Chiefs

Inviting way, spirit of improv further distinguish Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes

The emerging face of the NFL, the burgeoning voice of endorsements across the land and the very stuff that dreams are made of here in Kansas City, is unfazed and unspoiled by the pandemonium surrounding his every gesture.

Anyone who truly knows Chiefs phenomenon Patrick Mahomes can see that, whether it’s general manager Brett Veach being struck by how it’s still always “yessir, yessir,” or people he’s known for years and years citing ongoing examples of the empathy and awareness that in some ways account for something like extrasensory perception on the field.

But what gives the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player a certain universal appeal is visible to everyone: His spectacular talents are all the more appreciated because of his uncannily inviting demeanor.

From how he relates to teammates to his encounters with fans to routine dealings with the media, Mahomes’ engaging way might as well be an engraved invitation for anyone who cares about the Chiefs — or even just loves football — to come along with him on this magic ride.

In word and deed, he cordially requests the pleasure of your attendance.

Being confident but never cocky, candid but never condescending and simply ever-eager to please enhances the impact of his presence on anyone in his considerable sphere of influence.

Entering the Chiefs’ game against Indianapolis on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium, that’s been reflected anew in the trust and chemistry percolating within an offense averaging 33.7 points a game despite playing most of the season without three key injured starters: receiver Tyreek Hill, left tackle Eric Fisher and running back Damien Williams.

Even teammates on the other side of the ball will tell you that Mahomes changes the dynamics and expectations because of who he is as both a player and person.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah: Very encouraging, very uplifting,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think when people get on the field with him, they expect to play a certain way. He expects you to play a certain way. I say that to say he lifts everyone around him. He can make people believe that they’re a superstar.

“And I think that’s what you need from a quarterback, a leader. It can be offense, defense, special teams. If you can get guys to play above their potential, that’s a special thing. Not everybody can do that.”

While he’s become more vocal and likely to call out teammates this year, Mahomes is no less reassuring overall.

“We do not have to do anything else other than being ourselves,” he told the offense on the sideline before the Chiefs’ late game-winning drive at Detroit last week, adding, “I truly believe that. If we just be ourselves and trust in each other, we will go down there, we can put points up …

“Believe in your teammate. Believe in each other.”

They listen, we all listen. Because how can you not believe in Mahomes, who seems intent on making things “frictionless,” as punter Dustin Colquitt put it last week?

Colquitt at the time was speaking in the context of what he considers the intent of Mahomes’ inclination to chastise teammates as he tries to choreograph every play toward perfection.

But the notion of being frictionless, which carries such synonyms as amicable, congenial, harmonious and compatible, is an apt term for Mahomes’ broader essence.

A telling snapshot of that is evident in about every dealing he has during postgame interviews.

Mahomes begins virtually every answer with “Yeah, ... ” — which you might attribute to a conscious pause to consider the answer or unconscious reflex. Or what his Whitehouse (Texas) High coach, Adam Cook, figures is a means of gently taking the wheel and steering from there.

Whether it’s all or any of that, though, it’s typically coupled with Mahomes gazing directly at whoever is asking the question.

And it all says he’s accessible and approachable and relatable.

After I mentioned this in a column about Mahomes’ “beyond the arm” for The Star’s 2019 preseason preview, I received a fascinating email from Ned Seaton, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Mercury in Manhattan, Kansas.

That habit of Mahomes’ reminded him of one of the philosophies of Del Close, the late Manhattan native and guru of American improvisational comedy whose protégé’s include the likes of Bill Murray, John Belushi, Tina Fey, Chris Farley and Eric Stonestreet — the Kansas City, Kansas native, Kansas State product and passionate Chiefs fan currently enjoying the role of Andy Reid’s fictional brother, Randy.

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Seaton thought about how that habit of Mahomes’ paralleled Close’s belief that the key to any successful improve is the concept of “yes, and …” because it extends the kinetic reactions that lead to a good comedy bit.

Think of it at as an invitation offered.

Or as Los Angeles Magazine last year cited from “Truth In Comedy,” the gospel of improv co-authored by Close:

“The ‘Yes, & ...’ rule simply means that whenever two actors are onstage, they agree with each other to the nth degree. If one asks the other a question, the other must respond positively and then provide additional information, no matter how small ... moment by moment, the two of them have created a scene that neither of them had planned.”

Mahomes may or may not have comedic sensibilities. But as noted by Seaton, you certainly could consider him a master of improv, extending plays in unprecedented ways that are deeply rooted in preparation.

What he does also reflects an observation from Stonetreet. In a 2015 interview with backstage.com, he spoke of the how his background in improv helped him ultimately get in the audition room for his signature role in the comedy series “Modern Family.”

“Things are not always going to go as planned,” he said, adding that the ability to think on your feet provides enormous confidence. “It’s about not freaking out, being in the present.”

That certainly also speaks to what Mahomes brings to the Chiefs. But it works best when everyone is on the same page, what Close called “a melding of the brains.”

That resounds when you think of Mahomes’ mind-entwined relationship with coach Andy Reid, and when Mahomes says “everyone has to be on the perfect page” as the offense frequently adjusts on the fly.

“The offensive line knows the plays, so they know what the timing is like, and the receivers know the same thing,” he said last week. “They know how much time I have back there, so if they have to shorten up their route, they’ll shorten it up. That’s stuff that we’ve worked on.”

And part of the stuff that dreams are made of: An amazing quarterback beckoning everyone else along, too, with his unique blend of skills, sincerity, likability and rehearsed ad-libbing that mesmerizes us all.

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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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