The act of burning a jersey is silly, usually petty, and almost always a cry for attention.
After an(other) excruciating playoff loss, at least one Chiefs fan did that with an Alex Smith jersey, and because this is the 21st century, he shared the video on social media. The message is unclear.
Maybe he is blaming the quarterback with the league’s highest passer rating and most success on downfield passes this season for the disappointment. Maybe he’s blaming the quarterback who threw two touchdowns and no interceptions for a loss in which the play calling, receivers, tackling, scheme, health, kicker and, yes, officials all weren’t good enough.
Maybe this is an intended metaphor about a new beginning, with a new quarterback.
Whatever. Doesn’t matter, other than serving as an anecdotal example to open a column making a point I’ve been thinking about for months:
Bless his heart, Patrick Mahomes should know what’s coming.
Smith just played the season of his professional life, one that Mahomes is unlikely to match next year, and has thrown nine touchdowns and two interceptions in five playoff games in Kansas City. And a lot of us can’t wait to get rid of him. At least one of us burned his jersey. This is so weird.
Look, the Chiefs will likely trade Smith. That’s the smart move, anyway, because Mahomes is freakishly talented, showed well in his spot start in Denver, and the team around him could be improved with the $17 million in cap space and draft capital gained in trading Smith.
Assuming that happens, Mahomes will be the Chiefs’ starting quarterback in 2018 and begin his career with more pressure and higher expectations than any athlete in the history of Kansas City sports, with the possible exception of Alex Gordon.
Chiefs fans have been waiting decades for Mahomes. That is not hyperbole. The year he was born the Chiefs won the AFC West with a former 49ers backup and lost their first playoff game, at home, atrociously.
Even back then, many fans were tired of someone else’s backup proving just good enough to lose in the playoffs. Even back then, many fans thought the Chiefs had gone too long without drafting and developing their own quarterback. Even back then, many fans wanted something fresh.
That was 22 years ago.
The Chiefs just won the AFC West with a former 49ers backup and lost their first playoff game, at home, atrociously. The story hasn’t changed so much as it’s gone from molehill to mountain, snowball to boulder.
Dreams of someone exactly like Mahomes are older than Mahomes. Babies have been raised by parents complaining about the Chiefs not drafting their own quarterback. Some of those babies have now graduated college, bought homes, become doctors.
All of those hopes and complaints will now land on Mahomes, who spent much of last year’s training camp learning how to take a snap from under center.
Assuming Smith is traded, and assuming coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach use the flexibility to improve the roster, Mahomes will be surrounded by the most complete team the Chiefs are capable of employing.
We can talk as much as we want about “growing pains” and “learning curves,” but the downsides always sound better in theory than they feel in practice.
In 2012, many Chiefs fans told themselves they just wanted their team to not stink. Five years after that, many of us don’t care about that. It’s about the playoffs now.
For decades, Royals fans told themselves they just wanted their team to be competitive. Two years after a parade, many are already lamenting a rebuild. Mike Sweeney was once the most popular athlete in town, other than Tony Gonzalez. The contract extension he signed to say in Kansas City was still fresh when he started hearing boos at home games.
None of this makes Kansas City fans mean, unfair, unique, or even rare. Just makes us fans.
When I first started thinking about all of this, I had in my head that Kansas City is particularly tough on quarterbacks. But with more consideration, I don’t think that’s true. Lots of places are tough on quarterbacks — Cleveland and Washington and Chicago and Philadelphia and New York and even New England, where just two years ago some wanted Tom Brady out.
“It’s just part of being in one of those 32 jobs,” said Trent Green, who spent six years with the Chiefs and a total of five more in Washington, St. Louis, and Miami. “The team means so much to the city here. That was something as a player that I consciously thought about. You can affect the mood of the city by the way you play and perform. If the Chiefs have a bad day, you can tell, just going around town. They’re going to act differently.”
Kansas City has a different view on quarterbacks, because the Chiefs went so long without drafting one.
Not just that, but Chiefs fans watched one rival win Super Bowls with a homegrown Hall of Famer quarterback who then became GM and convinced another Hall of Fame quarterback to win a Super Bowl there. The Chiefs’ other rival once went to the Super Bowl with the quarterback the Chiefs dumped for Elvis Grbac.
That can’t help but harden you as a fan, in some ways.
This is a lot to take on. Mahomes is 22. This could’ve been his senior year at Texas Tech. Anyone in his recruiting class who redshirted will play college football next season, too.
He’s inexperienced, even when compared to other quarterbacks his age. He was a baseball player growing up, so his summers were about repeating the mechanics on his fastball, not doing the camps and watching the film and competing in 7-on-7 tournaments like most who eventually make the NFL. He didn’t play football full-time until his sophomore year at Tech.
Look, if we’re taking roll on who’s been caught up in and contributed to Mahomes hype, I stand before you today first in line with my hand pointed to the sky.
His talent and potential are so much of why sports have had my heart all my life. He did nothing to temper my excitement in that win at Denver. He had the bad interception, and was bothered more by blitzes than I thought watching live, but made at least six completions that simply cannot be taught and haven’t been made by a Chiefs quarterback since ever.
This is why I believe this is important, at least relative to the silliness of sports. It’s not just the jersey burners. As Reid might say, We all have a piece of this, ‘k?
Mahomes really might be a star. But it is nearly impossible for him to statistically match the season Smith just had, and the same way the Chiefs’ lack of playoff success these past five years are about more than Smith, fixing what’s missing is about much more than Mahomes.