GLENDALE, Arizona — A replica WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt was inside a black cloth bag that sat on the chair in front of Patrick Mahomes’ locker.
It was, perhaps, the only thing that could have caught Mahomes’ attention and temporarily knocked him out of the euphoria of another Super Bowl victory: Kansas City 38, Philadelphia 35.
What do you get from a man who has it all, including, at just 27 years old, two Vince Lombardi trophies?
Mahomes gleefully unzipped the jacket and pulled out his belt, which was emblazoned with two Chiefs logos. He looked at it proudly and then slung it over his shoulder, still with the pads on. It was here, amidst the smoke of his victory cigar, that he proudly posed for photos before taking it into the defensive dressing room so the boys could dance and celebrate with it.
“Gosh, I need a Coors Light,” she said to no one in particular, even though they were carrying champagne. No doubt she’s had her beer. Whatever the champion wanted, he was getting.
There were bigger, stronger players in Super Bowl Sunday. There were also faster and more elusive ones. No one was tougher than the number 15, who saw his ankle hurt as his legend grew.
“That man,” said Chiefs wide receiver/run returner Kadarius Toney, “is a warrior.”
The right ankle that had dogged him during these playoffs flared up again after a tackle late in the second quarter. At halftime, Mahomes grimaced with each limp and the scoreboard read Philly 24, Chiefs 14. Kansas City had only run 20 plays and was in only because of a Nick Bolton scoop-and-score.
In the locker room at halftime, Mahomes decided to go around and let everyone know that it was going to be okay, that he was going full throttle. “That guy is going 100 percent,” Bolton said. “If he can play, let him play. This is his mentality.
Mahomes said he has not had any vaccinations or taken painkillers. His teammates said he just asked everyone to “bring the energy.” They knew better than to wonder if he would.
Late in the fourth quarter, the game was tied, 35-35. Mahomes had already led three second-half touchdown drives, but the Eagles had proved resilient. Now Mahomes had the ball and Philly had his heart pounding. This is the most terrifying scene in the championship, Patrick with the ball and the possibility of winning, somehow, somehow.
In this instance, he fell back at his own 47-yard line and then bolted forward as the run collapsed around him, sprained ankle be damned. That’s right, the improbable became unstoppable and he took off.
He passed 50 and turned it on.
Mahomes has never been faster, but you just have to be faster than the guy chasing you; in this case, Phildelphia defensive linemen Javon Hargrave and Haason Reddick. Over 45s, 40s, 35s, 30s and then 20s. He was finally knocked down but with 2:45 to play, this had become a game of chess and Kansas City had all the pieces, all the leverage, no mention the king.
Seven plays later, Harrison Butker drilled the game-winning field goal.
The heroes were all over the field in red and white: Toney’s 65-yard punt return, Isiah Pacheco’s blistering run, Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy’s game call.
But, as always, everything in Kansas City passes for number 15. Two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, that 26-yard run, a masterful control of the clock.
Tom Brady is retired, almost certainly for good this time around. Aaron Rodgers isn’t far behind. The NFL is Mahomes’ league now. He runs this city, as Rihanna said at halftime. Five years as a starter, five AFC championship games, three Super Bowl appearances and two titles, the only active QB with more than one. He wins two league MVPs, two Super Bowl MVPs and now a WWE Championship belt after arguably the heaviest performance of his career.
Mahomes was asked if the bosses were a dynasty and, like any good wrestler, he dismissed that hypothesis.
“I still wouldn’t say dynasty,” he smiled. “We’re not done.”
Salary cap issues had presumably left the Chiefs vulnerable this season. Tyreek Hill was in Miami. The running backs were all injured. The team was painfully young, 10 rookies in the two depths.
“We had Patrick Mahomes though,” Bieniemy said.
In many ways, that was the story. Mahomes threw for only 182 yards and rushed for only 44, but that didn’t paint the full picture. He and the offensive line avoided a sack.
“He’s a dog,” Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones said, before breaking out a reference to Michael Jordan. “Next year you’re all going to be like, ‘Is this his influence game?’ Pat is a unique type of player in a generation.
As the Chiefs celebrated in the locker room after the game, Mahomes made multiple rounds to make sure he gave a hug or acknowledgment to every teammate, coach, support staff or family member of team owner Clark Hunt. Offensive line. Defensive backfield. Coaches. Analysts. Anything.
They responded as if it were eulogy from an older brother. They posed for pictures with him, FaceTimed him with mom or dad, or just filmed their hug. They are all the same, a family of 53 men, a league of 53 men, but Mahomes is still Mahomes.
“The toughest son of a gun you’ll ever meet, man,” said Travis Kelce.
The champion of champions, now with the belt to prove it.