At 5 years old, Patrick Mahomes would shag pop-ups on the pregame infield of the Texas Rangers, where his father, Pat, would assure teammates that his kid could handle it without getting injured. Soon he was getting coached up by no less than Alex Rodriguez.
“He would watch my swing and give me pointers,” Patrick said.
Growing up in Whitehouse, Texas, the stories of Mahomes' athletic feats are endless and not just in football.
There were 300-yard drives in golf, middle school high jump victories and testimonials about how he could make a wiffleball bend like no one had ever seen. He was an ace in ping pong, a no-look pass specialist as a point guard and he taught himself to switch hit to avoid boredom in Little League. Once, in tee ball, he fielded a grounder at short and threw it so hard it knocked over his first baseman (Mahomes was moved up an age group after that).
“I knew he’d be a professional athlete when he was 7,” his mother, Randi, once told the Kansas City Star. “I’m serious. There was never a question.”
This is how Mahomes has always carried himself – full of confidence, completely comfortable with any challenge in front of him, just ready to play. He belonged. He’s always belonged. Basketball. Baseball. Football. Whatever. No one has ever doubted him. If he didn’t play in the NFL, he’s probably in MLB.
Michael Jordan won six NBA titles and is a global icon, yet he spent his entire career fuming about getting put on the junior varsity ... as a high school sophomore.
At the same age, Mahomes didn't win the quarterback job for his high school (Whitehouse High had a senior who would play at Stephen F. Austin) and was moved to defense where he played safety. Then the University of Texas, among others, recruited him for the defensive secondary, not QB. Offended? Hardly. He just shrugged and found a school (Texas Tech) where he could play quarterback ... and pitch on the baseball team.
Mahomes is seemingly too easygoing to even remember, let alone invent some affront.
At least so far.
Sunday will be something new for Mahomes, he's playing in an AFC championship game where his Kansas City Chiefs were, for at least a little while this week, the betting underdog. And it will follow lots of pregame media discussion about whether his counterpart in Cincinnati, Joe Burrow, not Mahomes, is the best quarterback in the game.
Patrick Mahomes, underdog? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. The question is if it becomes some kind of positive motivating factor – as it has historically for so many athletes.
“I don’t feel like an underdog,” Mahomes said on Wednesday. “Especially at Arrowhead.”
The betting lines moved in Cincinnati's favor due to concerns over the high ankle sprain Mahomes sustained in a victory over Jacksonville last Saturday. As reports of full-health (or close to it) and video of him moving well at practice have emerged, it's shifted back in the Chiefs favor (-1).
Still, so much of the media chatter has been about Burrow and whether he could rightfully claim the title of the league’s best quarterback with a victory Sunday. It’s not without merit, especially since he’s won his last three duels with Mahomes, most notably in last year’s AFC title game.
Plenty of athletes would have heard all of that and seen red. Their coaches would have posted it up on the bulletin board – or these days just sent to their phones a video mashup of analysts talking up Burrow.
Mahomes isn’t those other guys, though. It might get to him. It might not. It’s hard to say, the man moves with such ease that it’s impossible to recall him ever getting rattled by anything.
“I think different guys use it in different ways,” Mahomes said. “I just try to go out there and prepare myself to play my best football. If you are not fired up to play a team that's beaten you three times in a row in the AFC championship game then you’re not going to be fired up for any game.”
Mahomes was drafted 10th overall in 2017 and spent his rookie year mostly sitting and learning. After that, he became a superstar. He threw 50 touchdowns in his first year as a starter and is 58-16 (playoffs included) overall. Not only has he reached at least the AFC championship game every season, he’s never played a road playoff game (just two neutral site Super Bowls).
Even the first time he played for the AFC title, a January 2019 loss to Tom Brady and New England, the Chiefs were 3-point favorites. And while Brady was Brady, the game was hyped as much as a possible passing of the torch as anything else.
So now that there is the slightest hint of disrespect – hey, maybe Burrow is better? – will Mahomes turn into some raging MJ clone and look to crush anyone who ever dared to doubt?
“I’m excited to play up against a great football team and put up my best effort to go out there and get a win,” he said.
Let’s-just-play has always been his style.