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Long Reign: How three players and three tipping points sparked a potential Chiefs dynasty
Patrick Mahomes needed to work harder. Travis Kelce was suspended and learning a new position. Tyreek Hill? Toxic. Here is the inside story on how it all began in Kansas City.
This team is not going away anytime soon.
That’s what’s most scary.
The quarterback atop the throne is all of 25 years old. Patrick Mahomes is redefining the position — hell, the sport — with each snap, each throw, each game. We’ve run out of adjectives and the dude is only in his third season as a starting quarterback. To truly appreciate this evolution, slide into the cleats of somebody running a route in this offense.
It’s difficult to explain the unexplainable but Charcandrick West gives it a try. He caught one of Mahomes’ 50 touchdowns in 2018 and, thinking back to his days as a witness to this quarterback’s meteoric rise, the running back cannot contain his excitement. Words trip over themselves. He’s out of breath. He cannot even formulate a complete sentence reliving that play at first, constantly reverting back to two words — Mahomes is “different” and Mahomes is “dangerous.”
The Chiefs were playing in Seattle. It was Dec. 23, 2018. The ball was snapped with 5:26 to go in the third quarter and no other quarterback even thinks about attempting this throw. Sure, West ran his circle route and turned upfield when Mahomes pump-faked a throw his direction. Sure, he stuck his arm up in the sky. But no way, not in a million years, did West consciously think Mahomes would actually throw it to him.
The physics of such were impossible. Or so he thought.
Mahomes floated left, torqued his torso 180 degrees and ripped a sidearmed fastball to West.
“I’m like, ‘What the hell? Who is he throwing the ball to?’” West says. “It hit me and I almost dropped it. He was running away from me. His arm did some crazy movement and he threw me the ball.”
On the broadcast, Cris Collinsworth declared, “This doesn’t happen in the NFL,” and in the background you can even see Mahomes staring at his right hand in disbelief as if to say, How in the hell did I just do that?
Afterwards, it hit West: There’s a reason he stuck an arm up. By then, subconsciously, he expected the unexpected from Mahomes. All the no-look passes in practice. All of the behind-the-back passes. (Seriously. That’s a thing.) Even the way Mahomes crinkled up a sheet of paper and tossed it into the trash. Everything about him was just… just… different. Part of West, deep down inside, must have anticipated that throw.
Because this was something bigger: Mahomes was changing the position.
“His confidence is through the roof,” West says. “The stuff that he tries? And attempts? It’s different. No. People don’t do that. Now, you see guys doing no-look passes and all this stuff because he already did it. Now, guys can do it and nobody will say, ‘You’re an idiot.’ So, he took that factor out. He doesn’t play by the books.”
He’s writing his own book.
“He is,” West adds, “creating something different. He’s doing stuff no other quarterback has ever done.”
Because as batshit bonkers as these throws appear, it’s all by design. Mahomes set the whole Seattle play up with that pump to start. He thrives in the chaos because, to him, it’s not chaos at all. It’s a beautifully controlled abandon. Hence, his insane interception rate of 1.4 percent. What appears to be improvisation is, in reality, completely calculated.
Each head fake. Each shoulder shimmy. It’s all part of a larger design in his mind.
“A lot of quarterbacks just run around and run around and run around,” West says. “But Pat has a plan when he runs around. He knows, ‘Alright, I’m going to go this way to get the defense to go here.’ … It’s not chaos to him, bro. Think about it. Von Miller had him and he threw a pass with his left hand.
“I mean, come on.”
And none of this is possible if Mahomes doesn’t get his ass into gear the offseason before his junior year at Texas Tech. This was the turning point because this was when Mahomes truly dedicated himself to the mental processing behind such throws. Without a nudge from head coach Kliff Kingsbury and backup QB Nic Shimonek, where is Mahomes right now? Not here. Not on the throne.
