Patrick Mahomes Is Already Thinking About His Next Super Bowl Win

Patrick Mahomes was already slogging through the roughest regular season of his career, before the Las Vegas Raiders nearly ruined Christmas.

In the weeks preceding the December 25 matchup, frustration began mounting in Kansas City. Receivers kept dropping Mahomes’ passes. He had thrown a sideline tantrum against the Buffalo Bills, after an offsides call negated a late go-ahead touchdown. Mahomes was fined $50,000 for his outburst.

The world’s eyes had turned toward Kansas City. Chiefs games reached new viewership milestones, thanks in no small part to Taylor Swift’s budding romance with the team’s star tight end Travis Kelce. So every sport-tavern gadfly and Swiftie seemed to be wondering the same things: What was wrong with the Chiefs? Especially on the offensive side of the football, where Mahomes, the two-time NFL MVP, called the shots?

Christmas Day, which Mahomes calls the low point of the 2023 season, compounded all these problems. Mahomes yelled at his offensive linemen after a first quarter in which the team recorded minus-18 yards of total offense. Then he threw a pick 6. The dropped-ball habit continued in Las Vegas’ 20-14 victory at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City lost its fourth game in six weeks and forfeited all hope of clinching the top seed in the AFC. More likely than not, the Chiefs would have to win a road playoff game or two to make the Super Bowl. Mahomes had never even played on an opponent’s home turf in the postseason.

Way to set the mood for Christmas dinner.

Mahomes and his wife, Brittany, still hosted family and friends. Their kids, daughter Sterling, 3, and son Bronze, 1, still opened presents. Mahomes forced a smile. But his focus, he admits, was elsewhere. “Santa definitely wasn’t as fun,” Mahomes tells TIME during a late-March interview in Dallas; he spends his offseasons in the area, having grown up near Tyler, Texas, about 100 miles to the east. “That game kind of turned my mind. Where I was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to turn it around. Right now.’”

Mahomes and the Chiefs got to work. Kansas City rattled off six straight regular-season and playoff wins—including two on the road against top-notch AFC talents, the Bills and the Baltimore Ravens—en route to becoming the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Kansas City has now won three NFL titles over the past five seasons. “We didn’t let other people’s outside noise affect us,” says Mahomes. “Even though we struggled throughout the season, we kept our minds in the right places. Whenever the lights got the brightest, guys showed up.”

TIME 100 Patrick Mahomes Cover

Especially Mahomes. He won his third Super Bowl MVP award, joining Tom Brady (5) and Joe Montana (3) as the only players in NFL history to win that many. He’s now entrenched in the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) conversation. Brady won his third Super Bowl MVP when he was 37 years old. Montana was 33. Mahomes is just 28. “I’ve had at least one of the top three starts to a career,” says Mahomes. “I’ll put it that way.” He mentions Brady and Montana alongside him and throws in a sort of honorable mention for Dan Marino, who never won a Super Bowl but put up eye-popping passing statistics.

But he’s “nowhere near”—Mahomes’ words—GOAT status right now. “You have to build a consistency of a career,” says Mahomes. “You see that in any sport. I’ve had a great run. I think I’ve done a great job so far. But it’s hard to take away from what Tom did for so long, what Peyton Manning did, or Aaron Rodgers. There are so many guys, they were at such a high level for such a long time. In order to be in that conversation, you have to do that on a year-to-year basis. You can’t take it for granted that you did it the year before.” So he’ll table the GOAT discussion—for now. “That’s something I’ll talk about when I’m done playing,” Mahomes says. “Then people can make those decisions.”

Despite his impressive track record, his notoriety only grew this year. The NFL, already an established juggernaut, received an unexpected boost this season when Swift’s legion of fans tuned in, and the Chiefs in particular benefited from the surge. Super Bowl LVIII was the most-watched program in history, averaging 123.4 million viewers across all platforms, up more than 7% over last year’s audience. These were the most-watched NFL playoffs ever.

The affable Mahomes, the leader of the league’s most important team and de facto face of the NFL who serves as a ubiquitous pitchman for a number of blue-chip brands, is an ideal ambassador for football. The son of a Black father who played Major League Baseball and a white mom, Mahomes moves comfortably in different crowds. “He can go to a Luke Combs concert with cowboy boots on and drink beer,” says Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who was head coach at Texas Tech during Mahomes’ college years. “Or he can go to a Drake concert and have the most fun and enjoy himself that way. There’s nothing but his genuine, authentic self. And I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

Mahomes signed a $500 million contract in 2020 but remains obsessed with Chick-fil-A and snacking on Starbursts. He brags about bringing Whataburger—the Texas-based chain that he pronounces “Waterburger” in his boisterous down-home drawl—to the Kansas City area as a part-owner of eight locations. A shirtless photo of Mahomes, in the locker room celebrating Kansas City’s AFC championship win over Baltimore, went viral and attracted lots of comments about his physique. “I definitely have the dad bod a little bit,” he says. “I’ll also say I have a great body for a quarterback. You’ve got to have some padding in there to take the hits that we take.”

