INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes II could have spent his offseason just about anywhere, back home in Texas perhaps, or maybe even some exotic locale befitting a 20-something starting quarterback in the NFL.
Instead, Mahomes spent it in Kansas City.
Deeply immersed in Kansas City.
He showed up wearing his Chiefs jersey to read “Oh the Places You Will Go” to a group of children at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. He hung out with fans at a Jason Aldean concert at the downtown Sprint Center.
He wore a cutoff jersey from the T-Bones, a local independent minor league baseball team, and a pair of jorts while attending the NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway. And he threw out the first pitch when the Royals played the New York Yankees at Kauffman Stadium.
Throw in the dozens of times fans have bumped into Mahomes at restaurants or on the street, usually documented on social media accounts, and it would be safe to call him a man about town.
“I mean, the fans come out every single week and show passion and love for us and our team and what we’re doing here,” Mahomes said, “so for me, I want to be back in the community, giving back. And just be a part of it, to show the same love and passion to them.”
That earnestness is refreshing in the modern NFL, where large chasms have come to separate players from fans. Rarely do the biggest stars stick around town in the offseason, and even more rarely do players willingly embrace being part of the community.
Just this week, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown bemoaned the constant attention he receives, and the fact that he can’t even work out without people showing up and bothering him.
Mahomes would prefer people show up to work out with him.
The way he’s embraced living in Kansas City is not unlike the way Eric Hosmer and the rest of the Royals embraced the city during their back-to-back World Series runs. They would frequently pop up at local bars and buy a round for the entire place, even celebrating among the fans during playoff triumphs.
Maybe it’s something unique about Kansas City.
More likely, it’s something unique about those individuals.
The way Mahomes has engrossed himself in the city hasn’t been lost on the fanbase, either. He’s only started one game, a Week 17 win over Denver with nothing on the line, and has yet to really prove himself as a legitimate NFL starting quarterback. But he’s become one of the most popular players on the team, and his No. 15 jersey is one of the hottest sellers at local sporting goods stores.
Nor has it been lost on his teammates, who rave about the way the 22-year-old Mahomes has taken on the leadership role that Alex Smith once held, even though he’s one of the youngest guys in the locker room.
“He’s always been confident. From the time I’ve known him, he’s been confident,” said safety Eric Berry, one of the Chiefs’ elder statesmen. “He’s been sure of himself and he’s came out and made plays, so nothing’s really changed. Just now he’s with the ones (starters).”
Well, that’s a big change. The Chiefs have playoff aspirations this season, and whether they extend their streak of back-to-back AFC West titles will largely fall on Mahomes’ shoulders.
“He’s just going in there with confidence, talking with everybody, making the calls and staying on top of things,” running back Kareem Hunt said. “He really wants to win and be a good quarterback.”
That’s the next crucial step for Mahomes: Showing he can win games.
It’s one thing for Mahomes to be a man among the people, popping up all over town and snapping photos and signing autographs until every fan is content.
It’s quite another to keep them happy by performing well on the field, where even the most popular players get lambasted after bad games.
Smith went 50-26 as the starter in Kansas City and many fans couldn’t wait for him to leave.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid doesn’t seem concerned about the pressure getting to the Chiefs’ first-round pick from last year’s draft. He points out that Mahomes had an entire year to learn the ropes, and that he has not only absorbed the Chiefs’ vast playbook but broken down every nuance of it.
“He’s phenomenal,” Reid said. “He’s got great leadership. He loves playing. He’s absorbing everything and now he’s just got to do it. He’s got to just go practice and work through it and massage each play and see how it works against these different coverages and he’s so willing. That’s the part you appreciate.”