KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He will win the awards, armfuls of them, because of the numbers by which we have measured quarterbacks for decades. Patrick Mahomes has thrown 50 touchdown passes this year, for instance (against but 12 interceptions), which means he is the first player in NFL history not named Brady or Manning to collect as many as that.
He has thrown for 5,097 yards, the eighth-best number of all time. He has completed 66 percent of his passes. His Kansas City Chiefs won 12 of their 16 games, and earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. His name will be etched on plenty of trophies and plaques because of that.
But it will be engraved in our imaginations forever.
Because across the 17 weeks of the 2018 regular season, Mahomes wasn’t just an outstanding quarterback. He wasn’t just the jackpot extreme of every team that selects a kid with a strong arm and designates him their franchise QB. No. Mahomes did something else this season. He stretched the limits of what we have always believed the position could be. He wasn’t just a star, he was a show. He was the best show.
The great Al McGuire once said of Earvin Johnson: “Before Magic came along, it was always theoretically possible that you could one day find a man who was as big as some centers who had the skills of a point guard — Willis Reed mixed with Bob Cousy. But it took one kid with extraordinary talent and an even greater imagination for that to be flesh-and-blood reality. It took Magic to do that. After him, anything was possible.”
After just 17 games as a starting quarterback in the NFL, it is hard not to feel the same way about the 23-year-old Mahomes, son and namesake of a former major league pitcher who once went a perfect 8-0 for the 1999 Mets, who may not have had a perfect year himself this year but became, week by week, the most fun athlete to watch in all of American team sports.
Because it wasn’t just the numbers.
It was the moments.
It was 10 touchdowns the first two weeks of the season, at Los Angeles against the Chargers and in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, announcing himself in a way that nobody could have seen coming, slinging footballs all over the field and quieting angry stadiums with effortless flicks of his wrist.
“He looks like he’s been playing for 10 years,” his grizzled coach, Andy Reid, marveled after the Chiefs’ 42-37 win in Pittsburgh.
It was Week 4, a Monday night in Denver, against the Broncos’ fearsome defense and in front of 76,656 howling Mile High zanies when he first made America do a double take. The Chiefs trailed with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, and they faced a third-and-5, and Mahomes was flushed from the pocket and was about to be flattened by Von Miller …
“Holy [COW!], did he throw that ball LEFT-HANDED ….?!?!?!”
He threw the ball left handed.
It traveled 6 yards. It hit Tyreek Hill in stride. Folks were still talking about that a few seconds later when Mahomes completed passes of 23 and 7 yards to overcome a second-and-30 fix, and a few minutes later when the Chiefs scored to take the lead. It’s really all they wanted to talk about afterward, too.
“He actually throws better than me and I’m left-handed,” Hill quipped.
“I did it a couple of times in college but it was to throw it away,” Mahomes explained with a shrug. “I never had thrown it to a receiver. So it was a cool deal, got the first down and got the win.”
Cool deal. Sure.
And, oh yes: it was Week 14, in the middle of what became an overtime blood war with the Ravens at Arrowhead Stadium. Just before halftime, facing second-and-1 at his own 28-yard line … well, let’s let Tony Romo and Jim Nantz describe what happened next as they witnessed it for CBS:
Romo: “Look at the magic of the quarterback – just calm, moving around, dancing – and then throws it and it’s like … ALMOST NO LOOK! I mean, that’s incredible.”
Nantz: “No-look. Sidearm.”
Romo: “OH MY GOSH! HOW DO YOU NOT LIKE WATCHING HIM PLAY?”
Yes. It was a no-look throw for 17 yards to Demarcus Robinson, the kind Magic used to throw to Greg Kelser and then to James Worthy on the break, only without the degree-of-difficulty of 11 men trying to kill him while he did it.
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“It’s something that happens,” said Mahomes, shrugging again. “I’ve just kind of started doing that as I got into the last years of my college career, but I was looking and I saw D-Rob about to come open and I needed to move the safety over to the right, so I just trusted [he] was going to be there and I put it out there. He made a great play on it.”
Deadpanned Reid: “I worked real hard with him on that. I built that right into the offense.”
Saturday, Mahomes will get the chance to do something even greater for Chiefs fans who have come to marvel at his every impulse, and it doesn’t involve anything more complicated than this: win a 13th game on the season, against the Colts, which would also be only the team’s third-ever home playoff win in 10 tries.
“This is when the dream starts for real,” he said earlier in the week.
The folks who have watched him all year might argue that point. The dream is already in progress. It just needs a suitable ending.