In his Football Morning In America column for NBCSports.com on Monday, Peter King devoted a lot of space to the Kansas City Chiefs — and their quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
After nearly 40 years writing about professional football, King’s powers of observation are as sharp as ever.
Kansas City is a giddy city these days, and it revolves around Mahomes and the Chiefs. The valet-parking guy at my hotel here saw me and raved about Mahomes. “He’s almost too good. What a kid,” he said. At a Royals game, a fan said to me, “I’ve never seen this place so fired up about the Chiefs. It’s Mahomes.” You just feel it.
King is a little giddy on the Chiefs (and Mahomes) himself. In the column, he picked the team to claim the AFC West for the fourth straight season and capture the first seed in the AFC playoffs. Then he said they’ll defeat the New England Patriots 27-25 in the AFC Championship and the New Orleans Saints 37-27 in Super Bowl LIV.
And he predicted Mahomes will repeat as NFL MVP.
I checked: The word “regress” was never mentioned.
King devoted an appropriate amount of space to Mahomes’ athletic skill but spent most of the column on Mahomes’ leadership. King said that the prime example of that leadership was what Mahomes did when running back Kareem Hunt was released from the team.
The Chiefs fired Hunt when they discovered he’d been untruthful with them about an incident when he was found to have abused a woman in Cleveland in the offseason. The next day, a Saturday, the Chiefs had to leave for a game in Oakland. Before they did, coach Andy Reid was going to address the team about the Hunt situation. That morning, before the meeting, Mahomes asked Reid if he could talk to the players. Alone. Just the players. Reid weighed it; he’d thought he’d talk to the team and that would be it.
“I thought about it,” Reid told me during camp. “This was coming from him. I could tell it was something he really wanted to do. It’s different coming from a player, and what I’ve found from Patrick is what he thinks usually is coming from the right place. I thought it’d be good.”
But this actually illustrates two examples of outstanding leadership. Being a leader sometimes means recognizing when it’s the right time to step away and let someone else do the talking. In this instance, Reid deserves as much credit as his young quarterback. When Hunt was released, most thought it would be a crippling blow to the team on the field and a huge distraction off of it. Neither turned out to be the case.
King described Mahomes’ words to the team.
Mahomes spoke for maybe two minutes. It wasn’t long. He said he loved Kareem Hunt, as did everyone in the room, and Hunt would continue to be a friend. He said everyone in this room would stick together and they’d get through this, and we’ve come too far to let one thing derail this season, and we won’t let it, and we don’t know who is going to pick up the slack without Kareem, but whoever it is, we’re still going to be great.
King pointed out that while Mahomes’ words weren’t “I have a dream-worthy,” they were the right ones at an important time. Mahomes told King that he learned about that kind of leadership in the major league baseball clubhouses where his father Pat Mahomes (and godfather LaTroy Hawkins) spent their long careers; there’s a moment when it’s time to speak.
“You can’t fake that stuff. It has to be genuine. Has to be when you’ve earned the respect of your teammates. There’s gotta be times when you step up, you talk to make sure everything stays on course. We have a lot of great leaders on this team. We listen to each other. Whenever I talk, I have guys that are enforcing that with me. Whenever guys like Travis Kelce, or all these guys talk too, I can kind of reiterate what they’re saying as well.”
King had lots more to say about Mahomes and the Chiefs. The full column is well worth your time.
Peter King certainly isn’t the only person in America who believes the Chiefs are destined for great things this season; ask almost any Chiefs fan, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Mahomes’ athletic talent, grasp of the game and work ethic are extraordinary; almost by themselves, they made the Chiefs instant NFL championship contenders.
King, however, is making a deeper point: Mahomes has what it takes to lead his team.
He won’t always have the athletic skill he possesses as a 23-year-old; there will come a time he won’t be able to scramble away from trouble and throw a thrilling deep pass across his body. He won’t always have the talented receiver corps that is now at his disposal; NFL free agency — and the uncertainty of the draft — will see to that. And he won’t always have the 61-year-old Andy Reid on the sidelines, either; Father Time remains undefeated.
But without all of that, Mahomes will still have his incredible mental game. He’ll still have his work ethic. And he’ll still be the leader of his team. At the age of 39, that was enough for Peyton Manning to appear in his fourth Super Bowl — and win his second. It will be enough for Mahomes, too.
King’s point isn’t that the Chiefs will be strong contenders to win a championship this season. Rather, it is that with Mahomes, the Chiefs will be contenders every season.
This ride is just beginning.