MIAMI – If ever a Super Bowl needed a player with the juice Patrick Mahomes brings to the game, this is the one.
The right teams are here, in terms of overall strength, with the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive firepower complemented by a steadily improving defense and the San Francisco 49ers' smothering defense complemented by a capable offense.
The right coaches are here, too, with Andy Reid's long and distinguished career destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Kyle Shanahan's sharp, young mind.
Those aren't the reasons people will watch. They watch to see stars.
And when it comes to star power in the biggest of games (at least outside of a halftime show featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira), there really is only one name that qualifies: Mahomes.
Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers' QB, is movie-star handsome and did enough to help his team climb from the depths of despair to win the NFC title. Yet, he isn't in the same conversation with Mahomes when it comes to separating himself from everyone around him.
Everyone, as in the rest of the NFL, if not all of sports.
It isn't about Mahomes' personality. This guy doesn't take over a room with his very presence, as elite quarterbacks tend to do. There's nothing brash about a player who is measured in what he says to reporters. He talks about his team "grinding every single day" for the chance to give Kansas City its first Lombardi Trophy in 50 years. He mentions that it's "cool to see palm trees" after traveling from the snow in Kansas City.
What makes Mahomes, at age 24, easily the single greatest attraction for millions of eyeballs worldwide that will tune into Super Bowl LIV Sunday is what he does on the field.
Calling him great doesn't do him justice. His skills are at a level that no other player at his position, or any position for that matter, can match. It's no stretch to say the NFL has never had another player like Mahomes in its 100 years. Brett Favre was close, but the Mahomes still gets the clear nod for creativity. Tom Brady rightfully sat on the perch as the game's best quarterback for the better part of 20 years. His six Super Bowl rings put him in a category all to himself.
But neither he nor Jim Brown, another player often mentioned in the best-ever discussion, has done what Mahomes can do.
Mahomes is a magician. He makes his magic with an incredible blend of movement and throwing ability. His running combines speed and elusiveness that few others at running back, let alone quarterback, possesses. On top of that, he can make pinpoint throws on the move that are so much more difficult to defend because his many outstanding receivers have time to shake free from coverage and know that Mahomes has the awareness to find them anywhere.
Sometimes, he does it with more of a flick – forward or even sideways, in no-look basketball fashion – than a conventional spiral delivered with perfect form.
"His spatial awareness is off the charts," Chiefs backup quarterback Matt Moore told Sports Illustrated. "He knows where everybody is at, at all times — with every concept, with every coverage. It’s really amazing.”
The essence of the multileveled skill set Mahomes brings to the field traces to his desire, at a young age, to "compete as much as possible" in any sport. He was a star in football, basketball and baseball in high school in Texas. He threw a 96-mph fastball as a senior. It's no coincidence his father, Pat Sr., spent 11 seasons as a Major League Baseball pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.
"Just go out there and be a competitor," the younger Mahomes told reporters this week. "I feel like that's what's gotten me here so far in football is you can see things from baseball, you can see things from basketball. I've played everything growing up and I think, just that competitiveness, to find ways to win.
"It doesn't have to be the perfect fundamentals, but just finding ways to go out there and compete has made me who I am."
In the last two years since replacing Alex Smith as the Chiefs' No. 1 quarterback, Mahomes has won 27 of 35 starts, including playoffs, and has thrown 76 touchdown passes. He was the league's Most Valuable Player in 2018.
Suffice it to say that Reid had a good idea of what he would be getting when he made a trade with Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott, a former Reid assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles, to move up 17 spots to select the former Texas Tech standout with the 10th overall pick of the 2017 draft.
However, Mahomes' story isn't only about putting up gaudy numbers and making jaw-dropping plays. It's about toughness and determination. The Chiefs' 2019 season appeared to be sliding off the rails when Mahomes suffered a dislocated kneecap in Week 7.
Amazingly, he returned to action less than a month later and the teams was back on course as a Super Bowl favorite.
"When I got hurt, I literally had no idea what was going to happen," Mahomes said. "When you look at your knee and it's in the side of your leg, you think the worst. And so, for me, I credit the training staff of just getting me back, pushing me to be great every single day, to maximize any rehab that I had. Lucky enough, it wasn't bad and I was able to get myself back here."
Being blessed with enormous talent is where it all starts with Mahomes. It's hardly where it ends.
He is driven to be great. That means investing the time and energy to expand his knowledge of the game. Mahomes sees himself as an improved player, even if his statistics in '19 weren't as impressive as they were the year before.
There's no disputing that. It seems every time Mahomes sets foot on the field, he does something more incredible than the previous time. He makes one "Did you see that?" play after another.
"I know, for sure, mentally, I'm better," Mahomes said. "The fact that I'm able to recognize coverages and protections faster and be able to go out there and put us in the best play. Obviously, the numbers aren't the same as last year. I mean, it's hard to put those numbers up.
"But I thought, as a team, we found ways to win in a better way and it prepared us to be in this moment."
Fortunately for Super Bowl LIV, the moment will include the game's biggest star.