Then, there’s the guy shattering the mold of a No. 1 wide receiver. The receiver who zigs, zags ‘n zips past defensive backs with hilarious ease. Tyreek Hill never comes close to an NFL football field if a young college coach named Brett Gilliland doesn’t show him mercy. Hill was toxic. Hill had no other options. Gilliland and West Alabama gave him a shot… then the Chiefs gave him a shot… and, no, this isn’t a statement of grandiose redemption. This is reality.
Without this coach and this school, we never even know who Hill is.
And then, there’s the tight end who can lock up his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in approximately 48 hours, the tight end who makes sweet music with the quarterback on those extended plays. Travis Kelce is always on that same note as Mahomes. Whenever Mahomes breaks the pocket, whenever defenders start scrambling, Kelce takes the cue. Kelce breaks into that guitar solo. And we never get to enjoy this rhythmic song, period, if Kelce spirals into oblivion exactly 10 years ago. He could’ve. He was suspended for the entire season by Cincinnati.
Yet, here they are.
Each tipping point led to each player landing in Kansas City where, of course, Andy Reid clearly has a fifth lobe to his brain. No other coach thinks like him. His willingness to think outside of the box has unlocked every ounce of potential in all three players and, now, you could easily argue the Chiefs possess the best quarterback, best wide receiver and best tight end in the game.
There’s a good chance the Chiefs cruise to victory in Super Bowl LV against Tampa Bay.
As the confetti falls, count on the players darting all directions to shout about a three-peat. They’ll declare this as only the beginning, as the dynasty to trump all dynasties. (Heck, they did after Trophy No. 1.) And you know what? They won’t be wrong. This is an offensive juggernaut unlike anything we’ve ever seen and you can trace its origins to three moments that could’ve, maybe should’ve ended Mahomes or Hill or Kelce or all three.
Instead, this quarterback will keep on contorting joints and limbs in ways that do not make any sense.
And the Chiefs will keep on winning.
There was no denying the spare tire this star quarterback lugged around at Texas Tech.
Patrick Mahomes had a certified Dad bod.
His weight was a day-in, day-out source of ridicule. Teammates called Mahomes fat and chubby and told him to go eat another cheeseburger. A few particularly mocked his “fat-boy jog,” that sluggish shuffle to sideline. Yet while it’s true Mahomes needed to spend more time in the weight room, no, that wasn’t where he needed the most work. Mahomes never needed to wean off of his beloved ketchup.
The problem? He simply did what was required. That’s it. Be it in the weight room or the film room, he was OK just getting by. Such complacency isn’t going to hurt you in the pass-happy Big 12 but it was bound to catch up with Mahomes in the NFL. Gifted as he was, he couldn’t rely solely on those raw gifts. So, a few weeks after Mahomes’ breakout sophomore season finished up, Kingsbury approached the back-up quarterback: Shimonek.
Kingsbury knew Mahomes had the talent to go in the first round of the draft… if Mahomes put the time in. The coach told Shimonek that if he could light a fire under Mahomes than that’d mean Mahomes would turn pro a year early and give him a chance to start as a senior. Kingsbury flat-out told the backup, “I need you to get him working like you do.”
Shimonek was sold. Shimonek had already transferred in from Iowa and didn’t want to play for another head coach. He had a fantastic relationship with Mahomes, too, and knew this was the only ingredient the big man on campus lacked.
He had the arm… Mahomes could throw the football from any angle.
He was impervious to pressure… Mahomes was around pro baseball his entire life.
He simply needed to work harder.
“An approach to the game,” Shimonek says. “Not just thinking, ‘OK, I’m playing in the Big 12. I’ve got Iowa State this week. I can get by with just being Patrick Mahomes.’ He started to take it more serious. … I could go on and on about what I saw for me to think he’s going to be special. But at the end of the day, it never would’ve panned out if he didn’t put in the work. Fortunately, he did that.”
