The solitary figure approached a security guard, who was stationed outside of the Kansas City Chiefs locker room, following Sunday night’s gut-wrenching 37-31 overtime loss to the New England Patriots in the first-ever AFC Championship game in the history of Arrowhead Stadium.
He had a special request, which the guard immediately responded to, because this wasn’t just your casual postgame visitor, it was New England’s iconic quarterback Tom Brady, who was about to pack his bags for this NFL-record ninth Super Bowl appearance.
Brady, who got involved on all the postgame pomp and circumstance that goes with winning the AFC Championship game, didn’t have the chance to visit with Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the field.
The two quarterbacks – the greatest of all time and the up-and-coming phenom - met for a few minutes before Brady returned to the visitor’s locker room to rejoin his teammates.
“I thought that was phenomenal,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, at his season-ending news conference. “Tremendous amount of respect. I don’t think Tom does that with everybody. For him to come in and talk to Patrick, I thought was special. It was a very nice gesture by him.”
The gesture will likely not take away the angst and agony of a playoff loss that seemed to hinge on one costly neutral zone penalty (please see game story on B1), but it shows that Mahomes has earned the respect of the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time).
And Kansas City has been searching desperately for a player of his stature to help a team return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970 (Super Bowl IV, where the Chiefs stunned the heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings 23-7).
As I watched Brady lead his team to an overtime touchdown – no surprise there, I called a Patriots win the moment they won the coin toss – I felt equal parts of respect and confidence, knowing that very, very soon we are going to be watching Mahomes do the same thing with the Chiefs.
This young man is part Houdini, part Patton and part Brady - a magician, a leader and the most promising quarterback in the history of a franchise that has struggled over the years – oftentimes because of the man running the offensive show.
I not only watched Mahomes play this season, I got caught up in his brilliance. No look passes, left-handed passes, the way he could will his team to a victory. It seemed like the bigger the game, the bigger the stage, the better he played.
It took another brilliant NFL icon – love him, or hate him, New England coach Bill Belichick – to find a way to slow down Mahomes as his Patriots led 14-0 at halftime.
But no one is going to stop Mahomes for four quarters, and the young man with the golden arm, the Kermit the Frog voice and the ever-so-popular headband rallied his team for 31 second-half points that simply weren’t enough to keep Brady from working his own special overtime magic.
As Mahomes visited with the media following the loss, it was apparent that this setback was going to serve as the foundation of many future victories – including, I believe, one in the Super Bowl.
“Every team’s going to be different year-to-year,” Mahomes said, sounding like an NFL war horse, instead of a 23-year-old kid who doesn’t look like he even needs to shave. “We’ve got a lot of young guys on this team. It hurts. It hurts everybody. We knew we had opportunities in this game and throughout this season. We put in the work. We know that this can be a building block. It could be something that carries us in the future. Right now, it’s the end but hopefully it’s the beginning of a long time.”
And what if the Chiefs had won that coin toss? Mahomes believes he would have led the team to the winning touchdown.
“No doubt at all, but that’s just ifs and buts,” he said quietly. “You can’t look at that, but at the same time I thought we were rolling. It didn’t go our way and stuff happens.”
And lots of good stuff is going to happen, and happen very soon.
“We just have to find ways to start better,” said Mahomes, as his team trailed 14-0 at halftime Sunday. “It’s something I’ll look back on for my entire career and use it as something that I can find ways to win these games when I’m in them.”
He then quietly slipped out of the interview, met up with his family and escaped into the cold, dark Kansas City night. Knowing that this missed opportunity would only make future successes that much sweeter – for him, his teammates and the Chiefs Kingdom.