Mahomes is doing more for football than just dominating the game. His unorthodox, improvisational style—Mahomes throws left-handed (he’s a righty), underhand, or sidearm when he needs to, and uses his legs to weave through traffic—is rewriting the playbook for the most important job in America’s most popular sport. “Pat is clearly the biggest name in football right now,” Kelce tells TIME. “For him to still be in his 20s and not slowing down anytime soon means he’s also the future of football.”

When Patrick was a toddler, his father, Pat, and LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched for 21 seasons in the majors, roomed together during winter-league ball in Puerto Rico. Hawkins remembers staying up late because Patrick didn’t like to sleep. Hawkins would run to the Burger King across the street to fetch him his favorite snack: French fries with extra ketchup.

Mahomes grew up around major-league clubhouses. “One thousand percent, baseball was my first love,” he says. His father pitched until 2003, when Patrick was 8, and spent the 2001 season with the Texas Rangers, where A-Rod’s work ethic left an impression on the young athlete. “I hated when my dad made me hit off a tee,” says Mahomes. “I’m like, ‘I just want you to throw it to me.’ I go watch Alex Rodriguez, he’s leading the league in home runs, and he’s hitting off the tee every single day. It taught me that even whenever I get to where I want to get to, I can’t let the fundamentals slip. I can’t stop working and doing the little things. That’s what makes people great.”

He starred in three sports (football, basketball, baseball) at Whitehouse High School. The Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 37th round, but Mahomes decided to attend Texas Tech, where he was recruited to play both football and baseball. “My goal was to go to college, play three years of football, three years of baseball, and go [back] into the MLB draft,” says Mahomes. His football promise, however, was immediately evident. “Just his playmaking ability and the different arm angles and touch and incredible accuracy, it was phenom-type stuff,” says Kingsbury. “Even when the game seemed chaotic, it was never moving too fast for him. I had just never seen that before.”

As a true freshman, Mahomes was called upon to replace injured sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. Mahomes threw for 598 yards and six touchdowns in a 48-46 loss to Baylor in the Red Raiders’ season finale. Former Baylor coach Art Briles told Kingsbury after the game he’d never seen anything like Mahomes’ performance. Neither have I, Kingsbury replied.

Mahomes played baseball that spring. But Kingsbury could see that jogging over from baseball practice to spring football practice was wearing him out. Mahomes made a single appearance on the mound for the Red Raiders and gave up three runs without recording an out, giving him an earned run average of infinity.

Kingsbury told him that if he spent one year fully focused on football, an NFL team would pick him in the first round. “I was like, ‘Let’s do it,’” says Mahomes. “‘I want to see where this takes me.’” After two more baseball-less seasons in which he threw for nearly 10,000 yards combined and 77 touchdown passes, the Chiefs—who were coming off a 12-4 season and already had a Pro Bowl quarterback, Alex Smith, under center—took Mahomes with the 10th overall pick of the 2017 draft.

He spent his rookie year understudying for Smith and shining on the scout team. Chiefs coach Andy Reid encouraged Mahomes to keep pushing the creative bounds of the quarterback position. He didn’t mind improvised underhand tosses. “He did it so easily, and so naturally,” says Reid. “Why not do it? I didn’t think it was a big deal.” The Chiefs traded Smith to Washington before the 2018 season. Mahomes was an instant hit as the starter, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns and leading the Chiefs to the first of its six consecutive appearances in the AFC championship game. Reid fondly recalls a play in Denver in December 2022, when Mahomes rolled to his right, had the whole stadium thinking he was going to run for a gain before, out of nowhere, he sidearm-chucked the ball to running back Jerick McKinnon, who ran for a 56-yard score. “What do you say?” says Reid. “You just put a smile on your face. I have players from the other team looking over at me, going, ‘Eh? What are you going to do?’”

Mahomes practices his unconventional passes, in the same way Steph Curry spends hours perfecting his trick shots. “I work on it,” says Mahomes. “I think that’s something that gets lost in this.” He embraces the comparison to Curry: like the Golden State Warriors superstar, he’s delivered joy, flair, and wizardry to his sport. “Look at how he brought the three-pointer into what it is today,” says Mahomes. “He’s made such an impact on the game. It changed the entire sports world. I think that’s something I’m going to try to continue to do in the NFL.”

