MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — I’m not certain what destiny looks like in person. But I think we just saw it in the Super Bowl.
In the fourth quarter of a game that was clearly tilting to the San Francisco 49ers, on a night when he did not at all look like the superstar everyone had been touting, Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ young, do-everything quarterback, took the football with nine minutes left and turned it into his personal flying saucer.
He ran for 9 yards. He passed for 9 yards. He made the longest play of the night — a 44-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill that ignited the Kansas City half of Hard Rock Stadium and galvanized a halo over Mahomes’ head. From there on, he was heaven-kissed. No wrong would come from his fingers.
Three plays later: touchdown pass.
Next 49ers series: three-and-out.
Next Mahomes series: Completion to Hill. Completion to Travis Kelce. Completion to Hill. A 38-yard completion to Sammy Watkins. A 6-yard scramble. A 5-yard touchdown pass.
Two touchdowns in about four minutes and a lead that would not be surrendered. This from a guy who’d had accuracy problems and two picks.
Yeah. Looks like destiny.
“Coach Reid told me after both (interceptions) ‘Keep firing, keep believing in your eyes, keep throwing it,” Mahomes told the Fox cameras after the 31-20 victory that cemented him as the game’s MVP, and clearly the new face of the NFL.
He did it with drama. He did it with intensity and flair and believing those eyes, which must have seen something the rest of us weren’t seeing.
“We never lost faith, that’s the biggest thing,” Mahomes said. “Everybody on this team, nobody had their head down. That’s what we preached all year long.”
So the 50-year wait is over for Kansas City. The career wait is over for Andy Reid, the 61-year-old well-liked coach who had more wins than any coach in history without a championship. That streak, happily, is over.
“Worth the wait?” a Fox reporter asked Reid.
“Absolutely,” he gushed, nudging towards Mahomes. “I love this guy right here.”
Doesn’t everybody now?
What’s crazy is for much of the night, you’d have thought this was not going to be the storyline. Mahomes, clearly the best-known player on either roster — the guy for whom everyone was predicting a huge night — had been strangely mortal. He had two interceptions, both of them his fault. His accuracy was not stellar, and much as he tried to run to daylight, he just as often ran into San Francisco’s formidable defense.
At the end of three quarters, Mahomes was only 16 of 25 with two sacks, no touchdown passes, and a quarterback rating of 62.9. You wouldn’t be putting a lot of money on his MVP trophy at that point.
But what counts is the fourth quarter, and more and more in recent Super Bowls, it seems, the fourth quarter tells the tale.
“Obviously, the third quarter didn’t go the way I wanted it to,” Mahomes later said. “I mean obviously that’s a really good defense. But the guys believed in me and we kept fighting.”
That fight, and those last nine minutes, will now and forever tell the tale of Mahomes, who was already the Next Big Thing in football and now is simply the New Big Thing. He will be remembered most for a third-and-15 where he waited, protected well by his line, and lofted that 44-yard pass to Hill, the biggest play of the night at the most critical moment.
“I put it out there,” he said.
He put it all out there. The fact is, he took all kinds of hits that a quarterback doesn’t usually take. He scrambled and raced and dove for sidelines. You can see the way he inspires his teammates with his toughness. And down the stretch he put the team on his shoulders and was damn near perfect when he had to be. He finished 26 of 42 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He added another 29 yards rushing.
And the world got to see the benefits of a bold team that trusts its scouts and was willing to trade up in the 2017 draft to snag him. Mahomes repaid Kansas City’s faith Sunday night. KC will soon be paying him a boatload of money in the future.
Someone asked Mahomes if he accepts the fact that he’s now the face of the NFL.
“There’s several people who can be the faces of the NFL,” he said humbly.
Not this morning.
A champion awakes
On certain levels, we shouldn’t be surprised. The Chiefs in the playoffs have been like a teenager on a Saturday morning. They require several wake-up calls. They fell behind by 24 points and came back to trounce Houston. They fell behind 10 points, then plowed through the Titans. So being down 10 points in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl — well, that’s just another snooze alarm, right?
Whatever. Mahomes’ timely offensive excellence will be rightly paired with criticism of the 49ers’ poorly timed offensive decisions. After picking off Mahomes for the second time, the 49ers had the ball with less than 12 minutes to go in the game — and inexplicably become a passing team.
From the press box. Photo: Mitch Albom
Remember, this is the second-best rushing attack in the NFL. They’d been chewing off some big yardage on runs earlier in the night. They would average 6.4 yards a carry. A few first downs, milking the clock, and keeping the Chiefs stewing in the juices of their latest mistake might have sapped the energy Mahomes would need for a comeback.
Instead, the 49ers seemed to play right into KC’s hands. Jimmy Garoppolo, asked to carry the team to victory, was not up to the moment. He threw incompletions and took a sack. The 49ers wound up quickly punting on what could have been — and should have been — a coffin-nailing drive.
Then, when Mahomes’ brilliance closed the gap to 20-17, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan still leaned towards throwing the ball. He should have seen his quarterback was wilting. He had all those running plays in a what had been hailed as a tricky, effective rushing attack.
Instead, two more Garoppolo incompletions gave the ball right back to KC.
“We had to move the chains to get first downs,” Shanahan later said. “We didn’t and they did and that’s how it ended up.”
That’s sugarcoating it. As Mahomes rose, Garoppolo stumbled. By the time the game ended, the 49ers quarterback, who had been the MVP front-runner heading into the final quarter, was a broken shell, looking totally overwhelmed. His last six plays of this Super Bowl were incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, sack, incompletion, interception.
His night became his nightmare.
Destiny went off with the other guy.
Heir to the throne
Thus ends the 100th season of the NFL, in which the catchphrase of the playoffs might have been, “OK, Boomer.”
Gone was Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Gone was Drew Brees. Gone was Aaron Rodgers. No matter what happened Sunday night, a new dawn was rising.
So before they ever kicked the ball off here on a unseasonably dry, picture-perfect February afternoon in Miami, here was a new look for the league, and a raft of new faces, some having waited longer than others, now ready to fight it out for the crown. It felt new.
And now it’s official. Mahomes is the new king of the heap. A 24-year-old has taken the reins — the youngest to ever win league MVP (last season) and the youngest to ever win Super Bowl MVP. Given the way he plays, there is obviously more of it to come.
“When did you know he was special?” Someone asked Tyreek Hill.
The first day of training camp,” he said. “He threw a pass 80 yards. I was like ‘OK, I’m a fast guy. I’m gonna be able to do something with that.’ ”
He just did. They all did. We got to see destiny rise Sunday night. It rests now on the young shoulders of a floppy-haired, perpetually smiling, 24-year-old heir to the mountaintop. That was a special performance in those last nine minutes. Something tells me it won’t be his last.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.