On Super Bowl Sunday in Las Vegas, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will play in their fourth Super Bowl in the past five years, facing off against the San Francisco 49ers. Mahomes, the team’s quarterback, is the best player in football, maybe the best American athlete of his generation, and one of the most ingenious and thrilling on-field performers you could ever imagine. You should check him out if you get a chance, he’s really great.
Patrick Mahomes was raised in Tyler, Texas, by his mother. His father is Pat Mahomes Sr., a journeyman MLB relief pitcher who played for a number of teams, including the New York Mets and Minnesota Twins (Mahomes’ godfather is LaTroy Hawkins, his father’s Twins teammate). Patrick II grew up playing baseball, football, and basketball, and did so through high school —a somewhat unusual turn of events for an elite athlete nowadays. Most are inclined to pick a sport early and devote themselves to it entirely, playing in travel leagues, participating in clinics, drilling down the specifics of the game they are bound to.
Something they’ll say about a great quarterback is that he can “make all the throws on the field.” What this means is that he can throw to any location on the field — checkdowns, slants, long bombs. This is the essential quality of a truly great quarterback.
Mahomes takes this phrase and breaks it over his knee. Because, yes, he can “make all the throws on the field” in the idiomatic sense. But he can also make every kind of throw you can imagine, from shuttle passes and across-the-body heaves to delicate little tosses, throws with his left hand, in the pocket, on the run, whatever. He also runs well and often. Watch this clip of him playing against the Broncos above. Mahomes has wandered out of the pocket, as he often does, and is running for dear life from a gigantic lineman who beat his cover and is about to get him from behind. The play is absolutely fucked for any other player in the league not named Lamar Jackson. He presents a stiff arm to suggest that he’s going to run for a yard or two but then, at the last second, shuttles the ball ahead to a receiver, who runs it in for a touchdown.
This is what makes Mahomes a singular talent: He can be squeezed into a little box, swarmed by rushers, getting hustled out of bounds, and still make some buck-wild play that would never occur to anyone else. He thinks so quickly and disengages from the mental routine of someone who’s spent their whole life running drills, making something out of nothing in total defiance of any and all “normal” football sense.
Perhaps some of this creativity comes from playing multiple sports for as long as he did — balancing different sets of mental processes instead of having his brain subsumed into one pattern of thinking, one on-field aim, year after year, training camp after training camp.
What Mahomes does is so far beyond what you can reasonably expect someone to do on a football field even if they’re equipped with all the physical and mental tools they need to succeed.
There’s a lot of this sort of play in Patrick’s highlight packages, where he flees from a disintegrating pocket, gives the defense the impression that he’s going to run, and then, right as he straddles the line of scrimmage, gets a perfect throw off to a receiver downfield.
Being an NFL quarterback is no small task. You need to memorize a novel’s worth of plays every week, do a bunch of intangible-leader shit, and be able to hit receivers all over the field, wherever they may go. It’s too much, which is why most are so bad at it. Even being Jay Cutler is a miracle in the grand scheme of things, and he wasn’t good enough to really compete.
What Mahomes does is so far beyond what you can reasonably expect someone to do on a football field even if they’re equipped with all the physical and mental tools they need to succeed. There’s a secret sauce to Mahomes — a spirit of improvisation and a willingness to problem-solve in the blink of an eye, all while some 300-pound nightmare man is hunting you like his livelihood depends on it:
Whenever people write about athletes, they scrape their public persona for information they can transmute into content. There isn’t much of this when it comes to Mahomes. He is world-historically good at football and relatively uninteresting otherwise. He doesn’t register as particularly charismatic in ads, doesn’t give good copy to reporters, doesn’t post wild stuff on social media. He’s happily married to his high school sweetheart, Brittany Mahomes, and the couple has two children. He’s an evangelical Christian who participates in voter-registration efforts with LeBron James and supports non-profits. In his most politically outspoken move, following the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, Mahomes was the biggest name among a coalition of Black NFL stars who participated ina Black Lives Matter video.
When the Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year, his teammate and primary receiving target, Hall of Fame tight end (and one-time dating-show contestant) Travis Kelce, hosted Saturday Night Live in his stead. Then, Kelce started dating arguably the most famous person on the planet, Taylor Swift. She became a fixture at their games and the NFL ate it up, giving her a bunch of camera time. She will inevitably be the deuteragonist of this year’s Super Bowl broadcast. Some sports-media guys and right-wing blowhards say this constitutes a distraction, but it’s not — they just need something to talk about other than the actual games. Mahomes for one, seems A-OK with letting Kelce serve as the face of the party. They are, after all, going for their third Super Bowl win in five years, and Mahomes is only 28 years of age.
All we’re going to know about Pat for a while is that he is breathtakingly good at football. In the modern parasocial-athlete age, it may not feel like much, but come on:
What the fuck else does a person really need to bring to the world during their time on Earth? Mahomes is a football player, the best in the world at present, bathed in unprecedented success at a young age, on track to making a case for himself as the greatest who ever lived. He exhibits game-breaking genius on the field, week after week.
That’s all the thrill you need from a human being.