Spiritual Formation + Community

The Meaning of Mahomes

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders

Credit: Cary Edmondson USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Mahomes should not exist. He should not be able to make these throws, to be an MVP at age 23, to redefine the quarterback position after only 17 professional games.

But even more, Saint Patrick—as he is now called across Chiefs Kingdom—should not exist for an entirely different set of reasons. Our schools are designed to eliminate kids like Mahomes. Our youth sports world molds the wild ones into complacent non risk takers. As a culture, we are set up to eradicate that which we secretly most want—superhuman athlete/heroes.

The hidden meaning of Mahomes, not just for us lifetime Chiefs fans, but for all of us, mankind, together, is that we are all Mahomes, but we had the spirit crushed at too young an age. We’ve been trained to be the opposite: Be nice; don’t take risks; throw a screen pass on 3rd-and-Eight; and so on.

In Mahomes, we get a second chance.

1.

It’s not about football. Or, at least, it’s not just about football.

When Patrick Lavon Mahomes II steps on the field, we all enter the game. Anything is possible. We are not Nobodies anymore. We are all Number 15.

By now, you should know the relevant information: He once piled up 800 yards in a single college game. He was drafted to play pro baseball. He can throw a football 90 yards. He can throw left handed, even in high-pressure fourth quarter comebacks. He can throw to one receiver while looking across the field at another.  His 50 TD passes are the second most ever—and it was his first full season. He has won every possible NFL award this year and should be named MVP in a week or two. It would not be a stretch to welcome him into the Chiefs Hall of Fame on Saturday. Why not?

So it’s not without reason that we Chiefs fans have attached our hopes and dreams to him. We need some ray of light. The outside world can’t possibly fathom the meaning of Mahomes until they understand what we’ve been through—and why Saturday’s matchup with the Colts at Arrowhead matters so much.

2.

In the introduction to Wes Anderson’s greatest film, The Royal Tenenbaums, the narrator describes the family’s history as “two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster.”

And perhaps that’s the best phrase to describe the recent history of Kansas City Chiefs football.

If our general awfulness (one playoff win since the 1993 season) weren’t bad enough, there’s this. Four of those playoff losses have come not to the consistently-good Patriots or Steelers, and not to the respectable divisional rival Broncos, but to the lowly freaking Colts. They’re a team in Indianapolis.

1995/96

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in January 1996, young Jeremy became aquainted with the brutal reality of life in a broken world, where nothing is as it should be, everything is unfair, and little is ever satisfying.

The Chiefs had just gone 13-3, held opponents to 15 points per game, and claimed the #1 seed in the AFC. Steve Bono was our Pro Bowl QB. Ageless Marcus Allen and PPR-machine Kimble Anders were our Pro Bowl RB’s. Marty Ball was alive and well.

Hosting the lowly 5-seed Colts (feat. QB Jim Harbaugh), the Chiefs were expected to win big—especially with Colts RB Marshall Faulk out with an injury. It was simple: If the Chiefs offense could simply score a couple touchdowns, or even just one with a few field goals, we would win. According to my memory, it was about -15 degrees outside, and our old offense (Marcus Allen is a legend but was no young man by this point) was painfully rigid. After Lin Elliot (sad face) missed a field goal inside 40 yards, the first half closed at a boring 7-7. After an early Colts FG in the third quarter, the Chiefs continued to make slow progress, even though Elliott missed a second FG from inside 40 yards. Bono threw three interceptions in the second half, but our defense continued to hold. With four minutes left in the game, trailing 10-7, Marty made a QB change. Did you read that? After getting a #1 seed with his starting quarterback, Marty PUT IN THE BACKUP QB trailing by 3 with four minutes left in a playoff game! I’m not mad over the decision. I liked Rich Gannon; I’m just saying it was a bold move. What happened? Gannon drove the Chiefs from his own 18 (I had to look that up), moving the chains and eating up the clock in true Marty Ball fashion, and settled the team in to the 25 yard line with less than a minute to go. Enter: Lin Jeffords Elliott (yes, I gave him a middle name like a serial killer) for a standard 42 yarder. Surely no one misses three kicks of roughly 40 yards in the playoffs! His one job, his only job, is to make this kick 9 out of 10 times! Nope. Lin shanked his third chip shot of the afternoon, and I went up to my bedroom and cried face down on the carpet until my mom came up to check on me.

