For a sense of the archaic context of the latest record broken by Chiefs quarterback phenomenon Patrick Mahomes, we turned Sunday to the men most directly responsible for the previous franchise record for touchdown passes in a season set in 1964 — while the Chiefs still were in the AFL.
Len Dawson’s 30th touchdown pass that season, a record that held up until Mahomes threw his 31st in the Chiefs’ 26-14 victory over Arizona on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, went for 55 yards to Chris Burford in a 24-7 victory over the Jets that capped a 7-7 season.
Owning the record surely was a fine thing for Dawson, though, really, it was merely a minor distinction in a Pro Football Hall of Fame career that included three AFL titles and the only Super Bowl the Chiefs ever have won.
Safe to say the 83-year-old in his first fall outside the booth after 34 years with the Chiefs Broadcast Network wasn’t exactly obsessed with it. In fact, he was grateful to get to talk about the passing of the torch … at least as a reprieve from blowing leaves.
“I didn’t even know it was (still) there; I had no idea until the last week or so. It really wasn’t in my thoughts,” he said, laughing and adding, “Hey, it was going to be overcome. … It’s just as well it’s now: He’s a heck of a player.”
Like Dawson, Burford didn’t have an overly sentimental attachment to that piece of history.
“That was more than a few weeks ago,” Burford said, laughing, from his home in Nevada. “As they say, records are made to be broken.”
Maybe especially this one, which in some small way could be said to resemble the dynamics of Steve Balboni’s Royals home-run record of 36 in 1985 holding up more than 30 years before Mike Moustakas broke it with 38 in 2017.
A once-impressive number has to sit still a long time to seem pedestrian.
In this case, it somehow survived the NFL-AFL merger, man going to the moon, the advent of the internet, major changes in the nature of the game and a host of quarterbacks who’ve started for the Chiefs since Dawson retired after the 1975 season.
But it couldn’t stand for even 10 full games in Mahomes’ debut season as the Chiefs starter, a season that already has made him a revelation for Chiefs fans.
He entered the game Sunday with 29 and tied Dawson’s record 56 seconds later on a 37-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill. The record-breaker also was to Hill, a 14-yarder with 5 minutes 31 seconds left.
Coincidentally, as it happens, it was punctuated by Hill climbing into the stands and commandeering a TV camera that captured teammates and the penalty flag being thrown for his ridiculous-but-awesome celebration.
Funny thing is, Mahomes had been in front of the camera as Hill seized it, but Hill didn’t seem to get him framed up. And after initially pretending he had orchestrated this to commemorate Mahomes’ moment, Hill confessed he hadn’t known about it being a milestone.
Even Hill’s shenanigans illustrated the contrast and duration in the record-setting eras.
When Burford in 1964 took the pass from Dawson to score what became a record-setting touchdown he doesn’t specifically recall, well, he could say with conviction that he probably just gave the ball to the referee.
“I don’t think we were that into ourselves,” said Burford, who is in the Chiefs Ring of Honor, laughing and adding the mantra of the era to “act like you’ve been there before.”
Never mind that the Chiefs haven’t been here for a very long time.
But it’s also true that beyond encapsulating the thrill of following the Chiefs this season, the record itself is a secondary matter. Perhaps running back Spencer Ware said it best: “I’m pretty sure it is a good achievement,” he said.
And … that’s about it.
Instead, what Mahomes is doing is all about the context of the moment for the 9-1 Chiefs, who bolstered their grasp on the No. 1 seed in the AFC when the Patriots (7-3) lost 34-10 Sunday at Tennessee.
“He’s playing his heart out,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I love the backside of that: the preparation and how he goes about his business there day-in and day-out. … (He) comes out every day bringing energy, and he makes sure that he has his things in order. …
“He’s in a position where he can make everyone better around him, and he’s doing that.”
Now this is about Mahomes continuing to get better as the Chiefs seek to take advantage of a precious opportunity for a deep playoff run. Because of a family emergency, Mahomes was not available to speak after the game. But his words from last week still are apt.
“Len has had a ton of success in the NFL and was kind of ahead of his time, throwing all those touchdowns,” he said. “The record has stood for a very long time. It would be awesome to pass that, but hopefully we can just keep building and get more wins.”
In fact, the game against the Cardinals reiterated the point that this season is a work in progress — or needs to be if it’s going to matter.
While Mahomes completed 21 of 28 passes for 249 yards (the fewest in his 11 NFL starts) and the two touchdowns to Hill, he also was sacked five times and seemed to absorb more punishment than ever before.
Most of those appeared directly attributable to lapses in line play, but Mahomes also needed either to get the ball out faster a couple times, check into something else with heavy rushes coming or check down more into quick passes.
Even transformative, once-in-a-generation (or two) talents have to keep improving, something Dawson also stressed as he considered what he’s been seeing in Mahomes.
“He’s got talent, and he’s got talented people around him,” said Dawson, who reminds that any offense is only as good as its offensive line. “Just keep learning and see what you do best.”
While Lenny the Cool hasn’t gotten to know Mahomes well yet, he has the sense of him being a “good kid” with the right temperament to do special things – the sort of things that go well beyond breaking a 54-year-old record whose time had long since come.
“I would say to keep on the course, really, and keep working,” Dawson said. “This is just the beginning.”