The Chiefs entered the 2023 NFL season under enough of a microscope. They were defending Super Bowl champs. Mahomes was the reigning MVP. Kansas City featured visible front-facing stars like Mahomes (State Farm and Head & Shoulders and Subway ads), Reid (Snickers and State Farm), and Kelce (Pfizer and DirecTV).

Then Taylor Swift showed up in Kansas City, for a Week 3 game against the Chicago Bears in September. Kelce scored a touchdown, the cameras panned to Swift celebrating in a suite, and Kansas City’s 41-10 blowout win amassed 24.3 million viewers, making it the most watched NFL game that week on any network. Swift attended Kansas City’s Sunday-night game the next week, at MetLife Stadium outside New York City: 27 million people tuned in to watch the Chiefs edge the New York Jets 23-20, making it the most-watched Sunday show since the Super Bowl.

Interest in the Chiefs took off from there. Mahomes, who is close friends with Kelce, was introduced to Swift after the Bears game. She remembered meeting Mahomes very briefly at the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville. “I’ve met a lot of famous people now in my life,” says Mahomes. “Taylor’s probably the most down-to-earth person that’s been on that stage for that long.” Swift and Brittany are now tight. “She’s never not working,” says Mahomes. “Even when she’s taking her downtime, she’s working on something. Shooting a music video or singing a song or writing a song. You can see it by how she talks. Even when she’s talking about football, when she’s learning it, you can see her business mind putting it together. It’s almost like she’s trying to become a coach. ‘Why can’t you try this, this, and this?’ She’s asking the right questions.”

According to Mahomes, the Chiefs “went from a nationwide team that was kind of global to a full global worldwide team. That came from Taylor’s fanbase.” As the Chiefs struggled in late November and December, a new narrative emerged: the Chiefs were distracted by all the attention. Mahomes insists otherwise. “We just embraced it,” he says. “We like having that visibility. At the end of the day, football has always been this bruising sport. We want to make it fun, where kids grow up and play football and show their personality and be who they are. This year really magnified that.”

The real reason for the Chiefs’ struggles: Mahomes’ receivers were dropping too many of his passes. According to Reid, however, Mahomes struck the right balance as a leader. “He had patience,” says Reid. “But the player that he was teaching understood the urgency of getting it done. He just speaks the truth. There’s not a lot of sneaking-around-the-chicken-coop-type stuff. Had he handled it differently, I don’t know if things would have turned out the way they did.”

In overtime of the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, Mahomes orchestrated a 75-yard drive that ended on a first-and-goal play from San Francisco’s three yard-line. Mahomes was supposed to shuffle the ball underneath to McKinnon. But he read the 49ers defense biting on the running back and instead rolled out to his right, looking for someone to throw to. Mecole Hardman found himself wide open in front of the end zone. Mahomes tossed it to Hardman for the first walk-off touchdown pass in Super Bowl history. “I was running toward him, and he was sitting there staring at me,” says Mahomes. “I’m like, ‘Dude, we just won the Super Bowl.’ After the game, we were talking. He goes, ‘I blacked out. I had no idea what happened.’”

Patrick Mahomes Superbowl

For the third time, Mahomes led the Chiefs back from a deficit to clinch the title. “He enjoys the moment,” says Joe Montana, who built his reputation on staying cool, and leading comeback charges, in hectic circumstances. “You know it’s not the truth, but he plays the game like it doesn’t mean anything. He just lets it go. He’s himself in those moments. That’s what you want from a quarterback.”

After the trophy ceremony the Chiefs players—family and friends in tow—headed to a Las Vegas nightclub. Mahomes had to stop partying to be up the next morning for the Super Bowl victory press conference and a second straight trip to Disneyland, as per tradition for the Super Bowl MVP. (In 2020 he went to Disney World after winning the MVP in Miami.) Mahomes says Brittany made him go home at 4:30 a.m. “At the time, I was like, ‘I’ll just stay up all night,’” says Mahomes. “But those couple of hours [of sleep] did help me get through Disney the next day.” Next year’s Super Bowl, Mahomes points out, is in New Orleans. “So it’d be Disney World if we go again.”