2003/04

The Chiefs again went 13-3 and again got the #1 seed. Again we hosted the Colts at Arrowhead, and this time, Indy had Peyton Manning. We lost 38-31. It was bad, but this time I didn’t cry so much.

2006/07

We made the playoffs as a wildcard team at 9-7 and lost to the 12-4 Colts by a score of 23-8. Whatever.

2012/13

Things seemed different in the 2012 season. We had gone 11-5, but had 13-win talent. (We started 9-0 that year.) Now, we had our coach of the future, Andy Reid. We had a competent QB in Alex Smith and one of the league’s best backs in Jamaal Charles. We were at Indy, but entered the game as 2.5-point favorites.

The first half was a dream: Alex Smith threw three TD passes, and we took a 31-10 lead into the half. We scored in the first 90 seconds of the 3rd quarter to go up 38-10. Thirty-eight to ten.

But four of our starters (Charles, Houston, Flowers, and Davis) left the game with serious injuries. Somehow, some-freaking-way, the Colts just… kept… scoring. It was like watching one of your children slowly falling down a flight of stairs while being six inches out of reach to save him. The Colts scored five second half touchdowns to jam an ice pick into our hearts, 45-44.

Take a look at the brutal parallels from these three seasons and this year.

95 Season: Start: 10-1; Finish: 13-4; Playoffs: 3-point loss to Colts
03 Season: Start: 9-0; Finish: 13-4; Playoffs: 7-point loss to Colts
13 Season: Start: 9-0; Finish: 11-6; Playoffs: 1-point loss to Colts
18 Season: Start 9-1; Finish 12-4; Playoffs… Face the Colts on Saturday

Given the history. Considering the opponent. Is there any reason for hope this weekend? Yes, there are two reasons.

Mahomes.

And then Mahomes again.

3.

If you were going to describe the pathway for the prototypical NFL quarterback, it would look like this.

He would be a star in high school and get recruited by one of college football’s rising stars in coaching. He would dominate in two college seasons, playing in a pro-style offense, with impressive stats and a nonexistent interception rate. He would have what old-school (and super prejudiced) NFL scouts are looking for: 6-foot-4 and 200+ pounds; a good student with a perfect track record off the field; handsome, with short brown hair and a strong jaw. If you were creating the perfect NFL quarterback, he would be drafted number one overall.

This same quarterback would average 10 wins per year, and lead his team into January every year. He’d make a few Pro Bowls and lead the NFL in QB rating at least once. His lifetime contracts would equal 18 years and $217.5 million dollars.

If you can’t tell where I’m going with this, if you wanted to create the type of quarterback the NFL is so desperately looking for, you would get: Alex Smith.

Alex Smith is one of my all-time favorite players and I mean no disrespect; I expect him to make a full recovery from his gruesome injury and extended hospital infection and continue to be a top 20 QB for a few more years. And yet. He is what our education and youth sports systems is perfectly evolved to produce in its best efforts. We received a calm, well-spoken, highly-rated quarterback who looks and speaks and plays the part. With Alex, you know what you will get: an 11-5 team, a 92 to 95 QB rating, few mistakes, and sixty minutes of January football.

Alex isn’t the problem; the lab that incubated him just needs to be flipped upside down.

Pat L. Mahomes 2, on the other hand, was just wrong from day one. He was under-recruited in high school, walked on to a program, and transferred twice in college. On his third team, he played for a wild, gunslinger offense, never going under center and wielding the freedom to fling the ball around the field like it was a Saturday afternoon playground. His stats were the stuff of video games; NFL scouts were not impressed. Mahomes’s post-college scouting reports were filled with:

Inconsistent… Need to play inside the offense… Lacks discipline… Brings unwanted trouble… Playground style lacks consistent rhythm… Need to take what the defense gives him… Questionable decision making.

Our Western education system has been established to eliminate the Patrick Mahomeses from the world. We penalize those who don’t fit the mold. We identify the quiet kids without ADHD and tell others to be like them. We tell the wild ones, leaping from playgrounds, hurdling desks, and throwing Nerf footballs across the gym, to settle down. This isn’t play time, we say. This is physical education.

In the real world, we don’t have time for Mahomeses. We have societies to build and traditions to uphold.