It’s not that he was lazy. Simply, Mahomes did what was required. He “just didn’t go above and beyond,” the backup says. One reason for that was that he initially played baseball at Texas Tech, which forced him to miss some offseason work. No doubt, this baseball background is a colossal reason for Mahomes’ greatness. His interpretation of the quarterback position is an unprecedented mash-up of different sports. Basketball. Baseball. Golf. Ping Pong. Axe throwing. But once it got to this point for Mahomes — once the NFL was so real, so close — he needed to fully embrace this one sport and one position like never before.
Shimonek was already putting in the extra hours and, admittedly, didn’t have Mahomes’ natural ability. So, his grind became Mahomes’ grind.
If, say, Mahomes was heading to the facility to throw routes to receivers at 10 a.m., Shimonek urged him to show up at 8 a.m. to lift weights.
“No matter how late he stayed up last night and went to the bar or was studying for an exam — whatever it is — if we’re going to be there at 10 o’clock, we’re going to get there at 8 o’clock in the morning and get a little extra work in,” Shimonek says. “Or, ‘Oh, you’re going to watch film at the house after practice? Let’s not do that. Because we might get to the house and get comfortable and we might start watching TV so let’s just knock out 30 or 45 minutes of film right after practice.’ Little things like that over the course of time, they seem small while you’re doing it, but those days start to add up.
“I knew once he put it all together, he’d be pretty special.”
That 2016 season, Mahomes stayed that extra 30-45 minutes after practice five to six days every week. Which meant three-plus hours per week. Which meant, over the course of a 13-week season, an extra 40-plus hours of study he simply did not do before. He then injected all of this intel into his futuristic, swashbuckling style and nuked defenses for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns.
With a contract worth half a billion dollars today, Mahomes certainly has a chef right at the house to keep those love handles under control. Shimonek is sure of it. Not that Mahomes will be a shredded bodybuilder anytime soon. He’s about to become a Dad and it’s a scientific fact that once you start having children, your body widens into the shape of a pear. But there’s even a method to the madness here, too. Shimonek knows it sure helps the QB to carry around a few extra pounds in the pros.
That cushion helps when you’re getting drilled by 300-pound defensive linemen.
“Obviously, you know the way he plays,” Shimonek says. “He puts himself in a lot of weird situations.”
Above all, that crucial offseason was all about pushing Mahomes mentally. It should be noted, too, that Kingsbury was a perfect example to follow, too. The head coach would get to facility at 3:30 a.m. and stay until 8:30 p.m.
Now? Mahomes is decimating defenses with his mind.
“Mentally, it just clicked for him — ‘OK, I have this natural ability. But let me complement this natural ability with an insane work ethic,’” Shimonek says. “It’s knowing, ‘OK, this is what I need to do. I need to act like a professional.’ And then he transitions right into sitting behind Alex Smith. So then, it’s even another step of, ‘OK, this is how I need to operate if I want to be successful in this league. This is what I need to do to my body. This is how I need to take control of my entire situation to be successful.’”
West can vouch for that.
West cannot stress enough how much Mahomes grew mentally that redshirt year into 2017.
When the Chiefs drafted Mahomes, he admits a lot of players on the team said, “What the hell?” Smith was a perfectly fine starter and, no, Mahomes wasn’t much to look at. Then, he put the pads on. Then, he was just… “different.” For a full season on the scout team, Mahomes was able to try out all of those funky passes we see today. Most of all, he was able to learn from a veteran who was more than willing to help.
By the time he took over, in ‘18, Mahomes was ready to process an offense that’s far more complex than anyone realizes. The best way West can describe it? There’s always an “out.” There are always two or three plays baked into whatever Reid calls: If this happens, go here. If this happens, go there. Reid takes it a step further, too. Reid actually teaches defensive schemes to his offensive players.
As if they were linebackers and corners and safeties.
That way, Mahomes and all of this weapons always know where the sweet spots are in every coverage.
