Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is at the height of his powers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The NFL’s best player is a 27-year-old Black man who excels at the most important position in sports.

In his first five seasons as a starter, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Lavon Mahomes II won two Associated Press Most Valuable Player awards, two Super Bowl championships and two Super Bowl MVP awards. Mahomes, who’s only beginning his sixth season as the Chiefs’ top quarterback, also counts an AP Offensive Player of the Year award among his hardware, which he won in his first season leading the team. Heck, even Tom Brady, who with seven Super Bowl titles is the most successful passer in NFL history, wasn’t voted the league’s top offensive player until his seventh season as a starter.

As the Chiefs host the Detroit Lions in the NFL’s season-opener Thursday night at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Mahomes is at the height of his power. There’s no dispute about who’s No. 1 in pro sports’ most successful league, and Mahomes’ accomplishments fill Doug Williams with pride.

The first African American quarterback to start in the Super Bowl and win the game’s MVP award, Williams follows Mahomes’ career closely and is among his biggest supporters. We’re in the Mahomes era, Williams said, and it’s unlike any that preceded it in NFL history.

“Patrick is the face of the league,” Williams said in a phone interview the other day. “When you talk about the league, it’s quarterbacks who usually end up being the face of the league. Because of how important the quarterback is, that’s just the way it is.

“There are some really good young ones [quarterbacks] behind Patrick. And you can always talk about [future Hall of Famer] Aaron Rodgers. But when you talk about the league, when you talk about ‘The Guy,’ it’s Patrick.”

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes greets fans before a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on Aug. 19 in Glendale, Arizona.

Michael Owens/Getty Images

“Not everyone has fun, especially late in those games where you have to make plays to win. A lot of guys don’t want to be in that position. They don’t want to deal with that pressure. But Patrick does. He’s still just out there having fun with the game on the line.” — Doug Williams

Mahomes is the first African American quarterback to ascend to the top of the NFL.

For most of the league’s history, team owners were vehemently opposed to permitting Black men to play quarterback. They believed Black men lacked the intelligence and leadership skills to succeed at the position around which all else in the game revolves.

In every measure of the art of playing quarterback – statistical production, smarts, leadership, improvisational skills, toughness – Mahomes is second to none in today’s game. Then only 24 in 2020, Mahomes (he turns 28 on Sept. 17) became the youngest signal-caller in NFL history to have a Super Bowl title, a Super Bowl MVP award and a league MVP award.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates Mahomes’ greatness than his contrasting styles of play en route to becoming a two-time AP NFL MVP.

In his second NFL season and first atop the Chiefs’ quarterback depth chart, Mahomes won the 2018-19 award while being a big-play artist. He connected regularly with Chiefs receivers on long passing plays.

Not surprisingly, a leaguewide shift occurred in response to Kansas City’s success.

Chiefs opponents used coverages designed to prevent Mahomes’ signature deep completions. Mahomes adjusted, too, becoming more of a tactician. Last season, he used his whole receiving corps like never before, helping the Chiefs remain spectacularly successful and winning the 2022-23 award.

Willaims saw it coming.

Even as Mahomes experienced hiccups for the first time in his career while making the transition with the help of coach Andy Reid and Chiefs assistant coaches, Williams never doubted Mahomes would get it figured out because “just from a confidence level, Patrick might be the most confident person I know in my life, and I mean that totally in a positive way,” Williams said. “Everything he does, the way he plays the game, it’s about his confidence.

“The other thing is Patrick has such fun playing the game. Not everybody does that. Not everyone has fun, especially late in those games where you have to make plays to win. A lot of guys don’t want to be in that position. They don’t want to deal with that pressure. But Patrick does. He’s still just out there having fun with the game on the line. That’s when he’s having the most fun. That’s where he wants to be.”

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (left) and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (right) exchange jerseys after a game on Dec. 23, 2018, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Mahomes’ rise, as well as that of the league’s other star African American passers, has been a long time coming, Williams said. And it could have occurred a lot sooner.

A Black quarterback becoming the league’s best player “could have been squared away a long time ago, but we didn’t get the opportunities,” said Williams, who during his iconic Super Bowl performance took a sledgehammer to the racist myths about Black men and the quarterback position in the NFL.

“What you see now from Patrick, Jalen Hurts [Philadelphia Eagles], Lamar Jackson [Baltimore Ravens], Russell Wilson [Denver Broncos] other guys and the young guys coming into the league this year … all of this could have happened a long time ago if we just had gotten the opportunity. It’s all about opportunity. With everything Patrick has done, he has proven that.”

For his next mountain to climb, Mahomes will attempt to lead the Chiefs to consecutive Super Bowl titles.

During the Super Bowl era, only seven franchises have won consecutive NFL championships. The New England Patriots were the last to accomplish the feat by winning Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. 

Mahomes and the Chiefs are taking their second swing at back-to-back titles. Kansas City defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV and advanced to Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021.

The Buccaneers overwhelmed the Chiefs’ injury-ravaged offensive line and pressured Mahomes relentlessly throughout their 31-9 blowout victory. In Week 12 of that season, visiting Kansas City defeated Tampa Bay, 27-24. But the Chiefs were without their starting left and right tackles in the Super Bowl.

The holdout of All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones could adversely impact the Chiefs’ ability to repeat.

The league’s premier interior pass rusher last season, Jones, scheduled to be paid $20 million this season in the final one under his four-year, $80 million contract, missed all of training camp and the preseason in an effort to pressure Chiefs management to offer him a new, more lucrative deal. There’s a whole lot else that can go wrong in a season and, having won two Super Bowl titles in the past four seasons, the Chiefs know firsthand how hard it is to complete the journey to a championship.

Even so, Williams, for one, wouldn’t be surprised if the Chiefs repeated. Guess why.

Winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles “hasn’t happened a lot because it’s hard to do,” Williams said. “There’s a lot that can happen, and we all know that injuries are a major part of it.

“But Patrick plays this game with a passion that’s just different. He has a will to win that’s just different. He finds a way to get it done. That’s just him. That’s why he is who he is.”

The Chiefs’ opponents know who Mahomes is as well. And unfortunately for them, they have no idea what to do about it.