Gunslinger Mahomes targets Super Bowl glory
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During a recent practice with the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes told team-mate Damien Williams to sprint downfield with his eyes shut and arms open.
"He said 'Just hold your arms out and wait for the ball,'" Williams recalled this week.
Seconds later, Mahomes duly zipped a pass into Williams' waiting arms with pinpoint accuracy.
"Pat's always trying to see what he can do differently," Williams says with a laugh.
It is a story that gives an insight into the kind of environment that has helped carry the 24-year-old Mahomes and the Chiefs into Sunday's Super Bowl against San Francisco.
Under coach Andy Reid, Mahomes is given free rein to express the full range of his talents, from audacious no-look passes to his signature howitzer throws downfield.
Mahomes laughs when asked about Williams' eyes-closed anecdote.
"We like to have fun," Mahomes said. "It's more about seeing what we can do and can't do."
A willingness to experiment with the unexpected has been a hallmark of Mahomes career from his earliest playing days.
The no-look passes were something he began to try during his college career, and that buccaneering style has been encouraged by Reid.
"(Reid) always says training camp is the time to throw interceptions," Mahomes says.
"So that's allowed me to have the confidence to do that stuff in the game. But it's very risky -- so you have to make sure you complete it when you do do it."
Selected by the Chiefs with the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Mahomes' career took off the following year when he was promoted to starter.
An astonishing season saw him finish with 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns, only the second quarterback in history to post those numbers after Peyton Manning.
That stellar year, which culminated in an MVP award, also made him one of only eight quarterbacks to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season.
- Baseball background -
Mahomes believes much of his prodigious arm strength and accuracy can be traced back to his days playing baseball.
He is the son of former Major League Baseball pitcher Pat Mahomes, and as a youngster would often accompany his father for throwing practice.
"Baseball helped me a ton, being able to throw accurately, off platform," Mahomes says. "It has really helped."
Mahomes also benefits from an ice-cold temperament in pressure situations. When the Chiefs trailed 24-0 to the Houston Texans in this season's playoffs, there was no trace of panic from the young quarterback. The Chiefs ran out 51-31 winners.
Eric Bieniemy, the Chiefs offensive co-ordinator, says Mahomes' leadership in the locker room had also impressed the coaching staff since his arrival.
"We knew the kid was special when we drafted him," Bieniemy told AFP. "We knew we had a big arm. But the thing I love is his ability to lead.
"Players gravitate towards him. He's not afraid to tell guys 'Hey, get on my back, I'm going to take you to the Promised Land'.
"That's the thing that stands out more than anything. His willingness to make himself vulnerable. The kid has a beautiful mind. Coaching him is a lot of fun."
Mahomes meanwhile takes all the plaudits in his stride, revealing that he has always been determined to maintain a consistent personality throughout his life.
"I never wanted to change, never wanted to change my personality," Mahomes told reporters.
"I always said I wanted to be the same person in middle school that I am now."
That even temperament ought to ensure nerves are not a problem as he prepares to play in his first Super Bowl this weekend.
A victory would make him the second youngest quarterback to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger in 2006.
"It's not about nerves -- it's about having fun and going out and enjoying being with your teammates," Mahomes said.
"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity that I hope I have many times in my life. I'm excited to go out there with my brothers to try and win."
© 2020 AFP