How growing up in an MLB clubhouse prepared Patrick Mahomes for NFL stardom
Pat Mahomes spotted the wizardry as it unfolded before him on the Arrowhead Stadium field, long before the 74,336 fans on hand for a 2018 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, and right before television analyst Tony Romo noticed it on the CBS broadcast.
Mahomes’ son, Patrick, in his first season as starting quarterback for the Chiefs, had slipped a rusher in the pocket, taken a few quick steps to his right and, with his head and eyes facing straight downfield, flicked a pass to his left to Demarcus Robinson on a crossing pattern for a 17-yard gain.
“When he did it, I looked back and said, ‘He just threw a no-look pass,’ and everybody was like, ‘No he didn’t,’ ” Mahomes said in a phone interview from his home in Tyler, Texas, about 100 miles east of Dallas. “Then we looked at the replay, and sure enough, he had.”
How did the elder Mahomes, a former pitcher who played for six big league teams from 1992 to 2003, know in real time what had happened?
“I’m just following him, and I saw which way he was pointing,” said Mahomes, a former Texas all-state high school quarterback himself. “And when I saw him throw it, I said, ‘I’ve seen it before.’ ”
Indeed, he had. It was in the third game of Patrick’s junior season at Whitehouse High, on a rainy Texas Friday night in September 2012, when Mahomes hit Coleman Patterson with a 12-yard, no-look toss against Sulpher Springs High, one of many highlights on a night Mahomes racked up 506 total yards.
“It was very similar to the play against the Ravens — he was going to his right, and Coleman was running a crossing route to the left,” Pat Mahomes, 52, said. “A lot of the plays he’s making up there [in Kansas City], he was doing in high school, so I knew he was capable of doing stuff like that.
“Now, I didn’t know he would have the guts to try it in an NFL game, but I’ve seen it all — the left-handed pass, the jump throw, the no-look pass — at the high school and college level, so that stuff doesn’t really surprise me.”
The younger Mahomes has been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks since he took his first snap as the starter in 2018, averaging 4,791 passing yards and 38 touchdowns a season and leading the Chiefs to three Super Bowls in four years, including Sunday’s title game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Phoenix.
The gunslinger stands tall in the pocket at 6 feet 3 and 227 pounds but might be more dangerous on the run, his ability to sense and escape pressure, throw from a variety of arm angles and improvise on the fly, leading to YouTube videos with titles such as “10 amazing plays from Patrick Mahomes that will leave you speechless.”
“You can tell by the way Patrick plays quarterback that he took pieces of his basketball, the jump throws and no-look passes, and pieces of his baseball, the different arm angles, and he put it all together in a package in football.”
— Pat Mahomes, father of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
The no-look pass against the Ravens was the first of several the former Texas Tech star has thrown in the NFL. Mahomes once scrambled down the right sideline, avoided a tackler with a 360-degree spin at the five-yard line and, like a basketball player shooting a three-pointer, flipped a pass over another defender to Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the end zone.
There was the diving, 30-yard heave while being chased from behind in the Super Bowl LV loss to Tampa Bay, a sidearm pass that fell incomplete but was notable because his body was parallel with the ground as he threw it. And the scoring pass to Chris Conley that came after Mahomes scrambled like Fran Tarkenton in the pocket for what amounted to 35.7 yards, according to Next Gen Stats.
None of this would have been possible, Pat Mahomes said, if his son, now 27, hadn’t played three sports in high school, the quarterback also starring as a versatile guard on the basketball team and a shortstop and pitcher on the baseball team with an arm strong enough to pitch in relief for two seasons at Texas Tech.
“You can tell by the way Patrick plays quarterback that he took pieces of his basketball, the jump throws and no-look passes, and pieces of his baseball, the different arm angles, and he put it all together in a package in football,” Mahomes said. “I think a lot of that has to do with him playing all those different sports.”
Pat Mahomes, who was also a three-sport star in high school, is not a proponent of specializing in one sport but never had to force his son to diversify his athletic portfolio.
“I didn’t have to,” said Mahomes, a right-hander who had a 42-39 career record and 5.47 ERA in 308 career big league games, 63 of them starts. “Whatever ball was near him, that was the one he was gonna play with.”
Pat said he had an inkling by the time Patrick was 6 or 7 years old that his son would be a professional athlete, “but of course, I thought it was going to be baseball,” he said.
Young Patrick was athletic and coordinated enough to shag batting-practice fly balls off the bats of Pat’s New York Mets teammates in the Shea Stadium outfield as a 4- and 5-year-old and hung out with New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter before Subway Series games in 1999 and 2000.
