Vahe Gregorian

On a Chiefs day like no other, their past is honored, their present, future affirmed

Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the NFL MVP

After a terrific season throwing 50 touchdowns and getting the Chiefs to the AFC Championship , Patrick Mahomes is the NFL's MVP.
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After a terrific season throwing 50 touchdowns and getting the Chiefs to the AFC Championship , Patrick Mahomes is the NFL's MVP.

A beautiful day for the Chiefs organization Saturday in Atlanta was certainly no substitute for what might have been on Sunday, of course. Especially amid the lingering anguish of the tantalizing near-miss against New England in the AFC Championship Game, which represented the closest the Chiefs have come to a Super Bowl berth since winning Super Bowl IV in 1970.

No one can be blamed for still actively mourning that 37-31 overtime loss to the Patriots and being simply over the NFL this weekend. And without the clarifying perspective of time, the rare and momentous developments Saturday may even feel hollow in the moment.

But it’s worth pausing and appreciating a special day in franchise history that still said something substantial.

The day was about an indelible homage to glories of the past — immortalizing Johnny Robinson and Tony Gonzalez by ushering them into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was about both resounding affirmation of the present and a harbinger of the future with 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes being voted the NFL’s most valuable player over longtime star quarterback Drew Brees of New Orleans.

All at once, the Chiefs will be enshrining their 12th and 13th Hall of Famers and relishing Mahomes as their first MVP: He joins George Brett of the Royals (1980) as the only athlete to win such an award for a Kansas City team in any of the traditional four major North American sports leagues.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the 2018 NFL Most Valuable Player.

Seldom since the first Hall of Fame class in 1963 have two men from the same organization been named to the Hall of Fame in the same year (though it happened for Denver this year, too, with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and former defensive back Champ Bailey, who first played for Washington, voted in).

Scarcely, if ever, has it happened simultaneously with that franchise boasting the MVP from the previous season.

In a sense, of course, this was all just a quirk of fate. Three unrelated events coinciding and converging. But each phase of it not only held deep meaning of its own but also was testament to something more.

“Patrick’s deserving of the MVP,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told Brooke Pryor of The Star in Atlanta on Friday, when he could only confidently hope all three would be thus recognized. “Tony G., if there’s ever somebody deserving of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, it’s Tony. And then Johnny Robinson has been deserving for almost 50 years …

“I think it’s just a celebration of three different eras of Chiefs football and the success that we’ve had in those eras. Going back to the first Super Bowl team, the old Dallas Texans, early Chiefs teams, Tony Gonzalez and the great teams we’ve had when he was a part of the franchise and now Patrick, who represents 2018 and the future.

What that bodes for the future is perhaps the most consequential takeaway of the day — though it’s not like Mahomes needed this stamp to verify what he means to the Chiefs.

But the combined effect had resonance of its own.

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With the honoring of the 80-year-old Robinson, an original franchise player who was a star in the 23-7 Super Bowl victory over the Vikings; an electrifying force in Gonzalez, who revolutionized the tight end position; and the transformational play and infinite potential of Mahomes, this was a tale about the spectrum of Chiefs history.

On the eve of Super Bowl LIII between the Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, it was a day that commemorated where the Chiefs have been and essentially validates where they are going.

It fused together the contrasting overdue recognition of Robinson, the lone senior finalist this year who had been snubbed six times as a modern-era finalist; Gonzalez being named the first year he was eligible; and Mahomes in his first year as a starter after becoming just the second NFL quarterback to throw for at least 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards in a season.

Few, if any, had waited longer to receive his due than Robinson, effectively the quarterback of the Chiefs’ defenses of the 1960s and early 1970s who had 57 career interceptions and a knack for the big play in the biggest of moments.

During a visit to his home in Louisiana by The Star last summer, Robinson stood in his den and gazed at a Hall of Fame-produced poster depicting the best players of the 1960s in the AFL and NFL and wondered if he would remain the only one on it not enshrined.

Chiefs safety Johnny Robinson, 80, was elected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday after a decades long wait.

Robinson’s step-son, Bob Thompson, at the time surmised that perhaps it was for the best that Robinson hadn’t been selected in the 1980s since that might have inhibited the awe-inspiring work he’s done for nearly four decades operating the Johnny Robinson Boys Home.

“Your life changes. And because of the demands that would have been on him (as a Hall of Famer), I don’t think it would be like it is: I don’t know if there would be a Boys Home,” Thompson said then. “I’m praying that God saved the best for last; I’m just hoping that’s what it is.”

Gonzalez, who spent his last five seasons in Atlanta after being traded by new general manager Scott Pioli in 2009, had nearly the opposite experience of Robinson — who never was anything but a Texan-Chief.

Former Chief Tony Gonzalez was overwhelmed when he learned he would be the in the 2019 Hall of Fame class.

In a recent interview with The Star, former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson recalled trading up in the 1997 draft to acquire Gonzalez, who at the time was represented by Leigh Steinberg — who now co-represents Mahomes. Peterson remembered that he had angered Gonzalez by refusing to trade him with the team sputtering in 2007 and 2008, but he considered Gonzalez too valuable to the organization on the field and off with his philanthropic work.

“You could tell right away he was different; on team charter flights, he was reading motivational books,” said Peterson, who also drafted Hall of Famers Will Shields and Derrick Thomas. “He really, really wanted to be the very, very best.”

He became the first tight end elected his first time up after a 17-year career in which he fundamentally changed the nature of the position. He remains second in NFL history — among all players — with 1,325 receptions and finished his career with 15,127 yards and 111 touchdowns.

And then there’s the transcendent Mahomes, who almost singlehandedly rekindled faith in the organization and belief that the future will include the first Super Bowl(s) in a half-century or so.

It’s not the same as playing in a Super Bowl right here, right now, of course. But it certainly made for a day of rightful pride for the organization — and one of renewed promise, too.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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