“It makes the game a lot easier because you don’t have to guess,” West says. “You’re not going to even put Pat in a spot to even throw an interception.
“How do you even call a defense? That’s why it’s so scary. And the talent on that offense is unreal. It’s dangerous, bro. It’s dangerous.”
None of this is possible if Mahomes tells Shimonek to buzz off at Tech.
What a quarterback does beyond the 9-to-5 is more important than anybody realizes. The sad stories of ultra-talented quarterbacks who go the other direction, who choose not to work is long: JaMarcus Russell, Johnny Manziel, etc. That’d never be Mahomes who has now reached three straight AFC title games. “Mind-blowing,” says Shimonek. Now, the talk all week is about the current GOAT facing the future GOAT.
Please ignore whatever platitudes Mahomes has been repeating at the mic.
The GOAT talk absolutely matters to him.
“If you’re at that point — and you’re mentioned as ‘the greatest of all time’ — you want to be the greatest of all-time,” Shimonek says. “You don’t want to be in the conversation but not the guy. It’s not enough just to be there. It’s about actually being The One. It’s a good opportunity for both of them, for Brady to say, ‘Hey, I know he’s good. But remember who the GOAT is.’
“And it’s an opportunity for Pat to say, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen what you’ve done in your career but look what I’ve done in three years. I’m coming for you.’”
This was it for Tyreek Hill. He was one more denial from being a never-was.
He only had himself to blame, too.
Brett Gilliland thinks back to the summer of 2015 and is blunt. The West Alabama head coach wanted no part of this player who was arrested on domestic assault charges, kicked out of Oklahoma State and received three years of probation. Football-wise, Hill didn’t really have any options left. One school after another refused to admit him — the police report spoke for itself.
Akron seemed like his last hope. Then, Akron fell through.
“When that last domino fell,” Gilliland says, “he understood he had no control what was going to happen to him. He had no control of the future moving forward and he really needed a team and somebody to believe in him, to believe who he said he was. I hate to say he was at the end of his road but it was crunch time. He got in late. It was close to the first game. I don’t know what he would’ve done had our administration not allowed us to bring him on.
“It was the last possible minute to get him in school. I don’t know what other options he would’ve had at that point to be honest with you.”
West Alabama gave Hill the green light on Sept 1. He played four days later.
Figuring out how this Chiefs juggernaut came to be requires some difficult conversations. Because Hill is no neat-and-tidy tale of reclamation. This just… is. The making of this Super Bowl roster, like past ones, is not devoid of controversy. KC isn’t the first team to tweak its moral compass for a star player. Obviously, if Hill is a tick less talented, if Hill runs a 4.5 instead of a 4.2, he probably doesn’t get another chance anywhere that summer of ‘15. He disappears.
Yet Gilliland is adamant that he did his legwork, that he did everything in his power to get to know Hill as a person.
When preseason camp started in early August, he received a phone call from a former coach at West Alabama who had moved on to Akron and had been working closely with Hill: Todd Stroud. Akron’s coaches still believed in Hill when that transfer effort crumbled and wanted to see him get a second chance elsewhere. So, Stroud ‘n co. sent Gilliland every leaflet of research they had done. It helped, too, that Gilliland knew some of the teachers back at Hill’s high school in Douglas, Ga.
After wanting nothing to do with Hill, he says one convo led to another and another with the receiver and, to this day, he’s certain Hill deserved that second chance.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘desperate,’ but he understood the situation he was in,” Gilliland says. “He had to find a team that would trust him. We ultimately decided that was something we would do. … He wanted to show that he wasn’t the monster he was being portrayed. He loved football and believed he could play on Sundays. But more importantly, he really wanted to show the picture he was being painted as wasn’t him.
“That’s the opportunity we gave him and he made good on it. He came here, was a great member of our team and, from Day 1, was a good leader and pushed guys here.”
Gilliland was only 34 years old then. He was just heading into his second year as West Alabama’s head coach.
