This, too, shall pass. It always helps to remember that. Just the same, it takes a lot to disperse lingering ghosts, doesn’t it? Especially when the paranoia was almost tangible among Chiefs fans, who have endured a bizarre array of tortured terminations for even their most seemingly promising teams.
At some point, the cynicism became reflexive, almost hard-wired in by a generation of experiences telling you that to believe is virtually the same as asking to get kicked in the teeth. Keep them gritted and watch at your own risk.
Flinching flashbacks remained almost a form of muscle memory you may have experienced as recently as Saturday. Even when for all logical reasons you knew that the dynamics in this equation are different because of the incomprehensible capabilities of Patrick Mahomes.
A blocked punt knee-jerks you back to, say, a quarterback completing a touchdown pass to himself; Mahomes getting up gimpy leads to lumps in throats and a sudden spike in readership about backup Chad Henne on kansascity.com; a fumble deep in Chiefs territory transports your mind to a blown 38-10 lead.
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And it turns out the Chiefs weren’t setting you up for another soul-crushing collapse at Arrowhead Stadium, where they had lost an NFL record six straight playoff games since 1994.
Now, the Chiefs may or may not beat the vaunted New England Patriots on Sunday, when for the first time in their 59-year franchise history they will play host to a league or conference title game.
No doubt some will cling to the notion of the Chiefs still being gripped in some tractor beam of their bleak postseason history since winning the Super Bowl in 1970. Particularly in contrast with the mystique of the Patriots, who, ho-hum, are in this round for the eighth straight year and 13th time in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
“This isn’t their first rodeo here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday, adding that the Patriots are “arguably one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the game.”
Despite Brady’s goofy and laughable assertion Sunday that some vague “everybody” now thinks the Patriots stink and the fact the Chiefs open as three-point betting favorites, who could be surprised if the Belichick-Brady machine wins a ninth AFC title and even its sixth Super Bowl?
What will be, will be, of course.
But at least this much you can know: True to Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston’s line that bears as much repeating as possible, “Don’t let the past poison your future,” echoing Mahomes’ notion that “we’re a different generation,” the Chiefs weren’t encumbered by their history entering the Colts game.
And, at last, that liberates Chiefs fans, who perhaps might even appreciate now how some things even are falling their way.
For instance, one ridiculous break, a crazy desperation touchdown by the Dolphins (7-9) to beat the Patriots in December, helps account for what made this a home game instead of a visit to the funhouse of Gillette Stadium — where wacky things happen like, you know, the Patriots being penalized zero times when the teams met in October.
So, finally, this all can be purely about the here and now for fans as much as players. It can be about embracing this moment and the awesome opportunity to try to become the best by beating the best. It can simply be about the game itself.
Stuff like the ever-intriguing Reid-Belichick coaching matchup (Belichick has a 6-2 advantage in games between the two winningest active coaches in the NFL). And the fascinating subplot inherent in the 41-year-old Brady vs. the 23-year-old Mahomes: the most successful quarterback in postseason history vs. the prodigy who already is altering the dimensions of the sport and setting a stage for a future of infinite possibilities.
Before their meeting in October, the two gushed over each other, with Brady offering an encapsulation that underscores all of this even now: “I think for anyone who is a fan of football,” he said, “you want to see younger players carry the torch.”
Following the sneak preview that made the prospect of a rematch enticing, a 43-40 Kansas City loss after Mahomes shrugged off a rough first half to lead the Chiefs back from a 24-9 deficit, Mahomes told Brady “good luck the rest of the season” and that he hoped they might get to meet again about now.
Maybe that game informs some impressions of what this game could hold. But in the spirit of letting go of the past, it’s also worth noting how many things either have changed or don’t figure to go the same way.
Kareem Hunt, who had 185 all-purpose yards, is no longer with the Chiefs — though he’s increasingly well-replaced by Damien Williams. Meanwhile, the Chiefs that night were without Houston, now a major factor for a suspect defense infused by other changes (such as cornerback Charvarius Ward for Orlando Scandrick): That unit suddenly has surrendered just nine points in the last two games and allowed only 18 points a game at Arrowhead during the season.
The Patriots, who average 21.6 points on the road, didn’t punt that night. Mahomes was making just his seventh NFL start. And so on.
That was then, though, this is now.
And here the Chiefs stand, free to rise or fall on the merits of the precious present.
That’s something they obviously already knew and felt … but something fans are safe to embrace now, too. It’s always been all about the game itself, of course, but it’s nice to be reminded of that after all this time.