The football version of a music video shoot is going down in a cavernous studio that’s starting to get warmer than the temperature outside. It’s a picture-perfect day in the middle of April in Hollywood. Meanwhile, inside, it’s dark and a little stuffy as the director barks out orders over the booming beats of a playlist featuring Billboard Hot 100 hits from Gucci Mane and Offset, among others. After at least an hour of capturing the signature movements and mannerisms of the best young quarterback in the NFL, a production crew of almost two dozen still has another hour to go before they’ve logged every shot on their list.
That’s because Patrick Mahomes—decked out in his full Kansas City Chiefs uniform as he stands in front of a gigantic screen flashing blindingly sharp red and yellow graphics—has a lot of signature moves. He’s asked to flex and fake scream for the camera after he pretends to throw a bomb for a touchdown. Between takes, he bops to 21 Savage. Next up, Mahomes darts across the studio like he’s on the run and throws across his body to a PA playing receiver. Stylists and hangers-on move to the other side of the studio so they aren’t blown up by a pass the PA can’t handle from Mahomes’ rifle of a right arm. After that, he tosses some of those preposterously accurate sidearm passes the NFL hasn’t seen on the regular since Brett Favre’s Green Bay heyday. The only thing the production squad seemingly fails to document is one of his absurd, improvised left-handed throws.
Mahomes spends half a day at Line Studios doing take after take, because capturing his uncanny improvisational skills with cameras only a few feet away ain’t easy. The director, acting like a coach, asks Mahomes to give him more energy.
“That was 50 percent. I need 75 percent on this one,” he says.
“I got you,” Mahomes replies.
More energy, more angles, more takes until the right shot is captured. It’s important they nail it because what they get on film here will be seen by millions tuning into the NFL Draft. That’s when Mahomes will be anointed as a very big deal among a specific segment of football fans.
Revealed here, the 23-year-old Chiefs signal caller is the cover star of Madden NFL 20. The third-youngest player to grace the game’s cover, Mahomes joins the likes of Barry Sanders, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Odell Beckham Jr. as the face of North America’s best-selling sports video game of all time. It’s incredibly cliché for Mahomes to say it’s a dream come true, but like just about every kid who grew playing Madden, he’d be lying if he said he didn’t think about earning the coveted cover one day.
“It’s something that I’ve dreamed about, and to finally get that at a young age is really cool,” says Mahomes, in his distinct, raspy voice that’s been compared to Kermit the Frog’s but really sounds like he has something lodged in his throat. “I’ll have it framed at my house.”
It’s been an incredible come-up for someone whose best sport growing up was basketball and who was told he had a good chance of following the footsteps of his father—former major league reliever Pat Mahomes—into professional baseball. Instead, as a teen, Mahomes chose not to concentrate on baseball. He says he could’ve been taken in the first two or three rounds of the amateur draft if he had a great senior season on the diamond.
“I just knew that every sport that I played in, we were always good and we always had success as a team, and I always knew I was the top guy,” says Mahomes. “I was always the pitcher, and in basketball I was always the scorer. I knew that there was a chance I could go play professional sports. I did not think it was going to be football. That was the last choice that I ended up making.”
Nonetheless, he won the competition to become the starting QB at his high school in Whitehouse, Texas, about two hours southeast of Dallas, as a junior. He then became an overlooked college recruit who ultimately went to Texas Tech. Three seasons later, in the wake of his junior year, he left and defied projections when the Chiefs traded up to select him with the 10th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Two years after leaving college, he’s a certified superstar. At this time last year, just before the Chiefs were ready to kick off OTAs, Mahomes was playing golf. Or maybe some pickup basketball. This past February, though, after a clip of him balling went viral, the Chiefs strongly encouraged their franchise player to stick with the sticks, lest he tear something and cost the team the 2019 season.
Considering people have dubbed Mahomes Steph Curry in a Helmet, you kind of get where the Chiefs are coming from. Protect the franchise—which, after his revelation of a sophomore season in the NFL, Mahomes most assuredly is—at all costs. His regular season was mind-boggling, and the comparison to the NBA’s best shooter is apt—in style, in production, in GTFOH moments. The season he “didn’t expect”—50 TDs, 5,097 yards, and just 12 INTs—is the kind first year starters have no business authoring. Basically, he became a nightmare overnight, putting NFL defenders and defensive coordinators on notice.
“I just knew that every sport that I played in, we were always good and we always had success as a team, and I always knew I was the top guy.”
Aaron Donald got an up-close-and-personal look at Mahomes during one of the most memorable regular-season games in recent memory. Two days before Thanksgiving, on Monday Night Football, Mahomes threw six touchdowns as the Chiefs put up 51 points on the Rams in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Kansas City, of course, lost the shootout by a field goal thanks in part to two Mahomes interceptions over the final 1:18. Donald, the NFL’s 2018 Defensive Player of the Year, who sacked Mahomes twice that night, couldn’t clown on the young quarterback after his final mistake. He was way too impressed.
“After the game, after he threw the last interception, he put his head down,” says Donald. “I came up to him and patted him on the back, and I let him know, ‘You’re going to be one hell of a football player. You keep your head up and keep working. You’re definitely a special football player and got a lot of talent.’ Lot of respect for that guy.”
