KANSAS CITY — Midway through the second quarter on Saturday, as snow fell and more than 76,000 frozen Midwesterners screamed in Arrowhead Stadium, Pat Mahomes Sr. issued a familiar warning to those who know the perpetual heartache that is Chiefs’ fandom. “Lot of game left,” he said, even with Kansas City ahead 17–0.
His knees vibrated with nervous energy inside the Evergy Suite near the 50-yard-line at Arrowhead Stadium, which was packed with friends, family and the company’s employees. They kept reminding each other not to pick their noses—unless they want to be shown doing so on TV, when the cameras inevitably panned to the increasingly famous family of the NFL’s likely MVP.
The Chiefs soon after lined up for a punt, their first of the day. Mahomes’s words echoed, lot of game left, as the Colts came crashing through the line, blocked the attempt and recovered the ball for a touchdown. The cautious optimism that permeated the Mahomes suite only minutes earlier gave way to something more customary when Kansas City hosts a playoff game, particularly against Indianapolis: doubt, sinking like an anvil in so many stomachs. “Get it together guys,” Mahomes Sr. said, voice rising. “I hate that lackadaisical stuff!”
Mahomes’s mother, Randi, stood up from her front-row seat. She was nervous. She needed to pace. “Tell ‘em, Pat,” said Susan Bobbitt, Randi’s cousin. “Your quarterback is named Luck and y’all got lucky!”
So it went on Saturday at Arrowhead with the parents and extended family of the quarterback who took over the NFL in his first season as a starter. Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards, tossed 50 touchdowns, catapulted the Chiefs to the No. 1 seed in the AFC and came to confront the tortured history of a proud and historic franchise, all the missed kicks and inexplicable fumbles and bad luck that dates back decades before he was even born. All week, teammates said this year felt different. That demons would be excised. But here, inside the suite, those who know Patrick Mahomes best watched him simply do what he has done his entire life.
The family gathered inside 45 minutes before kickoff, picking at chips and salsa, slathering hot dogs in mustard, cracking open wine bottles. Randi couldn’t eat—too nervous. She flew here late in the week with her daughter, Mia, who opted to skip her youth basketball game back in Texas to watch her brother in the playoffs. As Mahomes’s first postseason game approached Randi told him, simply, “Believe in yourself.”
Highlights of Mahomes played on the TV in the suite, along with TV reports featuring talking heads standing outside, all bundled up in the snow. The wintry conditions seemed to favor the Colts, since the Chiefs defense finished last or second-to-last in the league in passing yards, total yards and yards per rush this season. The Colts liked to run; the Chiefs couldn’t stop the run. Kansas City liked to throw; the snow could halt that plans. Plus, Indianapolis had momentum on its side, having won 10 of its last 11 games.
As Mahomes’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, traveled to the stadium, he saw cars stuck in snow banks, or pulled to the side of the road; he even spied one overturned vehicle. Many believed the weather would stall the NFL’s most prolific offense, one that averaged 35.3 points and 425.6 yards. Those people did not know Patrick Mahomes. Not well enough, anyway. Steinberg wore a red shirt with his client’s likeness on it, along with the words “Patrick Mahomes is Ma-Homeboy.”
Steinberg had awoken at 3:30 that morning—he couldn’t sleep, not from nerves but from excitement. The Mahomes he signed had thrown four touchdown passes against the Chargers in Week 1 this season, and if that seemed like a fluke, he threw six more scores against the Steelers in Week 2, and if that still didn’t do it, he tossed three more the next week against the 49ers. Before Mahomes this season, only Peyton Manning in 2013 had surpassed 5,000 passing yards and thrown 50 touchdowns.
The suite started to fill up as kickoff neared. Attendees ate chicken tenders and sliders and pulled pork sandwiches. Workers unfurled an American flag across the length of the field. There were more people in the suite than seats, as the Chiefs burst out of the tunnel, their quarterback introduced last, the cheer so loud the stadium seemed to shake.
The Chiefs kicked off to start the game, then commenced to thoroughly dominate the first 20 minutes. Mahomes did what Mahomes does: throwing passes from odd angles, slinging them side-arm; or looking off defenders, then zipping the ball into the tightest windows; or rolling right and flicking the ball back across his body. The snow, the Colts, the record of quarterbacks making their first playoff start since 2013 (4–11), Kansas City’s horrific mark (4–16) in the postseason—none of that bothered him, none of that slowed him. “Not wasting any time,” Steinberg said.
