And it’s not even close
By Will Barrett
It’s a scenario that fans and armchair experts debate endlessly; your team is down 6 with 2 minutes left to play. They receive the punt, and start from the 25 yard line. As the offense trots onto the field, who do you want to see leading the final drive? The names that rattle off the tongue are familiar to everybody with even a passing understanding of Canton, OH; Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers. Each name, either enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or very soon to be, epitomizes the very essence of what it means to be a legendary NFL quarterback, each in their turn delivering countless jaw-dropping moments, their greatness written and rewritten with every hair-raising drive. These are the men in which so much is invested, on whose shoulders rest the fate and fortunes of franchises and the NFL as a whole. More column inches, more air time is devoted to their exploits, their lows and dizzying highs than any other position in sports, and rightly so. Draft a good quarterback and you’ll be a good football team. Draft a great quarterback, and you could win a ring or two. Draft a legendary, once-in-a-generation quarterback, and the entire course of sporting history will change.
Patrick Mahomes is a dazzling football player. To watch him play a game of football is to watch Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa, to watch James Joyce write Ulysses, to watch the story of the greatest player to ever play the game unfold before your eyes. After just 5 seasons as a professional, his resume already reads like a quarterback destined to be enshrined in Canton; he has won 2 Super Bowls, 2 MVP awards, 2 Super Bowl MVP awards. He has the highest career passer rating ever at 105.7, the highest career playoff passer rating ever at 107.4. He is the quickest player to reach 10,000 passing yards, the quickest to 15,000, to 20,000 and, almost inevitably, will be the quickest to 25,000 next season. Such is the staggering success of Patrick Mahomes that in just 5 seasons, he has turned an irrelevant team into the most feared and feted organization in American professional sports. We don’t just wonder whether the Kansas City Chiefs will have a winning season; we expect them to win 13 games and make the AFC Championship Game. We don’t just wonder if their offence will be good this year; we plan for it to obliterate defences. Such is the power of Patrick Mahomes. His gravity has completely reshaped and redefined what is possible for his team and for its fans, and he has accomplished this while doing something far greater still; that is redefining and reshaping what is possible for the position of quarterback.
In plain terms, the binary model of quarterback play exists as one of two avenues; the prototypical pocket passer who can react and adjust to defensive schematics and deliver the ball to an open receiver with rhythm and timing; and the maverick who can generate play with his physical tools, comfortable operating outside a collapsing pocket and delivering downs with his mobility and talent for improvisation. It is a sad fact, and indeed a terrible stain on the history of the NFL that many black quarterbacks have been pigeonholed into the latter category; their organizations prizeing their athletic talents over their ability to read the game. One only needs a cursory glance at the story of Lamar Jackson’s career thus far to see this bias at play. The horrific and demonstrably false narrative that black quarterbacks couldn’t succeed in the NFL has slowly been chipped away by players like Randell Cunnigham, Warren Moon, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, paving the way for player like Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson and Tua Tagovailoa to light up today’s NFL with their brilliance. Next year will see the likely introduction of Bryce Young, a player who has dazzled at Mater Dei and Alabama, and who will surely revive whichever franchise selects him in the first round of the draft.
Towering over every player however, is Patrick Mahomes. His genius has rewritten the rule book. More than perhaps anyone else in NFL history, he has redefined what is possible for a quarterback in the league. His combination of mind-boggling processing ability, masterful game management and an extraordinary talent for the ridiculously sublime has redrawn the map. He is the first black quarterback to win 2 Super Bowls, the first with 2 MVP’s. This year he and Jalen Hurts shared the distinction of being the first two black quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl.
Wherever he goes, whatever he does from this point forward, he will forever be the first man on the moon. However you may feel about the fact that he is first, however you may feel about what that says about the at times shockingly racist history of the NFL, the fact is that he is there, now, and will always be. Even if he was an average player, this alone would immortalize him in football lore. The pleasure for football fans is that he is not. He is in fact, the most remarkable football player of all time. He is the only player who is being potentially tipped to catch Tom Brady at the top of the tree. Think about that for a minute. The most decorated and legendary career in all of American sports is barely over, and already Brady is looking over his shoulder. Winning 7 Super Bowls is an absurd accomplishment, playing 23 years alone in the most brutal league in the world is staggering and beyond all comprehension, and yet, Patrick Mahomes is so absurdly brilliant, that he is already being appointed as the man to reel in Tom Brady’s records. Mahomes is just 27 years old; this shouldn’t be happening.
Inevitable. That is the word that comes up time and again when pundits describe what happens when Patrick Mahomes trots onto the field and walks off it again having led the Chiefs on a game-winning drive. The confidence he inspires is so absolute that we just know, we feel intrinsically, that he will find a way. If you posed me the question, if you gave me the choice of one quarterback to seal a game, I’m going with Patrick Mahomes. I’m going with the greatest football player of all time.