He didn’t fully realize it at the time but, looking back, sees how much of a risk this decision was to his own reputation.
“I dove in and did a lot more research to find out exactly, ‘Who is this guy? What’s he about? Is he worthy of this opportunity?’ Still to this day, I think he was and is,” Gilliland says.
“I really think I just believed in him. I really did. I believed he understood the position he was in. It was important to him. I believe he understood that I was putting my neck out there for him. And I think he was determined for us and our administration to not let us down.”
There’s a moral debate to be had, of course. Actions deserve consequences and, maybe, West Alabama should’ve slammed the door on Hill right then and there and blocked his phone number for good. Instead, Hill took a punt return back for a touchdown that first game and was able to total 1,420 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns to turn himself into an NFL draft prospect. A prospect that Andy Reid and the Chiefs deemed worthy of the 165th overall pick in the 2016 draft.
As special as Hill has been on the field in the pros, there’s a reason you never see him on commercials. Companies don’t want to touch him.
On to March 2019, he was investigated for alleged child abuse. Hill was cleared but his explanation of the incident was less than stellar.
Gilliland’s description of Hill, the human, sharply contrasts the rap sheet. He recalls Hill as someone who kept to himself off the field and never went out to parties. After every big moment in his pro career — the draft, winning the Super Bowl — he says Hill makes a point to thank him.
He still remembers Hill Facetiming his son all the time in college, too.
“He cares a lot for his son. I’ll say that and leave that there,” Gilliland says. “He’s made some decisions. We all make decisions that define us for a while. I tried to prepare him for what was next. One thing we always told him was, ‘No matter what, whenever your name is mentioned, there’s going to be some negative connotation. You have to ignore that and not let that define you. You have to continue to push for the positive and hopefully one day the positive will outweigh the negative.’ I think he has come to expect that this connotation will always be thrown at him — right, wrong or indifferent.
“I believe him. I believe in him. I really do. I think he’s shown — if you just look at facts — I think he’s shown the type of person he really is.”
There was never denying what Hill could do as a player. He has 1,558 yards and 15 touchdowns in 17 games this season.
He’ll need to be Priority No. 1 for the Buccaneers on Sunday and cornerback Carlton Davis made it clear to Go Long that he is ready for Round 2.
Says Gilliland: “He is ‘redefining’ a position or, I guess, defining one for the first time. I don’t know if there’s been anyone with his all-around skill-set before.”
Two NFL teams showed the most interest in Hill before that ‘16 draft: the Chiefs and the Jets. Gilliland spoke to just about every team. Everyone was intrigued by his speed. The question, he says, was more so: “Do we want to take this storm on?” And the Chiefs and Jets seemed most willing. Gilliland spoke at length with both teams’ area scouts — KC’s Ryne Nutt and New York’s Dom Green — and both teams sent their special teams coordinators down to West Alabama.
As if Jets fans needed more salt in their wounds, Gilliland says they actually put Hill through a private workout. He sincerely thought they Jets would draft Hill. He just didn’t know when. Green “loved” him.
Who knows what happens to Hill’s career if he goes to one of the worst organizations in sports? And who knows where Hill is at in life, period, if Gilliland and Reid don’t throw him a life raft. That’s the counterargument in the moral debate, of course. Reid, more than any coach, believes in second chances. And while everybody passing through campus viewed Hill as a Devin Hester-type, a return guy, Reid also had the vision to convert this 5-foot-9 receiver into a No. 1 receiver.
Now, he’s too valuable to use as a returner.
Coach to coach, Gilliland is blown away by what Reid has done with Hill.
“We’re all guilty as coaches and get stuck in ruts of ‘This is what we do offensively,’” he says. “Sometimes, we don’t adapt to the skill-set of our players individually. That out-of-the-box type of thinking is what they do so well. They use their players to the best of their ability and design their offense around them. You never know what type of motion or play they’re about to be running.”