Someone passed out red Chiefs headbands. Two cheerleaders stopped by, taking pictures, loaning out their pom-poms. Mia wore a silver 15 pendant—her brother’s now famous number—around her neck. Pat Sr. sat in the front row of the box on the far left—his customary seat, closest to the broadcast team. He is superstitious like that. He wore the same white khaki shorts all season, even as the temperatures dipped, until the Chiefs lost their second game of the season in Week 11 to the Rams. He sometimes watches a highlight reel of TV analysts calling his son a “project” and a “risk” and everything else they critiqued before the draft. Boy, were they wrong. Mia surveyed the field, just before the blocked punt. “I think they’re going to win,” she said.
Longtime Chiefs fans knew better. They knew the Colts completed the second-greatest comeback in NFL playoff history in Coach Andy Reid’s first season, winning 45–44 in Jan. 2014. Kansas City led, 38–10, that day—and still lost, and that wasn’t even the worst, or weirdest, or most devastating defeat in their strange, sad history. The Colts entered Saturday having won as many playoff games as the Chiefs—two—at Arrowhead.
That was before they traded up to select Mahomes with the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft, dealing two first-round picks and a third. They spent that capital for the exact moments like after the blocked punt, when the Chiefs got the ball back, ahead, 17-7, and Mahomes took them down the field in 10 plays that chewed up 75 yards. “Let’s do something you’ve never done before,” his father said. The drive ended when Mahomes scrambled into the end zone from four yards out, as the box erupted in celebration. “Let’s go!” Pat Sr. shouted.
The doubt lingered throughout the second half, but the Chiefs fans in the suite seemed far more worried than any of quarterback’s relatives, some of whom wore socks with Mahomes’s face on them. Drinks were downed. Chips crunched. Smoke breaks taken. Legendary Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri clanked the left upright on a 23-yard attempt just before halftime and finally, after decades and decades of postseason futility, it looked like luck might have turned toward the Chiefs, rather than away from them.
The biggest issue the rest of the game was that the suite ran out of water, which employees quickly replenished. The Chiefs took the ball to start the second half. They didn’t score for the entire third quarter, but neither did the Colts. The score remained just close enough to worry—for everyone except those who have watched Mahomes play football and baseball all their lives.
Attendees groaned when Mahomes fumbled a wayward snap. They cried foul when several Colts defenders piled on top of him. They watched him sling another sidearm throw to tight end Travis Kelce to pick up a first down, watched him lead the Chiefs down the field again in the fourth quarter, even helping to push running back Darrel Williams into the end zone, extending the lead to 31–13. Fans banged on the windows in delirium in the suite next door. One of two Colts fans in the Evergy Suite poured a stiff drink. That was the score when the game ended.
It was not lost on those who know Mahomes, what he had accomplished on Saturday in this snow globe: the quarterback with no playoff history had erased almost five decades of playoff futility. The Chiefs will host the AFC championship game next Sunday, their demons exercised. They can win the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named after their late founder, for the first time.
As the final seconds ticked away, Pat Sr. remained on his feet, still clapping, still shouting. As the game ended, everyone hugged and clapped and cheered. Hands made chopping motions, even those of the policeman there to provide security. Randi had screamed so loud she had started to lose her voice. She danced and danced, and as the windows to the suite opened, she screamed out of them, waving pom-poms.
Mahomes sauntered off the field while his family celebrated. His dad held an arm aloft, giving his son the thumbs up. Mahomes nodded, happy but not done. There’s more history to make next week. “He pushed the guy in,” his father said. “Now I’ve seen him do everything.” He shook his head and walked into the night.
Randi remained in the suite, overcome with emotion. “It’s overwhelming,” she said, as tears welled in her eyes and ran down her cheeks. She had 125 text messages on her phone. She didn’t plan to answer any of them any time soon. She thought about her boy and their squabble and everything he meant to her. She wanted to run down on the field and grab him and shake him and say, “Do you realize what’s happening right now?” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed happy tears, the best kind of tears, because she knows what’s happening right now. This season, her son took over pro football. On Saturday, he exorcised the demons of a fan base. Three weeks from now, he might just win the Super Bowl.
“It’s all just a little bit too much,” she said.
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