When Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu played for the LSU Tigers, he gained a reputation as a ballhawk, setting an SEC record for 11 forced fumbles (not to mention four interceptions) during his two-season college career, earning him the nickname “Honey Badger.”
Perhaps seeking to distance himself from off-the-field troubles at LSU, Mathieu sought to discourage the nickname when he joined the Arizona Cardinals after they selected him in the third round (69th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft.
“I don’t necessarily have an issue with it,” Mathieu said in 2019. “A lot of people — they’re familiar with Honey Badger, not necessarily Tyrann Mathieu. I think what I went through about seven years ago, I was just trying to get people to really detach that from Tyrann Mathieu.”
But fans (and sometimes teammates) aren’t always receptive to such official discouragement. The nickname stuck — that is, until Mathieu gave Kansas City fans an idea for a new one as he prepared for his first Chiefs game in September 2019.
Chiefs fans now know Mathieu as “The Landlord” — the guy who comes to collect the rent.
THE LANDLORD. pic.twitter.com/8QCh9RAxYc— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) October 18, 2019
And in 2020, Mathieu made a lot of stops, collecting a personal-best six interceptions (one for a touchdown), 62 tackles (48 solo) and nine passes defensed. He allowed an opposing passer rating of just 60.2 on his way to his third selection as a first-team All-Pro.
Still, Mathieu — whom the Chiefs signed to a three-year, $42 million contract not just for his on-field skills, but also to be a defensive leader — no longer tends to talk about his personal accomplishments.
“Everything we do is about the team,” he told reporters on Wednesday as the Chiefs prepared to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. “How can we lift the people around us, how can we be better as individuals, how we can make life better for our teammates around us?
“Obviously, everyone had dreams of playing in this game. These games aren’t always promised, but I think we are grateful. We’re fortunate to be back in this position. And we do have some motivation, knowing that there’s a lot of young guys on our team — a lot of new faces on our team, a lot of guys who were injured last year — who didn’t play in this game. So it means a lot to those guys.”
#Chiefs Frank Clark sees two sides to Tyrann Mathieu pic.twitter.com/4OFxE65Gt7— Aaron Ladd (@aaronladd0) February 2, 2021
Asked about his more recent moniker, Mathieu said it is essentially a reflection of his development as a player.
“The Honey Badger is highly emotional,” he explained. “The Landlord? He’s collected. He knows where everybody’s supposed to be. He knows where he’s supposed to be at. But the Honey Badger? Once the ball’s snapped, he’s just like, ‘Go get the ball,’ you know?”
And despite his tendency to refer to himself in the third person, Mathieu — now with his third team — talks like a man who has finally found a home in the NFL.
“I think it’s always great when you’re playing with guys that love the game as much as you, playing with guys that study as much as you — and these guys have great ability as well.
“For me, it doesn’t necessarily matter what role I’m playing in defense — whether it’s man or robber — for me, it’s all about the guys around me. How can I get those guys to play hard, to play better, to communicate more? Because I think we’re all able to do that. I think we’re all able to play fast, play with our eyes, use our instincts and really make plays on the back end.”