KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The world is in the grips of the worst pandemic in more than a century, the country is going through the kind of social upheaval unseen in decades, and the vast majority of people would prefer 2020 just grind to an end.
Patrick Mahomes might be having the best year of anyone.
The Chiefs quarterback began it by leading the franchise to its first Super Bowl championship in 50 years, a game in which he cemented his status as the league’s premier quarterback by rallying his team past the San Francisco 49ers in the second half and earning the MVP award on a warm February night in Miami.
Mahomes proceeded to sign a record-setting 10-year contract extension that could pay him nearly a half-billion dollars, yet managed to structure it so that the Chiefs could continue to afford talent around him. He used some of that money to buy a piece of the Kansas City Royals, allowing the son of former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes to fulfill a baseball itch and simultaneously endear himself to his adopted hometown on a whole new level.
He played in the celeb-studded American Century Championship, finishing in a respectable tie for 38th in Lake Tahoe. His social media following has grown exponentially. He’s become the face of the NFL after just two full years as a starter.
“It’s been a crazy time for sure,” Mahomes said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press. “The pandemic and the movements across our country — it’s been different. We won the Super Bowl. That was awesome. The parade and everything, and then the world changed. You’re able to step back and think about a lot of different stuff, and then go out there and try to be the best person you can be every single day.”
That isn’t just hyperbole. And make no mistake: The year hasn’t just been one long party.
As the new player representative for the Chiefs, Mahomes had a major voice in negotiations between the NFL and its players’ union on return-to-play protocols. He has expressed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and along with Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, he has spearheaded a voter registration effort in Kansas City.
“I think the whole point of 2020 is you never know what’s going to happen the next day,” Mahomes said. “You try to do your part to make the world a better place. It’s a different time in the world. You have to talk about these things.”
All of which makes the confines of Arrowhead Stadium a sanctuary these days.
The Chiefs are entering the meat of training camp, with veterans joining the rookies and full-contact padded practices about a week away. The moment Mahomes walks through the doors — and gets his temperature checked and picks up his tracking device and all the other things that football in the age of COVID-19 entails — he can be just one of the guys for a couple of hours.
He can joke with his wide receivers. He can throw behind-the-back passes to offensive linemen. He can throw out the most audacious suggestions for coach Andy Reid, who quite often turns those thoughts into equally audacious plays.
“He brings a different energy, a different style to the game that even I was a little more accustomed to, just going out and playing ball in the backyard-type football,” said Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, one of Mahomes’ best friends on the team. “I think it’s a fun time to be a Kansas City Chief and it’s because 15 is in the building, for sure.”
Not just be a Kansas City Chief, but be a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s exciting to know that he’s going to be here forever,” Chiefs offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz said. “Obviously, the Royals ownership stake just cements him more into the city. There’s a pretty special connection.”
Mahomes is not exactly a reluctant superstar. He bought a Ferrari 812 Superfast, which has a starting list price of about $350,000. He spent the summer months embracing the boating life with his longtime girlfriend, Brittany Matthews.
He hasn’t let all the trappings go to his head, though. He grew up around professional athletes, often trailing his dad into major league clubhouses. His down-to-earth parents have made it a point to keep their high-flying son grounded, as if his very nature would allow Mahomes to think he’s better than anyone else.
“You know how he’s wired,” said Reid, who couldn’t help but grin when asked about the Royals purchase. “He loves baseball, so it’s a match. I joked with him that he can’t play and do both, but he can be part-owner of one and play the other.”
Now that training camp has begun, Mahomes insisted that his focus is squarely on football. Even with a pair of starters opting out in running back Damien Williams and offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the Chiefs return 18 of 22 who started during their Super Bowl run, and expectations are high for a repeat — or three-peat, or four-peat, or five-peat.
Tyreek Hill and several other players have made such a run of championships their goal this offseason.
Mahomes is the unquestionable linchpin for the Chiefs becoming a Patriots-like dynasty
“Obviously winning the Super Bowl and how fun it was, the adversity and overcoming, we’re trying to have that same mentality. We understand it’s going to be hard,” Mahomes said. “I think the biggest thing is just starting over. You start with a blank slate. You go through the process of being the best quarterback you can be every day. You accept the challenges.”
Then you get back to work.