If you weren’t mesmerized by Mahomes after that game, you’re either a hater or stuck in the 20th century, thinking football isn’t fun when a quarterback fires it almost every down. Expectations for his first season under center for the Chiefs were high, considering the franchise shipped off Alex Smith to Washington so Mahomes could take over. Plus, there were reports during his rookie year that he was the best QB on the roster despite being stuck on the bench until the season finale. But if you predicted he would be the league’s most valuable player and also earn Offensive Player of the Year honors, quit the bullshit. Few saw it coming, few defenses could do much to stop him, and now at least half of the league’s general managers would swear in private they’re feeling pressure trying to find a similar, freakishly gifted quarterback.
Like a modern-day football version of Paul Bunyan, there are a number of incredible tall tales about Mahomes and his athletic abilities as a child. Ask about them and Mahomes will smile devilishly, like he knows he was a badass—and still is—no matter the playing surface. There’s the one where his friend claimed Mahomes struck out only twice between the ages of 7 and 18. His favorite is the one where he threw the ball so hard as a tyke that he destroyed some poor older kid’s face.
“That was 100 percent legit,” says Mahomes. “I was 4 years old. I had been playing catch and throwing with my dad my entire life already. I was in tee ball, but they moved me up to the older league. I was playing with kids 6, 7 years old, and I was maybe 4, 5 years old. They gave me a ball at shortstop. First practice, I flipped it over to the guy and it hit him right in the middle of his nose and his glasses broke. They told me I either had to roll it or lob it to him from now on.”
Ironically enough, that was the moment when Mahomes says he knew he had a gift. Since his father spent 11 years as a right-handed reliever in the majors, the kid already had more athletic genes than most from day one. Thanks to the tutelage of his pops, Mahomes could fire darts across the diamond when most kids would rather pick dandelions in the outfield.
“When I grew up, I would always go to baseball tournaments and people would go up to my parents and say, ‘Man, your kid has an amazing arm,’ and stuff like that,” says Mahomes. “So that was the moment when I thought the arm could take me somewhere.”
When you consider his rocket for an arm, his exceptional improvisational skills, and the confidence of youth, it’s easy to see why Mahomes looks like he’s having way more fun on the field than anyone else. It makes for a natural comparison to Curry. The way the Warriors point guard can pull up from anywhere, hit a dagger, and shimmy his way back down the court, Mahomes fires missiles into windows few have any business dreaming about, then flexes. The way Curry nails impossible, demoralizing threes like they’re nothing, when Mahomes connects for a first down on a broken play, you feel the defense’s spirit being crushed. And while both Mahomes and Curry are humble in front of a microphone, you can’t stop them from stuntin’ in front of thousands when they’re in the zone. But the comparisons go deeper than that.
Both are sons of professional athletes. Neither was heavily recruited out of high school. Stylistically speaking, we know Curry altered the NBA with his unique game and is probably single-handedly responsible for kids thinking three-pointers are as cool a dunks. How long before kids in high school and college mimic Mahomes’ style of no-look passes and improvised left-hand tosses? Curry’s a two-time NBA MVP, already a Hall of Famer with three championships to his name. So while Mahomes doesn’t want us to go too crazy with the comparisons, he understands them.
“There’s still a long ways to go for me to get to that level,” says Mahomes. “He was kinda overlooked coming out of high school. His dad was a professional athlete. He changed the game. He played it not the way everyone was playing it at the time, and he had a lot of success doing it. For me, it’s kind of the same thing. Going and playing a different style of football than anybody plays at quarterback, I’m trying to do what I can to take over the game and win some championships like he did.”
Yes, Mahomes is the face of Madden NFL 20, but his fingerprints will also be all over the game. He served as a consultant this year, since Madden is unveiling a new feature called “Face of the Franchise: QB1.” Basically, Madden players can now go through the grueling process, from college to the combine to the league, and know what it really takes to become a star. Who better than Mahomes to offer up his two cents about what it’s like to move from undervalued college prospect to franchise player in a few short years?
“They picked my brain like, ‘What is the quarterback process going through?’” says Mahomes. “I think it’s going to be awesome that you can go back and play those College Football Playoffs and then go straight to the combine and draft meetings that everyone wants to be a part of. Then you get to take over a franchise.”
Growing up in Texas, Mahomes would play Madden as the Cowboys and even had a few epic showdowns with his father. As he got a little older, Mahomes migrated to offensively explosive squads like the Steelers featuring Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Guess who he’s playing with these days.
“I just kind of floated around with guys that had great skill position players, great receivers, and that’s why now I can play with the Chiefs,” says Mahomes. “Because we’ve got the best skill position guys in the league.”
Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins, to name the most productive Chiefs, are a big reason why Mahomes was the runaway MVP. Football is the ultimate team game, so they deserve props for helping make their QB look strong enough to receive 41 votes compared to second-place finisher Drew Brees’ nine. Brees had an awesome season, but Mahomes was historic and unexpected. Yeah, he’s a former first-round draft pick, but who thought he would become the second QB in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 TDs? He averaged 9.6 yards per attempt, or basically a first down every time he let it rip. Those are video game numbers.
Now you’re going to see his mug every time you fire up Madden. The honor doesn’t mean Mahomes is blowing up. It means he’s a superstar. We could be seeing just the start of a truly transcendent career. You’d be a fool to argue he doesn’t already belong in the mythical club of elite quarterbacks. Play that hypothetical game of “Who would you build your franchise around?” and he’d be the pick. Of course, reaching that status means more responsibilities, more commitments, and more time in front of a camera when he’s not playing football. He hasn’t gone full Hollywood on us, not even close. But life will probably never be the same.
“Last year, I was probably just playing golf” during the off-season, says Mahomes. “Now I have to come out and do these photo shoots. But it’s awesome.”