And when Pat pitched for Texas in 2001, then-Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, in his first year of a 10-year, $252-million contract, would throw soft-toss to 6-year-old Patrick in the batting cages and give the youngster hitting tips.
“He grew up in the clubhouse, he was always around the game, and he was always the best player on his baseball team,” Pat Mahomes said. “He was an unbelievable shortstop, he always led his team in hitting, and he threw 97 mph on the mound, so I always thought he was gonna be a baseball player.”
Patrick’s baseball future looked so bright that his father urged him to quit football after his sophomore year of high school. Patrick had played quarterback on the Whitehouse freshman team, but injuries forced an early-season promotion to the varsity, where he played safety through his sophomore year.
During a workout day at the University of Texas the following summer, a Longhorns assistant told Mahomes he would be recruited as a defensive back.
Patrick Mahomes scrambles for a touchdown for his Whitehouse, Texas, High School team.
“I said, ‘If you’re recruiting him as a safety, you’re not watching tape, because my son hasn’t tackled anybody in two years,’ ” Pat Mahomes said. “He can intercept the ball, but he’s not a tackler.
“I just thought we were wasting time when he could have been working on the sports he would go to college for, baseball and basketball. Plus, I didn’t want him to get hurt.”
An intervention from Patrick’s mother, Randi — she and Pat divorced in 2006, when Patrick was 11, but the two remain close — altered the course of Kansas City Chiefs history for the better.
“His mom had a talk with him and told him that if he did quit, he would regret it, because he wouldn’t be on that field with the guys,” Pat Mahomes said. “She told him to pray on it and think hard about what he wanted to do, and God would give him the answers. I guess God told him to keep on playing.”
Mahomes started at quarterback at Whitehouse as a junior and senior, passing for 8,458 yards and 96 touchdowns and rushing for 1,198 yards and 21 touchdowns in two seasons.
He played three seasons at Texas Tech, throwing for 5,052 yards and 53 touchdowns — including an NCAA record-tying 734 yards in a 66-59 loss to Oklahoma and Baker Mayfield — as a junior in 2016.
A first-round pick (10th overall) of the Chiefs in 2017, Mahomes spent his rookie year as the backup to Alex Smith. He took over as starter in 2018 and won NFL most valuable player honors after throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns.
Mahomes, who signed a 10-year, $450-million contract extension in 2020, has led Kansas City to five straight AFC title games and experienced the ultimate Super Bowl high and low, throwing for 282 yards and two scores in a 31-20 win over San Francisco after the 2019 season and being harassed into two interceptions and three sacks in a 31-9 loss to Tampa Bay after 2020.
His coolness under pressure has fueled several memorable comebacks, the most remarkable in the 2021 playoffs when, after Buffalo took a three-point lead with 13 seconds left, Mahomes needed only two plays and 10 seconds to drive the Chiefs 44 yards to set up a game-tying field goal. Kansas City’s eventual 42-36 overtime win is considered one of the greatest games in NFL history.
Mahomes is the favorite to win his second NFL MVP award after throwing for 5,250 yards and 41 touchdowns this season.
He suffered a high right-ankle sprain in the Chiefs’ divisional-round playoff win over Jacksonville and hobbled his way through a 326-yard passing performance in a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game.
Mahomes somehow found a way to race out of bounds for a five-yard gain on a third-and-four play with eight seconds left, absorbing an unnecessary roughness penalty to set up Harrison Butker’s game-winning 45-yard field goal.
“I think he had a little bit of his dad in him on that play,” said Pat Mahomes, who has attended every Chiefs home game and most road games for six years. “I played quarterback in high school, and I know that every time someone was chasing me, I ran a little faster.”
Mahomes’ rise to NFL stardom has been just as quick — meteoric, really — proving that father did not know best when he advised his son to quit football in high school. But even though Patrick left baseball, the lessons he learned while tagging along with his big league father continue to shape the player he is today.
“Being in a clubhouse and seeing how guys like A-Rod and Jeter went about their business, how hard they worked before the games and after the games, even if they had great games the night before, let him know how hard you have to work to get there and to be one of the best,” Pat Mahomes said. “And then to stay there, you have to work even harder.
“Patrick has always had that mentality that he was going to be better the next day than he was the day before. It’s very easy to slack off when you’re the best player on the field every time you step out there, but he’s always grinding, trying to get better. That’s why I think he’s done some of the things he’s done early in his career and had so much success.”