The year in Kansas City sports brought its share of team achievements, but the biggest story of 2018 was written by an individual.
Emerging from the KC sports scene was the rarest of occurrences: a national star — perhaps the best in his sport — that a Kansas City team drafted and developed itself.
The next few weeks will reveal the individual awards won by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and determine whether the greatest statistical season in franchise history can translate into postseason accolades. He’s already thrown for 48 touchdown passes and more than 4,800 yards.
Whatever happens, it has been an amazing ride for the first-year starting quarterback who seems to produce a can-you-believe-that play each week.
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Mahomes’ breakout season is The Star’s top sports story of 2018, a year in which a coaching legend retired, a basketball regional was won and a video brought down a pro football star.
Here are a dozen stories selected by The Star’s sports staff that shaped the Kansas City sports scene in 2018.
The dynamic dozen
1. It’s Mahomes’ world
When the Chiefs traded Alex Smith, they handed the job to a draft pick beginning his second season. Certainly patience would be required. But when “Showtime’s” third pass of the season went for a 58-yard touchdown to a streaking Tyreek Hill, any doubts were erased. In his first two games, Mahomes led the Chiefs to victories at the Chargers and Steelers and tossed a total of 10 touchdown passes. He hasn’t slowed down and could become the first Chiefs player to become an NFL MVP.
Snyder’s future at K-State had been a subject of conjecture for the past few years, but a week after this disappointing football season ended, he made it official. After 27 seasons with the Wildcats, Snyder stepped down, concluding a Hall of Fame career. He engineered the greatest turnaround in college football history and won’t be forgotten, not with his statue in front of the stadium — and the highway leading into town — named in his honor.
Often, weeks or months are needed to resolve an athlete’s involvement in illegal or unethical behavior. But Chiefs Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt was kicked off the team hours after a video obtained by TMZ showed him shoving and kicking a woman. The incident occurred at his hotel apartment in Cleveland in February. The video proved Hunt had lied to the Chiefs about his involvement, and that’s what got him dismissed.
4. KU hoops cut nets ... then comes an investigation
Led by Big 12 player of the year Devonte Graham, Kansas captured its 14th straight Big 12 championship. Malik Newman heated up and led the Jayhawks to the Big 12 tournament title and Midwest Region championship, capped by a thrilling overtime victory over Duke. Bill Self made his third Final Four, going back to San Antonio, but KU couldn’t cool off Villanova in the semifinals. The news moved off-court when Kansas, was associated with corruption in college basketball first brought to light by the FBI in September, 2017. In federal court in October, 2018, an Adidas representative testified that he gave the guardian of future KU player Silvo De Sousa $2,500 so he could take online classes. NCAA president Mark Emmert said he does not expect a resolution until after the current basketball season.
In late January, Lorenzo Cain signed with the Brewers. Three weeks later, Eric Hosmer signed with the Padres. Of the Royals stars from the World Series years looking for bigger paydays, only Mike Moustakas remained. In July, he was gone, too, traded to the Brewers ... and a new era of the Royals had begun. When the 2019 season begins, the only Royals regulars remaining from the 2015 title team are expected to be Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Danny Duffy.
6. Early trades begin to reshape Chiefs
The Chiefs’ 2018 season started taking shape months earlier with two major trades. In January, the Chiefs agreed to deal quarterback Alex Smith, their starter over the previous five seasons, to Washington for corner Kendall Fuller and a future third-round draft pick. The path was thus cleared for Mahomes. In March, the Chiefs traded cornerback Marcus Peters and a sixth-round pick to the Rams for future picks. Two players that had contributed a total of five Pro Bowl seasons were gone from the Chiefs.
7. Fast finish changes direction for Mizzou football
Missouri football got off to an expected fast start behind quarterback Drew Lock. But a midseason slump in which the Tigers dropped four out of five, including collapses to South Carolina and Kentucky, left fans wondering about the future of coach Barry Odom. But Mizzou got is swagger back with a resounding victory at No. 11 Florida, igniting a four-game winning streak to end the season. Odom got an extension, the Tigers went on a recruiting roll and look the finish the season with a victory in the Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State.
8. Sporting KC takes next step
Reaching the MLS playoffs seven straight years, great. Losing in the knockout stage four straight years, frustrating. Sporting KC broke that recent habit by reaching the conference finals. But after taking a 1-0 lead against the Portland Timbers at Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting surrendered the next three goals and couldn’t finish a rally. Still, the club rewarded its devoted fan base with a first-place conference finish and a franchise record for goals. Sporting should be similarly competitive in 2019.
Sure, Kansas State caught a break in the NCAA Tournament when second-round-opponent-to-be Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 (UMBC). But the Wildcats took advantage of their opportunity to win that game, then won a Sweet 16 encounter with Kentucky, to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2010. K-State fell to Loyola, Ill., the team of Overland Park guards Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson, along with Sister Jean. But KSU coach Bruce Weber had turned in the best of his six seasons in Manhattan.
10. New-look Sunflower Showdown
New coaches at Kansas State and Kansas will change the look of the Sunflower Showdown. Chris Klieman, who will coach North Dakota State in the FCS National Championship Game, has made a good early impression as Snyder’s successor at Kansas State. Same for Les Miles at Kansas. Yes, the same Les Miles who led LSU to a national championship. The Wildcats look to restore glory. The Jayhawks seek respectability. Circle Nov. 2, 2019, when the new coaches face off for the first time, in Lawrence.
11. A first for Aquinas, an emotional title for Hogan Prep
St. Thomas Aquinas had been knocking on the door of a state high school football championship for years. The Saints finally kicked it open with a victory over Wichita Northwest in the Kansas Class 5A title game. Also taking a state football title was Bishop Miege in Kansas Class 4A. Aquinas (Kansas 5A) won a girls’ state championship in basketball. Boys basketball state titles went to Blue Valley Northwest (Kansas 6A), Bishop Miege (Kansas 4A), Grandview (Missouri 4A) and Hogan Prep (Missouri 3A). The Hogan title occurred months after a former player, Roosevelt Cooper, had been killed in a shooting.
12. New athletic boss at KU
After seven years on the job, Sheahon Zenger was fired as Kansas’ athletic director. A losing football program slowed momentum on a fund-raising campaign that is expected to result in the reconstruction of Memorial Stadium. In July, Kansas hired Jeff Long, most recently the AD at Arkansas. Long fired football coach David Beaty and hired Miles in his first major move.
Top five games/events
In the Midwest Region final, KU sweated out Grayson Allen’s jumper at the end of regulation that just missed. Malik Newman then took over, scoring all 13 extra-period points for Jayhawks, who advanced to Final Four.
Yeah, a Chiefs loss, but this was the NFL’s game of the year. Originally set for Mexico City and moved to Los Angeles, this amazing primetime shootout included six touchdown passes and 478 yards from Patrick Mahomes ... which, against the Rams, on this day, anyway, wasn’t enough.
K-State sought its first victory over Kentucky in 10 meetings and got it in the Sweet 16. A drive by Barry Brown, Jr., with 18 seconds remaining, proved to be the game-winner.
A season-saver for the Tigers, who had dropped four of their previous five. Drew Lock threw three touchdown passes against the No. 11 Gators.
The scene is what made this MLS conference final a memorable contest. Children’s Mercy Park was juiced as several Chiefs players, including Patrick Mahomes, led the pregame cheers.