KANSAS CITY: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium on January 24, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. – AFP

LOS ANGELES: With two Super Bowl appearances in his first three seasons as a starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes is firmly set on a path to greatness. The gifted Kansas City Chiefs playmaker will become the first quarterback to win two Super Bowls by the age of 25 with a victory over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

For many, victory on Sunday will merely confirm what has been obvious since Mahomes’s electrifying first full NFL season in 2018: the Chiefs quarterback is a generational talent. That dazzling 2018 campaign ended with Mahomes being crowned the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

As well as an eye-popping 5,097 passing yards, Mahomes became one of only three players in history to throw 50 touchdowns or more in a single season, a feat matched only by Brady in 2007 and Peyton Manning in 2013. In his second full season, Mahomes led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl in 50 years, rallying from behind to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 and picking up MVP honours in the process.

Baseball background
The son of former Major League Baseball pitcher Pat Mahomes, Mahomes excelled at sport from an early age, regularly tagging along with his father during a career that included stints with the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Chicago Cubs.

In high school, Mahomes once pitched a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts. He believes that the skills acquired in baseball — prodigious arm strength, an ability to execute passes with accuracy while off-balance — laid the foundation for his success as a quarterback. “I think a lot of my improvisation is from baseball and how I could sling the ball across the diamond,” he said. “I played shortstop my whole life — I never had my feet under me.”

That flair for baseball saw him drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2014, but he never signed a contract and instead headed to Texas Tech to concentrate on gridiron later that year. He served notice of his talent during his freshman season, which included a 598-yard six-touchdown display against Baylor.

In 2016, his final year in college, he set records for single-game passing with 734 passing yards in a game against Oklahoma, as well as 819 total yards of offense in the same game. Selected by the Chiefs with the 10th pick of the 2017 draft, Mahomes spent his rookie season as understudy to Alex Smith, before being promoted to starter the following year.

‘All the tools’
That 2018 MVP season ended with an agonizing 37-31 home loss to Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Brady, who will face Mahomes for the fifth time this weekend, is among the Chiefs quarterback’s biggest admirers. “He’s got that nice, sweet little whippy arm that I used to have when I was a little bit younger,” Brady said of Mahomes this week. “He’s got all the physical and mental tools. He’s gonna be in (the Super Bowl) quite a few more times in my opinion.”

Mahomes has also been given free rein under Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who spoke of his star quarterback’s “childish enthusiasm” this week. “He has that thing where you could be playing in the backyard, you could be playing at the CVS parking lot, you can be playing in one of these beautiful stadiums that we have and it’s all the same,” Reid said.

Mahomes meanwhile is girding himself for the challenge of facing Brady, the six-time Super Bowl champion he hopes to emulate. “If you’re a young athlete, and you’re playing any sport, and you don’t look up to guys like Tom Brady, you’re crazy,” Mahomes said this week. “He continues to make himself better and not be satisfied with where he’s at. He’s the type of greatness that you strive to be.”

In the eyes of some of his Chiefs team-mates, Mahomes is already operating at the same level as Brady. “I always thought he was a great player,” said running back LeVeon Bell, who joined the Chiefs in October. “When I came here, that’s when it really hit me, like ‘Oh, he might be the greatest player ever.’ I thought he was a 10 before I got here. And now I think he’s probably like a 12.” – AFP