In a video that surfaced earlier this season, then-NFL Draft prospect Patrick Mahomes discussed with then-ESPN personality Jon Gruden his decision to specialize in football over baseball.
“I loved baseball. I loved playing it,” Mahomes said. “When I was younger, I thought I was going to be a professional baseball player. But it’s like when I started playing football, I didn’t know what love was.”
That about sums up my feelings toward the second-year starter in Kansas City.
While I personally remember seasons as far back as Elvis Grbac, my dad showcased a Joe Montana poster in the den and my mom, during the Grbac years, carried a bitter reverence for Rich Gannon into each start: “We never should have let him go.”
Most recently, a video from SBNation recounting Steve Bono’s 76-yard TD rush in 1995 — which also highlighted the strange trend of former 49ers quarterbacking in Kansas City — served as the most recent occasion in which a former Chiefs signal-caller was referenced with pride.
During successful but rush-first years with Trent Green, Matt Cassel and Alex Smith, I was defensive of my white-bread-and-water quarterbacks — they kept us alive — yet I was never inspired enough to own a jersey.
Back then, those feelings were hard to understand.
But I can admit it now.
I didn’t know what love was.
Fifty touchdowns in a season. A 24-point comeback in the playoffs. An improbable, heroic, put-the-team-on-your-back scramble to send the Chiefs to Miami.
Personally, my favorite Mahomes highlight is a 28-point quarter Sept. 15 against the Raiders — in which he dissected the silver-and-black defense with the surgical precision and explosive purpose required of champions.
From that game forward, I knew the Chiefs were capable of greatness.
But to win the Super Bowl, Kansas City’s defense must match that greatness.
Last season, there was a notion that KC’s porous defense was so bad, that even an average defensive performance could have erased every regular-season loss. That Bob Sutton’s presence alone spotted teams 10 points and a penalty. That one defensive stop would have prevented an AFC Championship shortfall and secured a Super Bowl.
This will not be the case on Sunday.
Where the Titans lucked into a hard-nosed, run-first juggernaut — complete with a surprising renaissance from backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill — San Francisco has been genuinely creative as a rushing unit. They set out this season to establish dominance at the line of scrimmage, not down the sidelines, and have done just that. Last week to claim the NFC title, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed just eight passes.
Strength on strength, Kansas City’s dynamite and San Francisco’s stopping power offers one of the most evenly-matched Super Bowl matchups in recent history. Which is why KC’s defense stands out as a game-changer.
Led by the chaotic good, neutral and evil provided by Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones and Frank Clark, takeaways and defensive scores may limit opportunities for San Francisco’s rush attack, pressure Jimmy G to deliver a challenging passes and ultimately prove to be the difference in Super Bowl LIV.
Prediction: Chiefs win 43-14.