Why you should care
Because the next big thing in the National Football League is Patrick Mahomes. Period.
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There’s a scene in the classic Robert Redford baseball movie The Natural that perfectly encapsulates the awe experienced by any fan confronted by that rare, precious commodity in sports: the phenomenon. “I’ve never seen anything like it. … Anything he wants to do, he does,” sportswriter Max Mercy, played by Robert Duvall, marvels of Redford’s character Roy Hobbs’ prowess on the diamond. “I mean, how can somebody play that well that came from nowhere?”
Now, to those football fans who follow National Football League draft combine workouts and are familiar with the exploits of college coach/quarterback guru Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, Patrick Mahomes’ dazzling play this season hardly comes out of nowhere. But to the average football fan, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback’s meteoric rise through the NFL the past few months has been spellbinding, lifting the spirits of an entire city, bolstering the morale (and bottom line) of a beleaguered league, and leaving fans holding their heads in bewilderment and glee. No look passes, left-handed throws, 60-yard flings: It seems like anything Mahomes, 23, wants to do on the football field, he does. That, combined with a quirky nature and Kermit the Frog speaking voice, make him a story worthy of Hollywood.
Just 17 games into his professional career, the drama enters Act 2 this weekend — a conference championship showdown on Sunday with the perfect archnemesis: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Will this be the moment in the film when the torch gets passed from Brady, 41, to the next great NFL quarterback, or when the protagonist experiences his first major setback and comes crashing back down to earth?
So far, “earthly” is not among the adjectives you see used to describe Mahomes’ play.
Every week, Patrick Mahomes does a bunch of things that shouldn't be possible for a human pic.twitter.com/GpBRykJJE7— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) December 9, 2018
His ability to throw on the run, for distance and from multiple arm angles is unrivaled in the sport. Add to that a quick release and an uncanny ability to scramble and keep plays alive and you have a phenomenally potent offensive weapon. “What’s most amazing about him is how he can get the ball into the right spot even when his body is contorted,” says NFL analyst Ian Wharton. “It doesn’t matter if his feet are set or if he throws sidearm, he’s as accurate as any quarterback.” Thanks to Mahomes, no-look passes, once the province of sports like basketball and soccer, have debuted in NFL highlight reels.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 9, 2018
Now, the player known sometimes as “Showtime Mahomes” has the Chiefs one game away from their first Super Bowl since 1970 and is the favorite to win the league’s MVP after a year in which he lit up the league for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. The only other player ever to accomplish both of those feats? Brady, but in different seasons. Kansas City hasn’t been so excited about a sports hero since Bo Jackson was hammering monster home runs three decades ago. Mahomes, for his part, seems to take everything in stride, oozing the confidence of a seasoned veteran. Even the hometown hero’s odder idiosyncrasies — his froggish, Texas twang and his disproportionate love of ketchup — seem only to endear him to his fans more.
But Mahomes, unlike Roy Hobbs, did not come from “nowhere,” and his unique talents flow from a very special — even privileged — background. (Mahomes and the Chiefs did not respond immediately to requests for comment.) Eastern Texas, where Mahomes grew up near Tyler, may not be known for its quarterback prospects, but young Patrick did not grow up like other Texas boys.
Where did his slingshot cannon of an arm come from? His father, Pat, a major league pitcher for 11 years, not only gave his son some pretty good genes but also helped him build his arm strength through countless hours of long-toss and other throwing drills as a kid. Similarly, the quarterback’s unflappable calm and confidence on the field likely has something to do with a childhood spent hanging around professional ballparks and working out with the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Young Patrick, as his father recently told Sports Illustrated, simply “adopted the same mindset as some of the pro players.”
Mahomes — who is still dating high school sweetheart Brittany Matthews — has also benefited from some luck beyond the good fortune of his birth. His path to the starting quarterback job at Texas Tech in college was paved in part by the fortuitous departure of another young quarterback shaking up the NFL: Baker Mayfield, who left Tech for Oklahoma the year before Mahomes arrived. Similarly, Mahomes arrived in Kansas City to a passing offense that suited his skills, a stable of talented teammates and a coach, Andy Reid, who has given him the room to grow and shine. “Being paired with Andy Reid has only maximized his talents,” says Wharton.
Still, it will take more than a little confidence or playmaking for Mahomes to beat, much less dethrone, the likes of Brady. But, if this weekend’s game is anything like the Week 6 meeting between the teams when Brady and Mahomes both threw for more than 300 yards and the Patriots won on a walk-off field goal, then Mahomes may well be ready to take that next step down the corridors of football greatness.
Read more: Youngbloods blaze a trail to NFL quarterback success.