The Chief in the North Newsletter

Patrick Mahomes is a nice guy.

Ask anyone who has been around the Chiefs or around Mahomes, and that’s one of the standard things that comes up. That he’s thoughtful, courteous, and overall just a really nice young dude. He’s earned that reputation through years of being… well, dangit, nice to people.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition with Michael Jordan’s portrayal (and the reality of who he was/is) during the incomparable “The Last Dance” documentary. Jordan is known, above all things, for being the most hyper-competitive person to ever play any sport. He carried so a multitude of chips on his shoulders from slights (real, imagined, or even made up) over the years that drove him to always be better than everyone else. There’s story after story of Jordan’s ruthlessness as a competitor to show anyone who even slightly doubted him that they were wrong.

Mahomes? He’s a nice dude. Even the way he’s portrayed in Bleacher Report’s “Gridiron Heights” (one of the best things to happen to modern sports coverage) is that of a happy, fun-loving guy who just so happens to be accidentally awesome at everything he does. And by and large, that’s the public perception of Mahomes. He’s a joker!

That’s all well and good. The thing is, it’s also a wildly incomplete story.

Make no mistake, by all accounts Mahomes is a very nice person. I’ve literally never spoken with someone who has a bad thing to say about him. He also does spend a lot of lighthearted time joking with teammates, media and even fans.

The thing is, he’s also a heartless assassin whose competitive fire rages every bit as hot as Jordan’s did, with a willingness to use any perceived slight as a motivator. You might not believe it, but over the years Mahomes has allowed that edge to slip out from underneath his casual demeanor.

“I’m told you gotta hit me!”

Prior to the Super Bowl, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio made some comments regarding Mahomes and the Chiefs that raised a few eyebrows. The basic message was simple: The 49ers need to hit Mahomes early and often.

“You know what, at a certain level, I think that… I wanna be careful here, because I’m not suggesting that they try to knock him out of the game. That’s not what I’m saying. But at a certain point, you trade the risk of 15 yards if you can send a message. And football is still a physical, violent game. If you can hit him, even if it’s close to the sideline, even if he’s maybe started into his slide, when the championship is riding on it, I think it’s a different analysis. Yeah, we may give up 15 yards or half the distance to the goal line…

“I mean, that’s the thing, Peter, if somebody had blown up Patrick Mahomes inside the five [yard line], it goes from the four to the two. Big deal. So again I’m not saying that that should be part of the deliberate effort, but the Super Bowl is riding on it. If this guy’s gonna think he can just run through the defense without any physical consequence, they need to dispel him of that notion the first time he tries.”

It’s not terrible advice to give that a team should try to be physical against a mobile quarterback, but Florio’s wording left something to be desired and became a hot topic of discussion for a day.

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On the Chiefs second drive of the game, Mahomes made several big plays with his legs. That included a crucial 3rd and long scramble that led to Mahomes taking a huge hit. The result of that hit wasn’t quite what Florio had anticipated.

Mahomes, who seems to know the exact right thing to do in any situation, was on his feet instantly telling the safety (who got hurt making the hit) what a great hit it was.

Just a few plays later, Mahomes dove into the end zone while absorbing contact on an option run, dispelling any notion that taking a big hit would lead to him playing the game differently. Immediately following that touchdown, Mahomes made it clear that he’d heard the chatter regarding how the way to stop him was to be physical.

I missed this in all the incredible coverage following the game, but Mahomes didn’t just shout about players hitting him. His use of “I’m told…” to preface his declaration made it crystal clear that he’d heard every word that was said that week, and that he used it as motivation. It was a rare peek inside the killer mentality of someone who has been underestimated and doubted at ever level, but not the only one we’ve seen.

Can you count to 10?

This has been seen and discussed almost ad nauseam, but one of the first times we ever saw Mahomes’ fire and willingness to personalize slights came against the Chicago Bears late in the 2019 season.

We all know the story. The Bears traded up for Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 draft, passing on Mahomes (and Deshaun Watson). That led to Mahomes falling to 10th in the draft. And after scoring a touchdown, Mahomes demonstrated that he remembers.

Jordan was famous for taking it personally any time he felt underestimated. Mahomes was drafted 10th overall, and a good team traded up for him. This wasn’t terribly insulting, but competitors are just different. Mahomes personalizing it is demonstrative of the fact that he’s not satisfied being known as good, or even great. Anything but the best is (and rightfully so) an insult.

Mahomes then slipped the smiling assassin mask back on right after the game, refusing to acknowledge that his gesture had any meaning despite repeated questions from the media.

Q. Looking at the score after you scored and you were counting on your fingers, what was the meaning behind that? “Yeah, I mean, honestly, I was just out there having fun. Me and my teammates, we were going out, we had a big score before the half, and I was trying to enjoy it. You’ve seen me play. I play with emotion. And I like to go out there and have fun with my teammates.”

Q. Was that something you thought about during the week, that you would do? “No, no, not at all. Honestly, I don’t think about celebrations and stuff like that. I leave that to Tyreek and Kelce and those guys and I just kind of go out there and just enjoy the moment. And that’s kind of who I am, is I play with a lot of passion, and I like to go out there and just be out there with those guys.”

Q. What was the meaning of that, then, counting to 10? “I don’t know if there was necessarily a meaning. I was just kind of just in the moment and just enjoying it. We kind of had big score there with Dusty coming off the roughing the punter, and then getting the first down and scoring before half, knowing we’re getting the ball out of the second half. It was a big moment in the game, and you got to take advantage when you get opportunities in the red zone against that defense.”

Q. You could do that after any touchdown in any stadium. Why here? Why did that come out of you here do you think? “I don’t know why a lot of things come out when I do celebrations, but I just kind of try to go out there and enjoy it. And I know I can’t dance or anything like that, so I leave that to the receivers and I do what I can do.”

Q. Is that something that has been in your mind the last couple years, knowing that other teams had the chance to take you and didn’t? “No. I think anyone that goes about it, and as a competitor wants to be the first guy. But you know that you — you know that there’s a process to it and not everyone can be picked first. And I ended up in a great situation in Kansas City, a situation where I wanted to be at, an organization that’s kind of taken me and made me the best player that I could be at this time. So I’m just excited that I’m here now and I was able to go out there and find a way to win the football game.”

Despite being an excellent, polite interview, Mahomes has already become known for “quarterback-speak,” in which he says a lot of things that sound like information but really aren’t. He also does it with a Reid/Belichickian flavor, always trying to compliment everyone involved (especially the opponent).

The thing is, nothing more needed to be said. The most dangerous villains in cinema history aren’t the ones who shout and scream how dangerous they are. They’re the ones who behave like they aren’t villains at all, smiling politely as they leave destruction in their wake. In other words, Mahomes Hannibal Lector’d the Bears.

Pro Bowl language

There are very few things more meaningless in this world than the NFL Pro Bowl. The players are maybe putting forth 50% effort, everyone is just having fun, and the primary goal is to not get injured.

Of course, that doesn’t stop someone who is homicidally competitive from getting angry when things don’t go well. When his team was unable to finish off a drive, Mahomes momentarily forgot he was mic’d up and allowed his frustration (again, in a totally meaningless game) to slip through for a split second before he remembered himself.

(Warning: language)

Language aside, it’s a great moment to note that Mahomes just can’t help himself. He’s a competitor, and it makes him genuinely angry (if only for a second) that the AFC couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone.

“I can spin in anything”

One of the things Mahomes has been questioned on since entering the league is his ability to play in the cold and snow. Growing up in Texas, he didn’t often face inclement weather in high school and college. And you cannot convince me that this wasn’t the impetus behind his comments during one of the greatest mic’d-up segments in history.

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At the 30 second and 1:02 mark, Mahomes goes out of his way to talk about how the weather doesn’t mean anything to him and his ability to “spin” the ball. Much like his counting to 10 and “you gotta hit me” moments, it’s just a brief flash and without knowing context people might miss it entirely.

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Making a list…

Being named the 4th best player in the NFL by your peers is an honor. There are very few players who are even in consideration for such a lofty place. But for Mahomes, it was a piece of motivation.

Right after the NFL’s Top 100 list was finalized, revealing Mahomes to be named as the 4th best player in the league, he sent a wordless tweet.

For Mahomes, 4th isn’t enough. It’s an insult.

That’s objectively crazy. There’s no reason to feel that way for a person who is wired normally. But that’s the point. Mahomes isn’t wired normally. That’s why he gets fired up when eliminated from a Halloween party game. It’s why he tries to lay hits on defenders after an interception. It’s why he was willing to come back from a scary knee injury quickly and become a scrambling quarterback when it was necessary.

And perhaps most importantly, this mentality is what has Mahomes in the gym the day after signing a half-billion dollar contract, or working on every aspect of his game to improve after winning the MVP as a first-year starter. He’s not wired like a normal person. There’s no “good enough” setting for him.

Mahomes isn’t a player who is satisfied with being considered “good.” He’s not looking to be considered one of the better players in the league. He’s looking to be the best and taking note of every time someone says he’s not. He’ll then use that as a reason to go out onto the field and steal peoples’ souls.

And he’ll smile while he does it. Because he really is a nice guy.

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