The stain on Tyreek Hill’s reputation may be justifiable and permanent. Just like the images of Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick and so many others.
Unquestionably, there will be people who watch Hill on Super Bowl Sunday and have a bad taste in their mouth. For what it’s worth, the man who took that chance on Hill hopes those people feeling conflicted eventually have the same epiphany he did.
Gilliland promises there’s another side to Hill we don’t see.
Whether there is or isn’t, the fact that he saw it — five years ago, when nobody else seemed to — is the reason Hill is now scoring touchdowns every Sunday.
It’s Super Bowl Week which means every conversation about every star power is bound to nosedive into the hyperbolic realm of Legacy. Always. Unprompted, that’s precisely what Travis Kelce’s high school coach does over the phone.
Jeff Rotsky coached Kelce at Cleveland Heights High School, back when Kelce was a do-it-all quarterback. He says he loves Gronk. And Ozzie Newsome. And Kellen Winslow. But right now? Here on the eve of Super Bowl LV? He is convinced that Kelce is on track to go down as the greatest tight end of all-time.
“And I’ll tell you what,” Rotsky continues, “if he keeps putting up the numbers, he could be one of the greatest players to ever play the game. I know that’s a bold statement to make but think about it: 1,500 yards this year, and he can block, and think about how many Super Bowls he gets.”
Playoffs included, in 17 games, Kelce actually has an absurd 1,643 yards on 126 receptions with 14 touchdowns.
Then, Rotsky implores all to rewind Kelce’s 20-yard touchdown vs. the Browns’ top cover corner, Denzel Ward. It was not fair. The play before, Kelce ran an out route. So, this time, he sold the out, hit the brakes and Ward splattered onto the turf like Tyronn Lue in the NBA Finals.
Newsome isn’t doing this. Nor is Winslow. Not even Gronk. So, no, Rotsky isn’t exaggerating a thing. This is a legitimate argument we must have. And as Rotsky puts Kelce’s game into historical perspective, he can’t help but think back to the fall of 2010. No way could anyone in Kelce’s world have imagined having this type of conversation back then. Because back then, Rotsky and Kelce were having much, much different chats that would stretch deep into the night.
To 1 a.m. To 2 a.m.
That’s when Kelce was suspended by the Cincinnati football team for a violation of team rules that was later revealed to be a failed drug test for marijuana.
Into the early morning, Rotsky and Kelce talked about life, about bouncing back.
“The great thing is,” Rotsky says, “he came out on the right side of it. He worked his ass off. When you talk about him being the first pick in the third round that has to go down with Tom Brady in the sixth round as being one of the greatest draft choices of all-time.”
The third piece of this holy trinity in KC could’ve disappeared right then, right when he was trying to convert from QB to TE while under suspension.
In trying to establish a new culture — apparently setting a tone — new head coach Butch Jones dismissed Kelce after that failed test. The sophomore’s housing was revoked, so he stayed at his older brother’s place. Jason Kelce, now the Eagles’ center, was a senior on that Cincinnati team and asked coaches with tears in his eyes to let Travis back on the team.
Everything could’ve ended right there for Kelce over something that, 10 years later, doesn’t seem like much of a crime.
“But, in some respects,” Rotsky says, “it was the best thing for him. Because we were all involved. It wasn’t like he needed this major intervention. I remember a lot of the talks I had with him were, ‘God wouldn’t give you anything you couldn’t handle. Listen, you are going to play on Sundays.’ And he did it. He worked his way back to a scholarship. And he just took the world by storm.”
He did have some growing up to do, too. Years later, Travis Kelce sent Rotsky a card that said, I didn’t understand it in high school. But I get it now.
Cincy’s tight ends coach that year, Mark Elder, admits the world’s perception of marijuana use sure has changed in a decade. Now, he says with a chuckle, “You’re like, ‘Really?’”
