On Saturday night, The Committee of 101 — consisting of 101 members of the national media — conducted its 50th annual 101 Awards Banquet at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Kansas City.
While no members of the Kansas City Chiefs won league-wide awards at this year’s affair, the team always uses the occasion to honor the winners of two awards voted on by the team: the Mack Lee Hill and Derrrick Thomas awards, which are given to the squad’s best rookie and its most valuable player.
At a press conference before the banquet, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt first introduced the Mack Lee Hill award winner.
“Mecole Hardman seems to do everything in a hurry,” he said. “He got on the field quickly. He demonstrated blazing speed — both as a returner and as a receiver. He couldn’t even wait a full year before winning his first Super Bowl — something that I know we’re both very happy about.”
Hardman talked only briefly, saying he didn’t know he was would asked to speak.
”I just want to thank Mr. Hunt and the staff he put together [for giving] me a chance to actually play with the Chiefs,” he said. “It’s been a great year — like he said, not even a full year to win the Super Bowl — so you really can’t write it any better. And then playing with guys like Tyrann Mathieu — and learning from him. He took me under his wing, making my game elevate to the next level.
“Winning this award is a great honor because of the guys that won it before me. [To be] in that same room with those guys like Tyreek Hill — I think Derrick Johnson won this award — to be mentioned with those guys is a great honor.
“I [wouldn’t] be happy to be part of another team,” he concluded. “I hope I can be here my whole career.”
Hunt then moved on to the Derrick Thomas award winner.
”Tyrann Mathieu is a many of many talents — and many nicknames. Most of the football world knows him as The Honey Badger. His teammates call him Five. And in 2019, offenses around the NFL were unceremoniously introduced to The Landlord — because he was out there collecting rent every time he touched the field.
”More than his play on the field [was] the impact Tyrann had on our football team,” added Hunt. “He was the heart and soul of the defense — and he provided the leadership we needed to make a championship run. I know this honor means a great deal to him because it was awarded by his teammates — and it is very well deserved.”
As he spoke, Mathieu was nearly overcome by emotion.
”I’m truly honored to be here tonight,” he began. “I just want to start out by thanking God for His grace throughout my life. I want to thank the Hunt family for bringing me to Kansas City — not only allowing me to represent them on the football field, but also in the community; [I’m] truly grateful for that.
“I want to thank my coaches as well: Coach Andy Reid for seeing me [and] believing in me as a leader — a guy who could push this team forward. I want to personally thank my coaches who I spent probably the most time with: Steve Spagnuolo, Dave Merritt, Brendan Daly, Matt House, Sam Madison — even Big T [Dave Toub]. Those guys give me a lot of information [that] allows me to go out there, play as fast as I can and as fearless as I can — and every now and then, tap my head.”
There was laughter from the audience, because while he was introducing the veteran safety, Hunt had referred to Mathieu’s trademark of tapping the side of his helmet after correctly anticipating what the opposing offense was about to do.
”I think those guys have really helped me out a lot.” continued Mathieu, “and have really [taken] my game to the next level.
”I think one of the bigger reasons I came to Kansas City was [because] I can see the tradition within this organization, but also with the fan base. It reminds me a lot of where I’m from — Louisiana — [and] how much they used to rally around their team. To be a part of that is always special. You don’t always feel that at this level. So I’m grateful for that.
”I think any time you can be recognized as a team MVP, I think it says little about myself [and] really more about the people I’m surrounded by. I think a lot of those guys inspire me really as much as I inspire them. I think those guys give me the confidence I need to do my job at a high level. I think a lot those guys, they’ll follow me anywhere. I’m trying my best to lead them in the right direction. So I take great pride in it.
”I reflect on this season, and I see a team that had great expectations coming into the season. Like Mitch said, we had some adversity. The quarterback got hurt. Chris Jones wasn’t playing. Frank Clark was banged up. [There was] even a stretch in there where I wasn’t making real impact plays. We were able to kind of overcome that — and fight our way through that — to get to the playoffs.
“And to be down multiple possessions [in the playoffs]? I think the only way you can come back is to believe in your teammates, believe in your coaches and then have a certain foundation that you can really rely on. I think all of those things were built up through training camp and through the spring.
”So I’m grateful for the men that surround me — not even just the men, but the women as well. I think we have a great organization and we have a great staff. I think my job is much easier than people think. It’s not that hard at all [to] be yourself, showing up to work and doing something you love to do.”
”We’ll enjoy this victory,” Mathieu concluded, “but I know the guys in our locker room will want to get back to work and hopefully do it again. I accept this award on behalf of all my teammates. Without those guys, I’m virtually nothing.”
League-wide honorees included AFC Offensive Player of the Year Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens — given to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes a year ago — NFC Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas of New Orleans Saints, AFC Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots, NFC Defensive Player of the Year Chandler Jones from the Arizona Cardinals, AFC Coach of the Year John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and NFC Coach of the Year Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers.
The Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football was awarded posthumously to Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers.