Ping-Pong, rollerblades and trick passes: The essence of Patrick Mahomes in 15 stories

1. One day last summer, Patrick Mahomes was standing in the middle of a fairway on a golf course in Cabo San Lucas, surveying his next shot. He had 260 yards to the pin. There was trouble in front. The safe play, Mahomes surmised, was to play short and attempt to reach the par 5 in 3.

So Mahomes pulled a 3-wood from the bag, swung as hard as he could and watched the ball take off. It landed on the green. Mahomes sunk his putt for eagle, and as he headed for the next hole, it reinforced a creed he and tight end Travis Kelce adopted on their trips together over the years:

“Man, we didn’t come here to lay up.”

2. There is nobody like Patrick Mahomes. He plays quarterback like few have in the history of the sport.

He throws no-look passes. He spins it with his left hand. He tries weird shit. His first touchdown pass Sunday was an underhanded toss that made it look like he was bowling.

Once, at practice, he forced former Chiefs center Austin Reiter to work on taking shotgun snaps on the run. “For fun,” Reiter said. Another time, he made running back Damien Williams run routes with his eyes closed. “He really told me, ‘Run straight, put your arms out and close your eyes,’” Williams said.

For Mahomes, there is pure joy in trying something crazy, in doing something that has never been done. “He still sees the magic in the world,” former Chiefs receiver Chris Conley says. That is one constant in every story about Mahomes. He is 26, a Super Bowl champion and an MVP. Every week he makes another play that feels impossible. But deep down, he still likes to just have fun, a fact that influences the go-for-broke way he plays the game.

Two years ago, in the middle of Super Bowl LIV, after he had thrown his second interception and the 49ers had taken a two-score lead, teammates and coaches kept walking over along the sideline, offering words of encouragement.

“Hey, stay aggressive, keep firing.”

Mahomes didn’t need to hear it.

“Get away from me,” he said. “What else do you think I’m going to do?”

3. Four years into his career, Mahomes remains close with a group of high school buddies from back home in Whitehouse, Texas. They play golf, take trips, tell old stories over Coors Lights and, perhaps most importantly, share a fantasy football league. Mahomes isn’t in it, but he does keep tabs on who drafts him. “That’s his best friend for the season,” said Coleman Patterson, his high school and college teammate.

This year, Mahomes went in the second round, a fact that Patterson uses to tout the league’s credentials: Their good friend may be the best player in football, but any seasoned fantasy guru knows you don’t reach for a quarterback. “We’re very serious about it,” Patterson said. Still, the presence of Mahomes on draft boards has been known to cause controversy. During last year’s draft, for instance, someone pulled the trigger on Mahomes in the first round, and the guy caught all kinds of crap.

Except from one person.

“I don’t know what the rest of your team’s going to do,” Mahomes told his friend, “but I’m gonna give you a 30-piece every week.”

4. Mahomes is the type of person who memorizes things. He is also a huge sports dork. “That’s kind of the best way to put it,” former Chiefs O-lineman Mitchell Schwartz said. If he sees a statistic on television, he remembers it. If he happens to be watching ESPN or NFL Network at the team facility, he’s immediately invested. “Every random thing that had been on TV,” Schwartz said. “He had seen it.”

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One time, former Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt walked by and heard Mahomes dissecting the mechanics of a sport that he couldn’t quite place.

“What a stroke,” Mahomes said. “Did you see that?”

Colquitt was confused. “Are you talking about the guy that just threw the cornhole bag?” he asked.

“Dude,” Mahomes said, “he’s like automatic!”

5. When Mahomes was at Texas Tech, he lived with Patterson and Hunter Rittimann, a receiver from San Antonio. The campus in Lubbock is massive. It goes on for days, which created a logistics problem: How to get from one class to the other in an efficient manner?

Mahomes and his buddies devised a cost-effective solution: They bought rollerblades. During the week, they’d cruise into chemistry class or right up to the field for practice.

“We were on campus all the time,” Rittimann said.

“Oh god,” former Tech backup Nic Shimonek said. “I was not part of the rollerblades. I’d like to get that on the record.”

Mahomes wasn’t the smoothest skater in the bunch. But he wasn’t afraid to look stupid.

6. To understand the origin of the no-look pass, you have to go back to a Texas Tech practice in the fall of 2014. Mahomes was a freshman. Davis Webb was the starter. Shimonek was a transfer from Iowa trying to get noticed. One day Shimonek tried to complete a short slant route without looking, which caught the eye of Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. “When did we start practicing this shit?” he asked. Truth was, Kingsbury loved it. So the next practice, Mahomes started experimenting.

“Pat fucking throws a no-look pass,” Shimonek says. “I’m like, ‘OK, so now you’re just going to try to steal my move and like one-up me? Literally from that point forward, he would make a third-and-7, and I would make a third-and-10 no-look pass, and then he would throw like a 25-yard missile no-look.”

Still, no one dared try it in a game.

7. When he was a junior, he took a senior-level integrated marketing communications class with a professor named Jeffrey Harper. Mahomes was a regular on the Texas Tech Dean’s list, but Harper was a stickler, handing out only a handful of A’s and B’s. The class included a project where students had to create a backpack product and market it. The students broke into teams of four, filling out a spreadsheet with their product choices, and every week, Harper would run a simulation to determine the results. One week, Mahomes’ team wasn’t winning.

“He was pissed,” Harper said. “They were trying to figure out: How are these other chumps beating us? He was like: ‘We’ve got to win this.’”

8. If Mahomes does not have a game to play, he’s going to create one. One season, the Chiefs opted to settle locker-room debates with a classic party game called “Categories.” In this version, one guy would come up with a category — say, car manufacturers — and the players would have to name them in rapid fire without repeating one. Ford. Toyota. Tesla. In quick order, the game became a point of immense pride. “Like ‘OK, you’re tired, let’s go right now,’” Conley said. “‘Can you think in this situation?’”

The same year, Mahomes and a bunch of teammates gathered for a Halloween party on a Friday night. Mahomes came dressed as an inflatable T-Rex, but when it came time for Categories, the costume was off. “It was getting really competitive,” Conley said. “The girls were playing, but the guys were way too into it. Way too much.”

Conley can tell the story, but honestly, it’s best to see the footage, when, in the seventh or eighth round, after the guys had found a groove, Mahomes baits a woman dressed as a devil into saying the wrong thing.

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“Halloween costumes: Devil,” he began.

“Superman,” Conley said.

“Devil,” the woman dressed as a devil blurted out before quickly catching her mistake.

Mahomes was already smiling.

“Got her ass!” he yelled.

9. If you knew Mahomes in high school, there was always a debate about his best sport. His dad played in the major leagues. He often put up 30 points on the basketball court. He was maybe the best high school quarterback in Texas as a senior. But his best sport?

“Might be Ping-Pong,” Rittimann said.

Mahomes has a table at his home and regularly challenges his friends. When he was at Texas Tech, he would face off against Shimonek in five-game series with the entire locker room watching. “One hundred and five other guys in there,” Shimonek said, “surrounding the Ping-Pong table.”

Mahomes, according to Patterson, is the type of player who likes to study his opponent, then form a game plan. He can blend power and finesse — and he takes immense pride in his defense.

He is also an underrated shit-talker. During practices at Tech, when Mahomes would feel good about a pass, he’d yell “dime.” “Before the receiver even caught the ball,” former Tech assistant Emmett Jones said. When he played Rittiman in Ping-Pong, he’d always scream, “You can’t get it by me!” When he played Shimonek, he knew he had to wait him out, to bait him into a mistake, so while Shimonek went on the offensive, Mahomes went into battle mode, standing 10 feet behind the table, biding his time, answering every Shimonek blast with a defensive return shot and a message meant to cut away at his opponent’s patience: “I’m here. I’m here. I’m here.”

And when Shimonek would finally lose his moxie and crush one into the net, Mahomes wouldn’t say anything, the troll job complete. Instead, he’d hold up his right arm and flex. “I know you can picture it right now,” Shimonek said.

It was the same flex Mahomes did in the Super Bowl.

10. One day in May this year, Mahomes stepped up to a tee box on a par 3 at a course in Hawaii. His foundation was hosting its inaugural charity tournament at The Club at Hōkūliʻa, and comedian and actor Rob Riggle emceed the event. As Mahomes eyed the hole, he offered a declaration: “That’s it, I’m birdying this hole.”

Mahomes’ golf swing is not exactly textbook. He jokes that he plays a slice. But he can make it work because he never backs off the throttle. “He swings the golf club harder than any human I’ve ever seen swing a golf club,” Riggle said. Mahomes pulls a pitching wedge when his friends swing the 8-iron. In the least surprising quote of the year, Patterson said Mahomes “just naturally hits everything as a bomb.”

In Hawaii, Mahomes reached the green in one but still had a long putt for the birdie. When he drained it, Riggle was amazed. Mahomes was not.

“I told you,” he said.

11. Mahomes had done some crazy things in his first two years at Texas Tech: He threw for 598 yards and six touchdowns in one game, lit up Oklahoma’s defense for 734 yards and five touchdowns in another. Still, late in his junior season in 2016, he had yet to attempt a no-look pass in a game.

Texas Tech was 4-5 at the time. The Red Raiders were on the road against Oklahoma State, trying hard to make a bowl game. They trailed by a touchdown with only a few minutes left. Mahomes had just taken a 9-yard sack deep in his own territory. It was third-and-20.

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That was the moment he picked to try it out.

Mahomes dropped back, glanced one way, then launched a no-look strike on a deep crossing route, completing a 23-yard pass. On the sideline, Payne Sullins, a sophomore quarterback, turned to Shimonek, the Red Raiders’ backup, in disbelief.

“Bro,” Sullins said, “he really just did that.”

12. One weekend last summer, Mahomes invited a bunch of high school friends over for a Fourth of July party. Naturally, there was a competition, so before long everyone was playing cornhole. Mahomes paired with his fiancée, Brittany Matthews, and like always, they started winning. Mahomes went on a run. Then Matthews got hot. A few minutes later, they had holed 10 or 12 straight.

“That’s what we do!” Mahomes and Matthews screamed. “That’s what we do!”

13. Mahomes didn’t say much in Kansas City’s quarterback meetings as a rookie. He was Alex Smith’s understudy and he knew it, so he generally spoke when spoken to.

Coaches put plays up on the screen, hit pause and asked the quarterbacks what decision they’d make in that situation: “Who would you go to here? Would you hit the over or the under here?”

The “over” might be an 18-yard throw, the “under” around 4 yards. Mahomes wasn’t looking at either.

“Shit,” he’d say, “I’d throw the post.”

“I’d look at him like, ‘Fucking what?’” assistant head coach Brad Childress said, laughing. Childress would study the screen again: Sure enough, there was a quarter safety standing flat-footed with a receiver about to blow past him — if the QB had enough arm to chuck it 65 yards and enough guts to try it, that is.

Eventually, Childress would change his response. “Yeah,” he’d say. “Good idea.”

14. One practice, Mahomes tried his craziest pass yet. It was a light walkthrough. The offense had the ball down near the goal line. Mahomes rolled to his right and flung the ball, behind his back, to the fullback for a touchdown.

“Like a basketball,” former Chiefs offensive lineman Jeff Allen said.

No one said anything; it was just Mahomes being Mahomes, having fun, trying something new. “I don’t think he’s going to do it in a game,” Allen said. “But who knows?”

15. One of Mahomes’ gifts is his ability to acclimate to his surroundings, to relate to other people or find comfort in any room. But he’s often most at ease with those who know him best, so earlier this year he invited Patterson to play Augusta National with one of the club’s members a couple weeks after the Masters.

Augusta National famously bans cell phones during the Masters. And if you play with a member, they are only slightly less verboten. But as Mahomes made the loop, his caddie noticed his phone was blowing up. On the 16th hole — a par 3 over water — Mahomes put his tee shot in a green-side bunker to the right, and his caddie issued another message about his phone.

Mahomes needed to execute a perfect flop shot for a chance at par. And it was right then that he looked at his phone and saw the messages from his team’s front office. The Chiefs were acquiring Orlando Brown Jr. to play left tackle and protect his blind side, and suddenly everything changed. Mahomes was so excited. Coleman could see it. His team was taking a chance.

Moments later, he hit the perfect flop shot and made his putt.

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos: David Eulitt, Mark Brown, John Weast / Getty Images)

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