The Face of the NFL
After breaking a 50 year streak by winning Super Bowl LIV, the Kansas City Chiefs faced enormous pressure to repeat their victory and defend their title as world champions — particularly their star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
February 11, 2021
SUPER BOWL LIV
Every birthday, there was only one item on senior Lael Rixon’s wish list: tickets to the Kansas City Chiefs game. Since receiving her first Chiefs jersey at only 5 years old, Rixon has been surrounded by everything Chiefs. As the years have gone on, not only has Rixon grown but the team has as well.
“Growing up for my birthday, I would always ask for Chiefs tickets, that would be my one request — and most times, it would probably follow through,” Rixon said. “Growing up, when Alex Smith was our quarterback, I vividly remember the prices were so much cheaper. The team wasn’t what it is today, but Andy Reid was still thriving. I just vividly remember getting my first jersey when I was probably like, I don’t know, 5 — really young. And ever since then. I mean, I’ve just been a huge fan.”
Theology teacher Jennifer Greene has lived in Kansas City her entire life. She grew up as a Chiefs fan, and from an early age, she loved watching games with her family.
“My earliest memories are watching football with my dad,” Greene said. “And that’s how I learned — I mean, I’m not an expert on football, but anything I do know, I learned from my dad, so it’s fun. I have lots of good memories of that.”
Although her support of the Chiefs has been unwavering, Greene recalls some disappointing losses in the playoffs that prevented them from going to the Super Bowl in the past. This year, the Chiefs will be playing in Super Bowl LV Feb. 7 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Greene is very excited.
“I was shocked, and I was surprised,” Greene said, referring to the moment when she realized the Chiefs would be in the Super Bowl. “I was trying to prep myself for [a loss], you know, because as you probably know, being raised in Kansas City can be disappointing in the playoffs, and so there’s kind of a history there. But then, I was quite pleasantly surprised and it was very exciting. I’m really excited. It’s happening, but I don’t think it will ever be as magical as last year when they went and it happened.”
The ‘history’ that Greene is referring to regards the 50 year drought of never making it past the AFC championship pre-Super Bowl LIV. When the Chiefs made it to the AFC Championships in 2020 — and won — it was a monumental moment in Kansas City and NFL history.
“We actually went to the AFC Championship — that was my birthday gift,” Rixon said. “I was just like, ‘what is life’ — I felt like I was on cloud nine. Then when we actually went to the Super Bowl and played San Fran, and we won, honestly like I’ve never felt that kind of joy. It was surreal. But then we went to the parade and it all finally kicked in, like how we won and how exciting it was for Kansas City in general.”
A fan before their national fame, Rixon has watched the team go from loss after loss to Super Bowl Champions. She attributes this newfound success to the players who have stepped up to the challenge of becoming one of the most successful teams in the NFL.
“We have a lot of great players this season,” Rixon said. “[Clyde] Edwards-Helaire is new. We’ve got Darrell Williams who stepped up — he’s a phenomenal running back … Travis Kelce is like the love of my life, I want to marry him. But we have a lot of players that have stepped up to the plate this year. I think that we didn’t just take that win last year; we didn’t take it for granted, we came back this season. We’re gonna do it again. We’re not going to just slack off this year.”
Patrick Mahomes has gained national fame due to his astounding success as the Chiefs star quarterback. Before the starting lineup, Mahomes was the backup quarterback for Alex Smith — the Chiefs previous Q.B. According to NBC Sports, Mahomes has a passer rating “of 108.7, topping Deshaun Watson‘s 104.5, Aaron Rodgers‘ 103.9, Russell Wilson‘s 101.7 and Drew Brees‘s 98.7,” and holds the post season record. In short: Mahomes is an extraordinary football player.
The Chiefs have become something that I never thought [they] would be because of Mahomes”
— Lael Rixon
“The Chiefs have become something that I never thought [they] would be because of Mahomes,” Rixon said. “I think that he’s done a great job with fans. I think he’s done a great job, just in general. He’s providing the public with a lot of positive energy.”Mahomes suffered an unspecified injury during a playoff game against the Buffalo Bills Jan. 17. Initially, he was thought to have a concussion but later reports called the injury a “tweaked nerve.” Greene was worried for Mahomes at the time of the injury, but she trusts the people taking care of him.
“Oh, it was really scary,” Greene said. “You know, it was hard to see. And I know that there was a lot of discussion that week, then, you know, of people saying ‘Don’t put him in, like, don’t risk his entire future for this game coming up this weekend if he hasn’t had time to heal.’ And I do worry about that. But then, you know, you just want to trust the people around him that they wouldn’t do that, that they wouldn’t put him in danger.”
Coach Kelly Donohoe is the head football coach at Rockhurst High School. He served as the Blue Springs High School head coach for the past 20 years — making this his first year at Rockhurst. He has experience maintaining a strong football program, as well as maintaining top-tier high school athletes. With that comes an emphasis on handling injuries properly.
“We tell our guys, especially the head injuries — that’s a real serious one — we tell them if you have any kind of head injury at all, you’ve got to, you’ve got to go see Paul,” Donohoe said. “The problem that guys have with that sometimes is they’re they — and I’m not saying our guys do that, I’m talking about every kid that plays football in the country… I think most of the kids will try to play through injury if it’s not serious, you know, if it’s a strained hamstring or growing or they’re having a shoulder that bothers them. They’re going to try to play through that.”
Donohoe broke down what really occurred to Mahomes in the game against the Cleveland Browns, and why it was perceived as a concussion.
“The defensive lineman wrung his neck and squeezed him real tight,” Donohoe said. “What it did was actually that, the injury wasn’t a concussion, but his blood got cut off for a sec, which caused him to get woozy — it looks like a concussion. So even though it was listed as a concussion, he really wasn’t concussed. But having said that, the NFL and college football in high school football, they are really, really strict on the protocol for concussions.”