Or take youth sports, for example. I coach two elementary-level basketball teams, and even by the age of five, it’s clear some kids are more athletic, more physically-gifted than others. But in my experience, the athletic kids are often the most active, never sitting still, always bouncing, ready to play but struggling to listen. They’re not defiant; they’re not “uncoachable.” They’re just a handful.

My job as a coach is not to crush their energy but to direct it. We need to do better by the girls and boys with bouncing energy and boundless talent. I’m afraid we’ll never have another Kobe Bryant, with an unfathomable work ethic and a vicious will to win at all costs. I’m afraid if Patrick Mahomes was born ten years later, he would not have become St. Patrick.

So how did Mahomes come to be?

There’s one key element that St. Patrick had (and still has) that probably allowed him to become who he is, how he is, and why he just doesn’t care what kind of quarterback NFL scouts are looking for. His dad, Pat Mahomes Sr., played professional baseball, and from all accounts, has always been a consistent, positive, and empowering father.

So, yes, Mahomes II has a genetic advantage with a dad like that, but even more, his advantage seems to be that his dad told him day after day, year after year, “Don’t worry too much what others think, just throw the ball as far as you can. Play hard. Win games. And have fun doing it.”

In fact, here’s an actual quote. When asked what impresses him about his son, Pat Mahomes Sr. recently told The Ringer: “Patrick has been doing the same thing since he started playing quarterback—sidearm passes, no-look, jumping in air. And that’s pretty impressive, but nothing surprises me.”

Apparently Junior has been throwing these wild, unorthodox passes since he was a kid—AND HIS DAD DOESN’T STOP HIM. (We all owe Pat Senior a big Thank You.)

4.

Perhaps you think I care too much about football and read too much into it. Fine. But I’ll double down and take it one step further.

On Sundays at twelve PM central, I am a Chief. This is my team. They were when they were 2-14 and they are now. And while I loved Alex Smith and he elevated our franchise to a great place, I want more on a Sunday afternoon.

See, I sit in meetings five days a week; I don’t want a quarterback advancing the ball six-and-a-half yards at a time. I spend my days raising children and paying bills; I don’t want a quarterback who’s going to safely throw the ball away when pressured. My sports career was short-lived and ruined by injuries; I don’t want a quarterback to throw a screen pass on third and ten. What do I want?

I don’t care if it’s third and freaking 22. I have three hours a week to forget about work, gather my kids around the TV, and mentally enter Arrowhead Stadium. I want my quarterback to wrestle away from a sack, run around for a few yards, then contort his body to leap off one foot and launch the ball across his body, some 50 or 55 yards downfield, to a five-foot-nine receiver who’s double covered. That’s what I want. That’s all I ask.

We have been told all our lives to be quiet, conforming, consistent people. My own three boys are taught this every day. And maybe we are the sorts of folks that enable stable economies and whatnot. But life is to be lived and sports exist to bring us together as communities around a shared hope. We gather not so much around a team or a player, but around shared desire. We want our lives to be significant. We want to contribute to something great. We want, if even for three hours a weekend, to be able to defy gravity, shake off enemies, and defeat everything bad.

The meaning of Mahomes is that we are all Mahomes. It may be too late for me athletically, and our boys probably don’t have NFL or NBA genes. But they are—we all are—wild and ambitious and risk-taking human beings, created for great and daring things. Sure, a screen pass on 3rd-and-Eight might be the most reasonable option. But a scrambling, cross-field bomb of a pass is a helluva lot more fun. Let’s cultivate this spirit within ourselves and especially in the still uncrushed wildernesses of our children’s hearts.

5.

And so it would be that the good Lord would see fit to enable the poor Colts to squeak into the playoffs and get the overrated Texans in the wild card round, so that Mahomes can erase all the sad things at once by conquering our strange and pitiful postseason nemesis.

The glimpses of redemption are palpable, and our heart of hearts looks upward in expectant gratitude toward our Maker. But while we await our True and Better, we enjoy the little moments of redemption where we can find them.

It’s almost here. All that’s left is to play the game. History is on the line. Chiefs versus Colts. Reid and KC versus their own ghastly histories. Mahomes versus all the pain we’ve ever endured on our lives.

My prediction? Chiefs 52, Colts 24.

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