Tragedy marred the team’s victory parade in Kansas City a few days after the Super Bowl win. A mass shooting, which authorities say appeared to stem from a “dispute” between several people, left a 43-year-old mother of two dead and about two dozen others injured. Court documents say a dozen people brandished firearms and at least six people fired weapons. “Praying for Kansas City,” Mahomes tweeted. He and Brittany went to the hospital to visit two young sisters, 10 and 8, who were shot in the legs. They donated $50,000 to a fund the Chiefs started to aid the victims and first responders and support violence-prevention organizations. Despite some calls for him to do so, Mahomes did not advocate for tighter gun-control laws. “I continue to educate myself,” Mahomes tells TIME. “I don’t want to make a quick response to something that takes a lot of education to really learn and make a swaying comment based off that. But I know we have to find a solution of some way to make this stuff stop.”

Mahomes did speak out in 2020, following the death of George Floyd. He and other Black NFL players posted a video calling for the NFL to condemn racism and “admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting,” a clear reference to the backlash against Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did so a day later.

Mahomes joined LeBron James’ “More Than A Vote” campaign to increase African American turnout for the 2020 election. He says he’s considering plans for this fall’s race. He did not publicly endorse a presidential candidate four years ago. He sounds unlikely to do so this year. “I don’t want to pressure anyone to vote for a certain President,” he says. “I want people to use their voice, whoever they believe in. I want them to do the research.”

For now he’s mostly focused on family time. Two days before our interview, he and Brittany took their kids to see Bluey’s Big Play, a live show based on the wildly popular Australian animated series. The characters played a game called Keepy Uppy, which was featured in an early episode of the show and involves keeping balloons from hitting the floor. Mahomes excitedly turned to Brittany: they’re doing Keepy Uppy, he told her. Brittany had no idea what he was talking about. “I’ve been caught watching the show more than my daughter has,” says Mahomes. “You’ve got to be locked in.”

Family may dictate how long Mahomes plays, and shape the verdict on the GOAT debate. “I’ve looked, if I played until Tom [Brady]’s age, my daughter would be 19, 20 years old,” says Mahomes. That would mean missing plenty of youth sporting events and other commitments. “I would love to play that long,” he says. “At the same time, I want to be there for my daughter. If I can do that, I’ll continue to play. But if I feel like it’s taking away from my family time, that’s when I’ll know it’s time to go.”

Plus, Brady made playing until middle age look way too easy. “Tom’s skewed people’s brains on how hard that is to do because of how well he took care of his body,” says Mahomes. “So I’m about to make sure that I get rid of this dad bod if I want to play to 45.”

Mahomes has ambitions beyond football too. He wants, for example, to host Saturday Night Live before he’s done. The show inquired about his interest after this season, he says, but he doesn’t think he’s ready. He’s still scarred from a bad experience at the ESPYs a few years ago. “I have a little bit of a fear with the teleprompter,” he says. And the SNL monologue especially involves reading a script, though the show uses cue cards rather than electronics. Lorne Michaels might want to try again next year. For one, Mahomes’ voice—with its Texan Kermit the Frog-meets-Kenny Powers from Eastbound & Down sound—offers instant comedic potential.

He’s also still fond of baseball. Mahomes is a minority owner of the Kansas City Royals, and while he’s not about to pursue a two-sport career like Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson, or quit his sport in his prime to chase a baseball dream like Michael Jordan, he’d like to scratch that itch. “I’ve talked to the Royals,” says Mahomes. “And if I can maybe go out to a spring training, I’m not opposed to that. I’ll get it approved by the Chiefs and everything like that. But maybe one of these years I go out there and see what I got. See if I can still hit the ball or pitch or whatever that is. Maybe not in the games but I can at least practice with them.”

I ask Reid for his reaction to this plan. “I haven’t even thought about that,” he says. “You’re hitting me with a pretty big one right there.” Not exactly a full-throated endorsement of his star dabbling in another sport. But he’s not rejecting the thought either. “He was a heck of a baseball player,” Reid says. “He grew up around it. I’m sure he can play in the major leagues. I mean, he’s pretty gifted.” Reid would have one stipulation. “He’d have to take me as a manager.”

Reid, and Chiefs fans, need not worry too much. Mahomes remains committed to building the strongest dynasty the NFL has ever seen. “At the end of my time, I just want to say that I didn’t leave anything out there,” he says. “My family and football are the first things I want to be great at. If I can go out there and say that I gave everything I had on the football field, expectations are what they are and whatever is going to happen is going to happen. And I can be satisfied with that.”

Styling by Wesmore Perriott; grooming by Miguel Atkins; production by Vanessa Bermudez; special thanks to the TX Studio, Schmidli Backdrops and Synthetic Grass DFW

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