In a press conference Jan. 22, Mahomes was asked by reporter Karen Kornacki about his “attitude that nothing was going to let [him] miss the AFC championship game” and the “determination that [fans] know him so well for.” Mahomes declined to acknowledge possessing this mentality and affirmed his trust in his doctors and the NFL injury protocols.
“Yeah, I mean, you wanna be out there, but you have to go through the protocol and you have to do everything the right way,” Mahomes said. “You have to look at it long term as much as you look at it short term. What with going to the doctors, talking to all the doctors and going through the testing. We have the belief that there will be no lingering effects and that I’ll be able to go out there and be myself and be who I am every single week.”
Mahomes has gone from being the face of Kansas City to the face of the NFL. Donohoe notes his rise to popularity due to his down-to-earth demeanor.
“One thing that’s really, really cool about Mahomes that makes everybody love him so much, is he’s humble,” Donohoe said. “I think that’s why Mahomes is so popular with the fans is because he comes across as real. He comes across as somebody that cares a lot about his teammates, as much as himself or more. And I think that’s what endears him to his teammates and our fans… Everything he says is always really positive.”
A different reporter from the press conference asked Mahomes Jan. 22 about how it felt to be coming up on the biggest game of the season against the Buffalo Bills and not being able to do certain things.
“You just have to take it day by day,” Mahomes said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. You can only control what you can control and for me, that was coming in every single day with a positive attitude, trying to make myself better, prepare myself as if I was going to play and luckily enough, I haven’t had any symptoms, and I am able to play.”
Now that the Chiefs have established themselves as a winning team — and Mahomes as a winning Q.B. — there is an overflowing confidence in their ability for success.
“Three years ago, if you talked about us winning, like the AFC Championship goes super, we all would have just started doing some kind of crazy worm dance down the hallway,” Donohoe said. “We won it last year, we won the Super Bowl. Then this year, we went into it, and it’s like we all expected to beat the Bills, and it’s a different feeling. There’s so much confidence that we have because of mostly Mahomes and Andy Reid.”
The immense amount of hype that surrounded achieving Super Bowl attendance last year has diminished significantly in 2021 and has been replaced by an expectation to win. Majority of these expectations fall on Mahomes’ shoulders.
“Mahomes is a great athlete, I just think that it is a lot of pressure going to the Super Bowl twice and [being] expected to win,” Rixon said. “Like everybody’s saying, ‘Oh, yeah, like he’s expected to win.’ And so if he doesn’t, then obviously most of that pressure and that angst falls on to him. So that’s a lot of stress for him, I guess. But I think we can do it.”
Mahomes is a key player for the Chiefs success, and Donohoe acknowledges that his presence at the Bills games was vital.
“You know, I think we all like Chad Henny, but nobody’s Patrick Mahomes,” Donohoe said. “And could we have beat the Bills without Mahomes? Who knows. But thank God we didn’t have to worry about that, right?”
You know, I think we all like Chad Henny, but nobody’s Patrick Mahomes”
— Kelly Donohoe
As Donohoe points out, Mahomes is on the top of his game. However, there is an immense amount of pressure sitting on Mahomes’ shoulders. Any football player who achieves that level of success has the whole country watching their every play, waiting for a mistake to complain about on various media channels.
“If things are going good, like Mahomes right now is on top of the world,” Donohoe said. “But you look at some of these quarterbacks, if they’re not doing well, they just get destroyed by their local media by the national media. And they live in a horrible fishbowl, you know. But they knew it when they signed up for it.”
This upcoming game is no different. The Chiefs have established themselves as an amazing team, and while the pressure is present, die-hard fans like Rixon will not be swayed by a potential loss.
“I’ve seen the Chiefs lose so many times that I can’t really say that I would ever give up on them — I grew up loving them,” Rixon said. “They lost many games with Alex Smith — I still stood by them with that. So if hypothetically we lose this game, that does not mean that I love them any [less].”
SUPER BOWL LV
Super Bowl LV was a devastating loss for the Chiefs. It is the first game that Mahomes has lost by double digits. With only four minutes left in a game 31 to 9 — Tampa Bay — the camera panned to Mahomes crying on the sidelines. The game was hard to watch for many fans.
Greene tried to listen to the game while driving back to Kansas City from Wichita in a snowstorm, but the combination of the icy roads and the increasingly disappointing score were overwhelming to her.
“It just was too much stress,” Greene said. “So, I didn’t end up listening to it. When we’d stopped to scrape off the windshield wipers, I would check my texts and people were lamenting about how horrible it was and I thought, ‘You know what, I’m never, ever gonna watch this.’ I was kind of glad I didn’t see it, and that I was too occupied with that and needed to be safe on the road.”
But Greene believes that there are some valuable lessons to be learned from this season, especially regarding treatment of the players and empathy for the pressure that they face in the spotlight.
“You know, these are humans, and they’re hurting, and they are stinging, and they are very young,” Greene said. “Some of them are pretty young, you know, and so I think we have to remember that, that they’re feeling lots of things. I think they’re surrounded by people that will help them learn from this, and it will be character building for them. And I think that’s a good thing.”
Rixon attributes the team’s lacking performance on Feb. 7 to a variety of factors, from overall nervousness to mediocre offensive plays.
“Overall our team was not playing our game — I don’t know if that’s because of the incident that happened with Andy Reid’s son or if it was nervous energy,” Rixon said. “Mahomes needed to be a leader last night and get his team going but I did not see much of that. We will recover from this but our offense needs to start working on better communication. No matter if we win or lose, I will always be a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs.”