahomes said with a confident smile, “we have a long ways to go. Thank you.”
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