Profiles in Chiefsness

I’m still not sure how the Chiefs won the Super Bowl this year. I watched or attended every game, so I know how they did it. But there were several other teams in line for this year’s crown — the dynamic, dominant Philadelphia Eagles led by the near-unstoppable Jalen Hurts, the Buffalo Bills with their history of perpetually falling short plus the season’s most harrowing and hopeful story in Damar Hamlin, and the seemingly ascendant Bengals backed by Joe “Cool” Burrow.

But the Chiefs dashed all of those hopes, directly or indirectly, and last week we had a parade. My season-ending post last year was about the lessons of losing for a generation that has not experienced it yet. This year we’ll look at four Chiefs players / municipal sports heroes through the lens of parade clips and highlights to better appreciate the season and what it all means.

Patrick Mahomes — The Champion

Patrick Mahomes is the champion this city has never had, at least since the days of George Brett. But while Brett was a rogue-ish, rakish figure, Mahomes seems to embody a higher level of champion — not just winning the league but championing social causes, saying all the right things, deflecting praise to his teammates, always willing himself and others to win.

At the parade we got to see a bit more human side of Mahomes, a guy “as humble as anyone can be who is wearing a wrestling belt and sideways champagne goggles,” as someone described it. I was at the game against Jacksonville when Mahomes got hurt, I saw him blowing up at his coaches on the sidelines when they made him come out. A hush fell over the crowd that only a Henne touchdown drive and a Lil John halftime concert could cure. Somehow, amazingly, he came back every time, winning the second half and two more games after that.

Anyone who has been injured like that knows how a sharp twinge of pain can lead to instant surrender. Most of us would place our own self-preservation ahead of putting ourselves at further risk. But #15 didn’t, and now he’s a champion yet again, and the whole city feels like a champion, too.

A lot has been made of a few letters to the editor expertly used for clickbait by the local paper of record. “It’s a shame these players were drinking,” was the gist of it, leading to a predictable outpouring of “They’re grown-ups, they’re champions, get over it.” I love a good low-stakes controversy, and while celebrating by spraying watery domestic brews is a bit tacky for my tastes, so is encouraging your children to worship professional athletes. Still, nothing humanizes us like being wasted in public. And even in this arena, Mahomes excels.

After the parade, a clip came out showing Mahomes handing a fan the Lombardi Trophy and just wandering off. Lombardi Trophies at a Super Bowl Parade are like Santa Clauses at Christmas. Supposedly there’s only one real one but they seem to be everywhere at once.

Let’s pretend for a moment that this wasn’t a replica, that it was the real thing, American Football’s biggest prize carried by its star player. “He was just drunk and having a good time,” fans might say in excuse of Mahomes’ move. But what if he knew exactly what he was doing and handing off the real trophy to a random fan and dancing away was instead a way of saying:

What, this old thing? Yeah, we fought hard for this, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a hunk of metal in the shape of a football. Big deal. The real prize was the fun and touchdowns and locker room dances we shared along the way. 

In a word: swagger—championship swagger.

Travis Kelce – The Brophet

Travis Kelce’s touchdown catch on the Chiefs’ first drive of the Super Bowl was fantastic, the kind of catch only he makes. But his ensuing celebration dance was as cringeworthy as his catch was special. I say this not to dance-shame the guy (celebrate how you like, you earned it) but to illustrate the duality of Kelce.

At the parade, thousands of people were looking to the stage and screen, ready to laugh or cheer their heads off at absolutely anything Kelce said, but when he did say something, it was mostly a variation on the classic 2015 Johnny Gomes “they doubted us” riff and then to issue repeated guttaral choruses of the Master P classic, “let me hear ya say uhhhh / sha na na na.”

The local news station I was watching ran the speech live, but once Travis started using adult language they hit some kind of sound-blur button and it sounded like he was talking backwards, or speaking a foreign language full of elongated vowels and sh-sounds. Instead of a rally speech, the obscured segment sounded like a call to prayer, Mahomes and teammates behind him nodding at the Truth as the camera panned over the massive crowd, a sportscentric Sermon on the Mount with the Beastie Boys in place of the Beatitudes.

