KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It seems football fans everywhere are suddenly on the Kansas City Chiefs’ bandwagon, enthralled by their record-setting young quarterback and exciting playmakers and hopeful their amiable old coach can finally win the big one.
Then again, maybe they’re just fans of anybody facing New England.
The Patriots have dominated the AFC for nearly two decades, and the coach-quarterback combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be playing in an eighth consecutive conference title game Sunday night when New England visits the Chiefs at frigid, hostile Arrowhead Stadium.
But whereas Brady& Co. once instilled awe in their opponents, the Chiefs view their showdown as an opportunity for Patrick Mahomes to take the baton as the league’s best quarterback and for Kansas City, seeking its first Super Bowl appearance in 49 years , to surpass the Patriots as the NFL’s “it” team.
“It’ll be huge,” Mahomes said. “When I got here, the goal was to win the AFC championship and get to the Super Bowl, and win that. To do that early in my career, it would be a huge thing.”
There aren’t two more dichotomous teams than the Patriots and Chiefs.
New England has won five Super Bowls during the Belichick-Brady era, setting all kinds of records along the way. The cruel efficiency with which they’ve sliced up the AFC has made them the bane of fans everywhere but New England and given them the kind of unbeatable aura that accompanied the New York Yankees teams of Derek Jeter and the Chicago Bulls teams of Michael Jordan.
It’s not just petty jealousy, though. Many fans have been turned off by Deflategate, Spygate and other instances over the years that have saddled the Patriots with a rather unsavory reputation.
Brady has mostly shrugged it off. So has Belichick, who almost seems to embrace the villain role.
“I don’t think about it too much, what people might say or think,” said Brady, whose team is a rare playoff underdog Sunday. “I know we’re playing against a very good football team. They’re the first seed for a reason. They’ve had a great season and we’re going to have to go into a really tough environment and play our best football, and it’s a great opportunity for us.”
On the flip side are the Chiefs, a team that dominated the AFC throughout the 1990s but reached only one conference title game. They were the league’s worst franchise six years ago, when Andy Reid came aboard , but have become a perennial playoff team that was always missing that certain something.
They found it when they drafted Mahomes nearly two years ago .
The quarterback shattered just about every franchise passing record in his first season as a starter, and his down-home style has made him a fan favorite. Kids dressed up like him for Halloween, his curly Mohawk has become the trend at local barbershops, and the aw-shucks way Mahomes has embraced his stunning success has only made him more endearing.
“I think he’s a great player on a great team that’s very well-coached,” Belichick said. “They have a great scheme and a great system. He’s got a ton of weapons, so he’ll be tough to handle, as will their entire offense, as will their entire team. We’ll need our best game.”