Patrick Mahomes Already Looking Towards His Next Super Bowl Victory

Patrick Mahomes was already experiencing the roughest regular season of his career before the Las Vegas Raiders nearly ruined Christmas.

In the weeks preceding the December 25 matchup, frustration began mounting in Kansas City. Receivers kept dropping Mahomes’ passes. He had thrown a sideline tantrum against the Buffalo Bills after an offsides call negated a late go-ahead touchdown. Mahomes was fined $50,000 for his outburst.

The world’s eyes had turned toward Kansas City. Chiefs games reached new viewership milestones, thanks in no small part to ’s budding romance with the team’s star tight end Travis Kelce. So every sport-tavern gadfly and Swiftie seemed to be wondering the same things: What was wrong with the Chiefs? Especially on the offensive side of the football, where called the shots?

Christmas Day, which Mahomes calls the low point of the 2023 season, compounded all these problems. Mahomes yelled at his offensive linemen after a first quarter in which the team recorded minus-18 yards of total offense. Then he threw a pick 6. The dropped-ball habit continued in Las Vegas’ 20-14 victory at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City lost its fourth game in six weeks and forfeited all hope of clinching the top seed in the AFC. More likely than not, the Chiefs would have to win a road playoff game or two to make the Super Bowl. Mahomes had never even played on an opponent’s home turf in the postseason.

Way to set the mood for Christmas dinner.

Mahomes and his wife, Brittany, still hosted family and friends. Their kids, daughter Sterling, 3, and son Bronze, 1, still opened presents. Mahomes forced a smile. But his focus, he admits, was elsewhere. “Santa definitely wasn’t as fun,” Mahomes tells TIME during a late-March interview in Dallas; he spends his offseasons in the area, having grown up near Tyler, Texas, about 100 miles to the east. “That game kind of turned my mind. Where I was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to turn it around. Right now.’”

Mahomes and the Chiefs got to work. Kansas City rattled off six straight regular-season and playoff wins—including two on the road against top-notch AFC talents, the Bills and the Baltimore Ravens—en route to becoming the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Kansas City has now won three NFL titles over the past five seasons. “We didn’t let other people’s outside noise affect us,” says Mahomes. “Even though we struggled throughout the season, we kept our minds in the right places. Whenever the lights got the brightest, guys showed up.”

Especially Mahomes. He won his third Super Bowl MVP award, joining (5) and Joe Montana (3) as the only players in NFL history to win that many. He’s now entrenched in the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) conversation. Brady won his third Super Bowl MVP when he was 37 years old. Montana was 33. Mahomes is just 28. “I’ve had at least one of the top three starts to a career,” says Mahomes. “I’ll put it that way.” He mentions Brady and Montana alongside him and throws in a sort of honorable mention for Dan Marino, who never won a Super Bowl but put up eye-popping passing statistics.

But he’s “nowhere near”—Mahomes’ words—GOAT status right now. “You have to build a consistency of a career,” says Mahomes. “You see that in any sport. I’ve had a great run. I think I’ve done a great job so far. But it’s hard to take away from what Tom did for so long, what did, or Aaron Rodgers. There are so many guys, they were at such a high level for such a long time. In order to be in that conversation, you have to do that on a year-to-year basis. You can’t take it for granted that you did it the year before.” So he’ll table the GOAT discussion—for now. “That’s something I’ll talk about when I’m done playing,” Mahomes says. “Then people can make those decisions.”

Despite his impressive track record, his notoriety only grew this year. The NFL, already an established juggernaut, received an unexpected boost this season when , and the Chiefs in particular benefited from the surge. Super Bowl LVIII was the most-watched program in history, averaging 123.4 million viewers across all platforms, up more than 7% over last year’s audience. These were the most-watched NFL playoffs ever.

The affable Mahomes, the leader of the league’s most important team and de facto face of the NFL who serves as a ubiquitous pitchman for a number of blue-chip brands, is an ideal ambassador for football. The son of a Black father who played Major League Baseball and a white mom, Mahomes moves comfortably in different crowds. “He can go to a Luke Combs concert with cowboy boots on and drink beer,” says Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who was head coach at Texas Tech during Mahomes’ college years. “Or he can go to a Drake concert and have the most fun and enjoy himself that way. There’s nothing but his genuine, authentic self. And I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

Mahomes signed a $500 million contract in 2020 but remains obsessed with Chick-fil-A and snacking on Starbursts. He brags about bringing Whataburger—the Texas-based chain that he pronounces “Waterburger” in his boisterous down-home drawl—to the Kansas City area as a part-owner of eight locations. of Mahomes, in the locker room celebrating Kansas City’s AFC championship win over Baltimore, went viral and attracted lots of comments about his physique. “I definitely have the dad bod a little bit,” he says. “I’ll also say I have a great body for a quarterback. You’ve got to have some padding in there to take the hits that we take.”

Mahomes is doing more for football than just dominating the game. His unorthodox, improvisational style—Mahomes throws left-handed (he’s a righty), underhand, or sidearm when he needs to, and uses his legs to weave through traffic—is rewriting the playbook for the most important job in America’s most popular sport. “Pat is clearly the biggest name in football right now,” Kelce tells TIME. “For him to still be in his 20s and not slowing down anytime soon means he’s also the future of football.”

When Patrick was a toddler, his father, Pat, and LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched for 21 seasons in the majors, roomed together during winter-league ball in Puerto Rico. Hawkins remembers staying up late because Patrick didn’t like to sleep. Hawkins would run to the Burger King across the street to fetch him his favorite snack: French fries with extra ketchup.

Mahomes grew up around major-league clubhouses. “One thousand percent, baseball was my first love,” he says. His father pitched until 2003, when Patrick was 8, and spent the 2001 season with the Texas Rangers, where A-Rod’s work ethic left an impression on the young athlete. “I hated when my dad made me hit off a tee,” says Mahomes. “I’m like, ‘I just want you to throw it to me.’ I go watch Alex Rodriguez, he’s leading the league in home runs, and he’s hitting off the tee every single day. It taught me that even whenever I get to where I want to get to, I can’t let the fundamentals slip. I can’t stop working and doing the little things. That’s what makes people great.”

He starred in three sports (football, basketball, baseball) at Whitehouse High School. The Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 37th round, but Mahomes decided to attend Texas Tech, where he was recruited to play both football and baseball. “My goal was to go to college, play three years of football, three years of baseball, and go [back] into the MLB draft,” says Mahomes. His football promise, however, was immediately evident. “Just his playmaking ability and the different arm angles and touch and incredible accuracy, it was phenom-type stuff,” says Kingsbury. “Even when the game seemed chaotic, it was never moving too fast for him. I had just never seen that before.”

As a true freshman, Mahomes was called upon to replace injured sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. Mahomes t