My parents and several family members were at the parade, and talking to my mom later I could tell she was hoping for some kind of meaningful or positive message from the Chiefs’ keynote speaker rather than the drunken ramblings of the Brophet (though if you really want to see a crazy Kelce SB speech, check out brother Jason’s epic rant from 2018).

But in a way the speech was beautiful. The lack of meaning was the message. No sports movie cliches about hard work, playing together, not giving up. Just the championship climax of damn, this feels good. Not the safest for kids, perhaps. But for a fan base that didn’t have any championships for 50 years, it’s hard to argue with #87 on the gridiron or on the mic.

Isiah Pacheco – The Dancer

For many Chiefs fans this year, Isiah Pacheco emerged as their new favorite player. Just the act of wearing number 10 the year after Tyreek left was an act of hubris. You know the coaches saw enough in him that they believed this 23-year-old from South Jersey could live up to it. And live up to it he did.

I loved watching Pacheco get up from being tackled, almost knocking over more people in his return to the sidelines or huddle than on the run itself. I always wanted to yell “Go, Manny” and I didn’t realize why until my friend pointed out I was thinking of the boxer Manny Pacquiao.

Isiah Pacheo’s story is incredible and tragic, overcoming incredible hardships including the death of two siblings. He’s a seventh round draft pick who scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl his rookie season. Amazing.

But the enduring image of him in the postseason was his dancing — in the locker room, in the parade, in his return to his alma mater. He’s like a young girl at the Irish Dancing Competition, hopping from one foot to the next and churning his arms while slapping one knee and then the other. It’s a mix of ancient cultural traditions and tik-tok, the kind of fresh Gen Z energy any modern organization needs to succeed. Congrats, #10.

Chris Jones – The Destroyer

The Chiefs roster is filled with all-stars, champions, and playmakers, but none as formidable or enigmatic as Chris Jones. No question the Chiefs wouldn’t be here if he didn’t serve as the “closer” in the game against the Bengals after falling just short the year before.

You can see tears in #95’s eyes during the anthem, fire in his eyes during the game, and a sanguine glaze in his eyes while giving victory interviews. I love his sarcasm in screaming the proper name of the Chiefs corporate sponsor after being chided for doing so earlier in the season (he called it Gee-Ha when contractually the organization needs to say G-E-H-A), silencing the critics in all categories, not just the haters on the field but the corporate stiffs in the front office.

I don’t know of any parade highlights featuring Jones, but watching the short mic’d up video of him and Mahomes during the big game revealed several things:

His incredible focus, not just on his plays but on keeping his teammates focused, even making sure they sit down to rest between defensive stands.

Steve Spagnulo hugging him at the end of the game, telling him, with the sweetness of a school yearbook signature, that he has a big heart and to never change.

And the moment before the game, when he responds to a trash-talking Eagles lineman by saying “May God bless you.” He says it twice, and not especially kindly, as if to suggest: By the time we’re done with you, you’ll be praying for mercy. It’s the kind of message only someone with Jones’ stone-cold confidence could back up. God bless him.

Conclusions and Questions

There will be a lot of soul-searching to do this off-season. Questions to answer.

Are you really a winner if you talk trash to a vanquished opponent, especially over a controversial call?

Will the sky cams running on a wire get replaced by drones?

Did the moment of prayer and unity following Damar Hamlin’s injury and recovery have any lasting impact on how we view the game?

Will the Chiefs ever change their name, and if they do divorce themselves from the cultural cannibalism will they find other ways to bring attention to Native issues and the troubled parts of regional history instead? (a topic we’ve written about before over at Kawsmouth)

Should we instead become the Chefs, chopping vegetables in the air? The Kerchiefs, with a mascot in an ascot? The Wolfpack, which is what dozens of tailgaters already call themselves?

All good questions. But one question we won’t have to ask in Kansas City is how long it will be until we climb back to the tier of champions. Because we’re already there.

So for now, in Kansas City, the Championship Swagger continues. As Mahomes might say, in not so many words:

You want this trophy? Here, take it. We’ll go out and get ourselves another. 

(parade photos from 2020)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: