The NFL needed Patrick Mahomes on its Super Bowl stage

The big game in pro football this year is the best game, because Patrick Mahomes and America’s Boyfriend, Travis Kelce, and Andy Reid are in it. Mahomes is most important of the three. You can’t have the best game without him.

Nothing against Lamar Jackson, who once again turned out to be the MVP of a regular season but not a playoff season. Nothing against the Lions, who would have been one of the great Cinderella stories in the history of the Super Bowl, as they tried to win their first Super Bowl and their first NFL title since 1957. In pro football, that is the equivalent of what 1918 once was for the Red Sox, and 1908 was for the Chicago Cubs.

We still needed Mahomes and the Chiefs to make it to Vegas for Super Bowl 58, the way major championship Sundays once needed Tiger Woods. He wore red. Red is the Chiefs’ primary color. It figures, and fits.

The 49ers bring a lot of story of their own to Super Sunday, which always feels like our national sports holiday even if the game is played on a Sunday night. Their quarterback, Brock Purdy, who played like a star himself when his team’s season was on the line Sunday night against the Lions, was once the last player, No. 262, taken in the NFL draft. Now No. 262 goes up against the No. 1 guy in the position and the No. 1 star of the sport. Purdy’s team is an early favorite as if somebody else can really be the favorite when Mahomes is in the stadium.

We now get a rematch of the Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl we got a few years ago, when Jimmy Garoppolo was the San Francisco quarterback and his team was up 10 on Mahomes’s team before it ended up losing by 11. The 49ers were the best team in the NFC this season, despite a mid-season slump. The Chiefs? They weren’t the best team in the AFC, at least not until the money was on the table. Then they beat the Bills in Buffalo, the first time Mahomes ever had to play a road playoff game in his career. Then they did the same to Jackson and the Ravens, who had the best record in their conference and the best defense.

Mahomes and the Chiefs scored the first two times they had the ball Sunday afternoon. It looked the way it did when the young Mike Tyson was still the baddest man on the planet and would come charging out of his corner in the first round and connect with his first couple of punches and make you think the fight was over right there.

“It’s been a heck of a year, we’ve been underdogs for the last few games but we never feel like underdogs,” Mahomes said on Sunday after the Chiefs had played him into the fourth Super Bowl of his career. “We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that know how to win when playoffs come around. I knew we were gonna make it happen and now we’re in the Super Bowl.”

This makes four Super Bowls for him in five years. Say it again: If Patrick Mahomes, playing against the 49ers and against history now, wins his third, he will have the same number of Lombardi Trophies as Tom Brady did as a similar age. Brady, of course, would have one of the great finishing kicks in sports history, finally getting his 7th Super Bowl championship with the Bucs. But Brady sure did have to wait a decade between his third and fourth. Mahomes might not. If he does get his fourth in Vegas, it is very much game on with him and Brady, and history.

We might have to wait a while to see who gets called the GOAT once Mahomes’ career is over the way Brady’s now is. But one thing won’t change as he does continue to play his own game and make his own run: As great a winner and as great a big-game player as Brady was, he couldn’t do all the things on a football field that Mahomes can. And wasn’t nearly as much fun to watch.

It is not a one-man team. It’s never a one-man team. Mahomes has Kelce, himself a future Hall of Famer, and every bit the tight end that Rob Gronkowski was. He has Isiah Pacheco, a Rutgers kid who runs every weekend like he’s playing for his next paycheck, and will come into Super Bowl 58 with the belief that he can make the running back position a push even with Christian McCaffrey on the other team. And Mahomes’ play gets backed by Chris Jones and everybody else’s chasers and hitters on the defense choreographed by Steve Spagnuolo, now as legendary a defensive coordinator as Bill Belichick once was.

On Sunday against the Ravens, Mahomes made all the plays he needed to make. Spagnuolo’s defense made plays all game long, and held the Ravens to a single offensive touchdown in a title game played in their stadium.

Finally, Mahomes has Andy Reid, a State Farm bundle all by himself. Brady and Belichick have left the stage now. The stage now belongs to the coach and the quarterback from Kansas City. This is Mahomes’ fourth Super Bowl. It is Reid’s fifth. Only Belichick and Tom Landry have ever coached in that many.

The 49ers are the early favorites. The Chiefs, though, they’re the headliners in Vegas. They are the show the way Steph Curry and the Warriors were the show when they were winning four NBA titles in five years. LeBron has four titles, too. He’s old. Steph is old. Mahomes is 28. Trying to win another Super Bowl in Vegas. Biggest star we’ve got right now, in our biggest game. And best game. Because he’s in it.

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