The line started forming in front of the Yahoo Sports set at 3 p.m.
Up ahead, people were still snaking through a short cue in front of the Old Spice set to spend a couple seconds with Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, one of a handful of players doing a meet-and-greet through the brand’s area at Friday afternoon’s NFL Experience.
But Jason Etzen was planning ahead.
At 5:30 p.m., Patrick Mahomes would start signing autographs for 30 minutes. Wearing Mahomes shirts and jerseys, the Olathe North High graduate and his two kids, Heinrich, 7, and Sarang, 8, were not going to miss the chance to meet the Chiefs’s star quarterback.
“We were back in Kansas City in March and got to meet him there,” Etzen said. “Got some signatures and talked to him a little bit and (he’s) just real humble guy, real intelligent guy. He loves Kansas City. Definitely, as a Kansas City native, it makes us proud to have him there.”
Two years ago, Mahomes and his agents roamed the maze of radio row tables in Houston, begging outlets to put the young quarterback on their shows. Back then, Mahomes was an invisible second-round prospect from an underperforming college program in West Texas.
Friday afternoon, though, he was the main attraction at the final day of radio row in Atlanta.
Housed in the middle of the NFL Experience, radio row was teeming with fans and media craning their necks and hoisting their phones high in the air to get a glimpse or snap a picture of the potential NFL MVP-to-be. Even though signs forbidding autographs ringed the large event space at the Atlanta World Congress building, fans still held out football and jerseys for Mahomes to sign.
Nearby, Mahomes’ agent, Chris Cabott, collected a stack of business cards from radio hosts and other credentialed people who wanted a minute of Mahomes’ time when others almost couldn’t be bothered to give him one of theirs two years earlier.
Mahomes hustled in and out of radio row throughout the afternoon, even spending a couple minutes on a couch in the media lounge with Today Show host Craig Melvin. Nearby, two members of The Backstreet Boys sat on another couch eating a quick lunch and doing a phone interview. One of them, Kevin Richardson, grew up as a huge Chiefs fan.
“Listen, he almost couldn’t even talk,” said bandmate Brian Littrell. “We were being interviewed, and he was like, ‘Hey, Pat Mahomes, he’s right here.’”
Even when Mahomes wasn’t in the cavernous room, he still caused a buzz.
As the line by the Yahoo set got longer and longer, people walking by marveled about who could attract that much attention.
“All for this Old Spice thing?” one fan said. “What was in that?”
But people quickly caught on that the line — which grew to be more than 150 people — was for Mahomes.
“This is why Mahomes is going to be the new highest-paid player,” one man said to another as they passed.
A few minutes after Etzen started forming the line, Julie and Jeff Hagar joined him. Like Ezten, the Hagars were Midwest transplants in Atlanta. Both Mizzou grads, the Hagars moved to Atlanta from Lee’s Summit 17 years ago and have maintained their Chiefs fandom from a distance.
Friday afternoon, they took their two sons, Jacob, 9, and Jackson, 6, out of school a little early to meet their favorite player.
A little farther back in line, Henry Knott stood with his grandmother, wearing a Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield jersey. The 13-year-old got in line around 4 p.m. and became fast friends with 19-year-old Tyler Phanyoraj, a Denver Broncos fan standing behind him.
“He’s, like, the best gunslinger in the league,” Knott said of Mahomes. “He’s got a cannon.”
About a dozen people behind their group was Tonya Music. It didn’t matter that the New Orleans Saints fan was wearing yellow and black Mardi Gras beads over a Drew Brees jersey. She was rooting for Brees, the Saints quarterback, to win the MVP, but she still wanted to meet Mahomes.
“He’s a pretty good quarterback,” she said. “We were first in line to meet (Chiefs tight end) Travis Kelce earlier, and we didn’t anticipate the line would be this bad.”
Music, who got in line around 4:20 p.m., drove up from New Orleans with her husband and a friend. Her husband Gene, an Oakland Raiders fan, had a specific message for Mahomes.
“I need to thank him for winning two of my fantasy leagues,” he said.
Behind them, another cluster of Chiefs fans stood patiently. Though he lives in Atlanta, Brian Winters and his family have been Chiefs season-ticket holders for 52 years. Winters nearly got to meet Mahomes at the Chiefs’ preseason game in Atlanta, where the quarterback threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to receiver Tyreek Hill.
On Friday, Winters helped two young boys get their jerseys signed by Mahomes while he settled for a quick hello.
“As a grown 50 year old, I was like, ‘Some day I’ll meet Patrick,’” Winters said. “Good karma. That’s the whole point. As a Chiefs fan, that’s what’s awesome. Patrick Mahomes has literally, almost like Steph Curry, brought this whole new generation of kids. I just love that connection Patrick has.”
Colton Robertson, a 10-year-old from Alabama, is one of those kids. Even though he wore a navy-blue Tom Brady jersey while his dad, Jeff, wore a New England Patriots T-shirt, Robertson said Mahomes is one of his favorite players.
“Mostly I want to meet Patrick Mahomes because no one else gets to meet him and gets this opportunity,” Colton said.
Asked to choose between Brady and Mahomes for his favorite player, Colton thought hard.
“Dak Prescott,” he said, making his dad laugh as he deftly avoided picking between the two.
Back at the front of the line, Jason Etzen’s daughter, Sarang, had to go to the bathroom. It was 5:20 p.m., and Mahomes would be there any minute. With a couple of Old Spice representatives promising to keep his spot in line, Jason hustled his kids back to the bathroom. They returned at 5:28 as Mahomes and his entourage rolled on to the set, serenaded by MVP chants.
Mahomes went in the back and changed from his suit jacket to a red Old Spice T-shirt.
After watching Mahomes pose with the brand’s personal grooming products, the fans who waited more than two and a half hours to meet the quarterback began taking turns having him sign Old Spice deodorant sticks, a requirement of the meet-and-greet. Even though the event was scheduled to last for 30 minutes, overwhelming demand prompted the group to extend the signing session by 15 minutes.
It was a long wait for a quick brush with the star of the NFL, but it was worth it.
“I see him as the MVP,” Tyler Phanyoraj said. “I see him as one of those people who achieved more than some quarterbacks ever.”