Clark Hunt, the Chiefs’ chairman, was watching from the warmth and comfort of the owner’s box Sunday night with wind-chill temperatures outside the glass windows of his hermetically sealed sanctuary hovering around zero degrees.
The seconds in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium were quickly bleeding off the clock with Kansas City having already spent its final timeout and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was on a mad scramble to get one final first down to give his kicker a chance to win the game and send the Chiefs to a third Super Bowl in the past four years.
To review: Mahomes, in the previous week’s playoff win over the Jaguars, suffered a high right ankle sprain, an injury that usually shelves football players for a minimum of two weeks and usually more than that.
Mahomes didn’t miss a single play of practice during the week and wasn’t even listed on the injury report by the time the locals were noshing on their Kansas City barbecue dinners Friday night.
So, on Sunday night, there was Mahomes, on his gimpy ankle in a game tied at 20-20 and on third-and-4 from the Cincinnati 47-yard line, dashing toward the sideline to stop to clock.
And there was Bengals 22-year-old linebacker Joseph Ossai chasing Mahomes, losing track of where he was on the sideline and pushing the quarterback after he was already out of bounds.
A late-hit penalty was called, adding 15 yards to the 5-yard Mahomes scramble, setting Kansas City up with a gift: a 45-yard field goal to win the game and send the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.
When Mahomes made that run, it was clear that he didn’t give a damn if it was the last play he made this season.
Upstairs, in his glassed-in nook, Hunt marveled at what he was seeing.
Everyone did, really.
“Watching the play, I was like, ‘Well, Superman put his cape on and got it done for us,’ ’’ Hunt said.
Brett Veach, the Kansas City general manager and the chief architect of these Chiefs, would reveal after the game what no one from the Kansas City wanted to admit before the game.
“People don’t realize how hurt he was,’’ Veach said. “High ankles are terrible injuries and sometimes guys miss two or three weeks. He was out there running for a first down … a big play in the game that got us in field-goal range. It just adds to his already great legacy.”
This is what’s taking place in Kansas City with Mahomes. There’s an unmistakable legacy being built by No. 15 in red and white. It’s a legacy that’s a virtual lock to one day end up chronicled in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Mahomes is playing in his fifth season as a starter and is headed to his third Super Bowl after having played in his fifth consecutive conference championship. He’s already been a league MVP and is likely going to win the award again this year.
Mahomes is so uniquely gifted that it’s easy to take for granted the gravity of what he accomplished Sunday night, not only playing in those frigid temperatures, but doing it while playing with an injury that would have had 90 percent of players sidelined for the game.
When I asked Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon after the game to describe Mahomes’ will to win, he said, “I don’t really have to describe it. You saw it. It’s clear as day. When it’s all said and done, he’s going to go down as one of the greatest to do it. I’m glad I’m on his side and not the other side.’’
There isn’t a person in the Kansas City organization who would argue with that sentiment.
“He’s a straight warrior, man,’’ Chiefs tackle Orlando Brown said. “He’s our leader and we follow behind him. He’s the best at what he does in the world.’’
Here’s another thing that makes Mahomes the best at what he does in this generation of quarterbacks: As good as his final numbers were Sunday — 29-for-43 for 326 yards and two TDs — it didn’t even have the look of a great game by him.
Mahomes simply gutted it out on essentially one leg and produced numbers that most NFL quarterbacks would produce on their best days.
He did so with his running backs rushing for 34 yards on 17 carries and with three of his top receivers — JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney — all leaving the game at points with injuries and he still completed passes to 10 different players.
“I think it’s similar [with] all the great ones — they’ll have roster turnover and they’ll find a way, they’ll have injuries and they’ll find a way [and] Patrick is at the top of that list, in my opinion,’’ Veach said. “I’m biased, but he’s incredible.’’
The Mahomes legend continues to grow.
Next stop on the legacy-building tour: Super Bowl LVII.