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Mahomes, Chiefs aim for end to Super Bowl drought

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Miami (AFP)

It has been 50 years since the Kansas City Chiefs last appeared in the Super Bowl -- and Patrick Mahomes is determined to make sure it has been worth the wait.

The Kansas City quarterback chases his first Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers at the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins.

The biggest event on the US sporting calendar promises to be a classic battle of styles, with Mahomes and the Chiefs trying to outfox the 49ers defense as the curtain comes down on the National Football League's 100th season.

On the flipside, the Chiefs will have their hands full attempting to contain a multi-faceted 49ers offense which is equally effective whether attacking through the air and on the ground.

For Mahomes' opposite number, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, it is a chance to play and win a championship ring in what is his third trip to the Super Bowl.

Garoppolo was Tom Brady's back-up at the 2015 and 2017 Super Bowls, both won by the New England Patriots, before later being traded to San Francisco.

But Garoppolo's hopes may hinge on how successfully the 49ers defense, led by the marauding rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, is able to thwart Mahomes.

It is a puzzle that San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has spent the past fortnight trying to unravel.

- 'Superstar in every way' -

"He's a superstar in every way you can possibly imagine and he’s going to be tough to deal with," Saleh said this week when asked about Mahomes' range of threats.

The Kansas City quarterback has electrified the league over the past three seasons with his mobility, arm strength and sheer variety of passes.

But he also has an array of receiving weapons at his disposal, with the blistering pace of Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins complemented by the dynamic presence of tight end Travis Kelce.

Nowhere was the Chiefs ability to produce explosive bursts of scoring more evident than in their divisional round against Houston.

Trailing 24-0 in the second quarter, Mahomes led a comeback which ended in a 51-31 win.

Mahomes, who at 24 would be the second youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, has cut a relaxed figure during this week's build up.

"I'm going to go out there and try and have fun and play the way I've played all season long," the young Texan told reporters.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity that I hope I get to have many times in my life. It's early in my career and I'm excited to go out there with my brothers and try to win."

- One for 'Big Red'? -

A victory for Kansas City would also be the crowning glory of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid's long career.

A popular figure known affectionately among his players as "Big Red", the 61-year-old Reid is the most successful coach never to win a Super Bowl.

"He's had an amazing career," Mahomes said this week. "Obviously, we want to this game, the big one, to put that on his résumé."

"I'm humbled by it," Reid said of his players' support. "Very humbled by it. But right now I'm focused on giving them the best chance to win a Super Bowl."

Reid's counterpart, the 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is more than capable of upsetting that fairytale narrative however.

The 40-year-old Shanahan is one of most creative offensive minds in the NFL, capable of unstitching any defense with a playbook brimming with invention.

And the 49ers head coach may feel he has a point to prove after the nightmare of the 2017 Super Bowl. Shanahan was the offensive co-ordinator of the Atlanta Falcons when they blew a 28-3 third quarter lead to lose in overtime against the Patriots.

Yet his talent as a coach is undeniable. This season Shanahan has overseen a 49ers renaissance which transformed the team from a 4-12 record in 2018 to an imposing 13-3 powerhouse.

Shanahan says he has used the bitter memory of the 2017 Super Bowl loss as a rallying cry for his young team.

"I'm like 'Guys, don't worry I've been there, and guess what? I was still alive the next day, and my life did move on, and things are still alright," Shanahan said.

"But whether you win or lose, the key is that you don't hesitate on anything, so no matter what, the rest of your life, you can look in the mirror, and you don't have regrets."

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