Still, whenever anybody puts something they truly love into jeopardy, sure, maturation is needed. Kelce was awesome to coach and, often, “maddening” to coach. Elder needed to get on him for missed study halls here ‘n there. To him, it wasn’t too complicated: Kelce just needed to buckle down. And he did. He kept practicing and kept attending every meeting through that year on suspension because central to this all was one simple fact: Kelce genuinely loved the game. This was the same high school QB known for snapping at teammates with too much bite — he loved the game too much. He needed to harness his emotions.
Says Elder: “Listen, Travis loved to play the game of football. Sometimes people say all that, ‘Oh, I love the game.’ No. Legitimately. When you said, ‘Meeting’s over, it’s time to go hit the field,’ you never worried about that kid. He was going to play his tail off. He was going to be locked in. He was going to compete. He was going to talk trash. As soon as you said, ‘It’s time for football,’ that dude was on.”
When Elder was then the tight ends coach for the Tennessee Volunteers — and Kelce was tearing it up in the NFL — he’d tell his players all about Kelce’s raw passion. One of his tight ends, Alex Ellis, ended up signing with the Chiefs and hit up Elder a week into his first training camp to tell him he was dead-on.
“And I was like, ‘I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t trying to make him out to be Superman. That’s who he is,’” Elder says. “You roll that thing out and he wanted to play the game. He loved it. And then, he wasn’t able to. So, I’m sure that was a really trying time for him.”
The transition to tight end wasn’t too difficult because Kelce relished the physicality of all sports. Rotsky believes he could’ve gone Division I in football, basketball and baseball — and, hell, he also loved playing hockey. Growing up as Jason’s younger brother is bound to harden you, too. The Bearcats knew they weren’t converting some soft pocket passer of a quarterback who, as Elder puts, “doesn’t want to get his fingers dirty.” No, this was a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder with a 40-inch vert, 4.6 speed and bad intentions. Fresh off shoulder surgery, he wasn’t afraid to mix it up.
Elder feared he was about to be given his own walking papers after one of his blocking assignments called for Kelce to take on a defensive end and Kelce pulled up grimacing in pain.
He was fine. He didn’t complain.
“That’s just him,” Elder says. “He’s tougher than tough.”
And very quickly into the transition, Kelce realized nobody could cover him. He was still learning how to run a route and utterly dominating defensive backs. Thus, the tone of those phone calls to Rotsky started to change.
Kelce’s voice morphed into pure elation.
Soon enough, Butch Jones was making Kelce out to be a much different type of example. He started playing “Kelce Clips” in front of the whole team after games.
“Because he would bury people,” Elder says. “I mean, he embarrassed guys. And he did that from the get-go.”
So, Elder’s on board. Also unprompted, he says Kelce will firmly be in that “best ever” conversation at tight end — and he’s also quick to credit Dave Johnson for molding Kelce into a beast at tight end. Johnson took over the tight end group when Kelce really got cookin’ in college.
Now? Nobody can cover him.
“I love Travis Kelce,” Elder says. “It could have gone one way or it could have gone the other and he has made it go the right way.”
There’s been one prevailing theme with these unstoppable Kansas City Chiefs. You can see it every Sunday, too.
This is a team, truly, having the time of their lives.
Mahomes struts around with his back arched after touchdowns. The quarterback taken 10th overall isn’t afraid to count to 10 while destroying one of the teams that should’ve drafted him: Chicago. Hill keeps on flashing that peace sign in the faces of cornerbacks and back-flipping into the end zone. Kelce? His dance moves are remarkably choreographed.
They laugh. They celebrate. They laugh some more, knowing damn well they cannot be stopped.
So after spending an hour meticulously breaking down Mahomes (“God puts his hand on some people”) and Hill (“One of the fastest guys to ever play in the NFL”) and Kelce (“Nobody on the field can match him”), Charcandrick West pinpoints this driving force of the dynasty.
“Bro, I’m telling you: It starts with having fun,” says West, who played for Reid in KC from 2014-18. “They’re enjoying it. A lot of guys go to practice and it’s almost miserable. They don’t want to do this. They don’t want to do that.”
He lived this side of the equation, too, with the Jets. West spent all of one week in the Jersey wastelands — “It was dead there,” he says. The Jets lacked this energy. He could see, instantly, why the franchise constantly cycles through coaches — “it’s just not the same.” From the basketball hoop in the locker room to the overall mood every practice, Andy Reid sets a loose, fun tone in KC.
Part of players half-expect Reid to be mean, too, West says. (When Reid drafted Kelce, he even warned him not to screw this up.)
It’s that ‘stache. Definitely that ‘stache.
That throws you off at first, West says.
Quickly, however, you realize how “goofy” Reid is. He’s constantly cracking jokes. And he sincerely cares for his players — Reid was the primary reason Sammy Watkins re-signed with KC last spring. This head coach is proof that you don’t need to be a Belichickian drill sergeant to win the Super Bowl. Players openly gush over Reid more than any other coach. How much does he care? West wasn’t on that Super Bowl team a year ago. He just missed a ring. But sure enough, his phone rang that night.
It was Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. They wanted to Facetime with West mid-celebration.
The retired back believes these Chiefs are turning a professional sport into backyard football and that there’s zero way any team can gameplan for a team and a coach simply having so much fun.
So many tipping points led to Reid becoming such a force of nature. For starters, he has Norm Chow and Mike Holmgren to thank. Way back in 1982, Chow interviewed Holmgren for the BYU quarterbacks job on behalf of the head coach, LaVell Edwards. (Edwards was on a cruise and couldn’t interview Holmgren himself.) And Chow loved Holmgren. Story after story, Holmgren had him in stitches for two hours. Then, Holmgren hit it off with Reid, who spent that ’82 season as a graduate assistant at BYU. Then, Holmgren helped Reid latch on as an assistant coach where he previously was: San Francisco State.
The rest, Chow says, is history.
Four jobs and 10 years later, Reid joined Holmgren on the Green Bay Packers’ staff.
“The thing about Andy Reid that I’ve always admired,” Chow says, “is he remembers who he is and where he’s from. Guys change that way. But he doesn’t. When LaVell Edwards passed (in 2016), he was the first guy at the service. He’s that kind of guy. To today, he’s the same way. He’s the same guy. He’s absolutely terrific.”
As an offensive coach his whole life, Chow obviously admires what Reid’s done in KC.
But it’s Reid’s ability to relate to players from all backgrounds that he admires most. He calls him “humble” and “loyal” and “self-deprecating,” pointing out that Reid is always bringing up his love of cheeseburgers. Once, Chow visited one of Reid’s OTA practices in Philly. Laughing, he still remembers eating lunch with the coach that day.
Reid was on a diet, you see, and that day the diet called for chicken and pineapple.
“There must’ve been five chickens and four pineapples,” says Chows. “I said, ‘Andy, I know it’s a diet but you can’t eat all that!’ I thought ‘Holy mackerel!’ He hasn’t forgotten who he is and that makes him very, very special.”
This week, Reid assured there’s a double cheeseburger waiting for him if the Chiefs repeat as champs, too.
It hasn’t always been pretty.
It hasn’t been without risk and ridicule. Reid’s taken his share.
Yet the Chiefs are now on the cusp of that repeat. West sees no scenario in which the Buccaneers can keep up with this speed. None. The fact we’re even talking about Mahomes and Brady in the same “greatest ever” conversation is surreal to him. One QB has started four years, one has started 20.
“I respect Tom, but I’m going to go with Pat,” he says. “He’s different.”
It certainly starts there. With Mahomes, with the quarterback who signed the 10-year contract, with the talent who is no doubt studying that Buccaneers’ defense inside and out.
Good luck to the Bucs and good luck to any other team trying to win a Super Bowl these next 10 years.