went to the bottom of the internet trying to understand what it’s like to have an arm like Patrick Mahomes’. I found a throw so rare that it technically doesn’t exist, erased on account of a holding penalty. November 2014. Mahomes is a 19-year-old true freshman at Texas Tech, facing Oklahoma, in only his second start. It’s third-and-10 at the Sooners’ 39-yard line. He’s been coached to look at a pair of receivers in sequence and, if they’re both covered, make a play. One, two, go. He takes the snap and is under immediate pressure — “one, go” — and he scampers left, not fast but elusive, away from the rush but into a trap.
He’s within a yard of the sideline and all four Sooners defensive linemen are closing fast … until, with his weight moving left and a rusher’s helmet at his chin, Mahomes snaps his arm — in that instant, it’s his only body part in motion, as if isolated for maximum effect — and the ball assumes a trajectory that seems impossible without more of a windup, the physical expression of a metaphysical quality, a radical confidence known only by a blessed few. The ball hisses; it spirals fast and tight; it seems to alter the physics and change the possibilities of a football field — hovering low as it sails across and deep — until it sticks to a receiver’s chest in the end zone as Mahomes hits the ground. I watched that throw 20 times. I saw improvisatory football genius and sheer stones. I saw a man making calculations and assessing risks I couldn’t compute. I watched the throw until I was certain of what I was looking at.
And then I sat down with him and raved about passes like it. And he took the compliments with a dull stare, as if none of what I attributed to it ever occurred to him. It was just a throw. A throw he always makes — and has made since he first held a ball.
In any given generation, there are only a handful of truly transcendent arms. These guys are born, not made. If you don’t have it, you still can be a good NFL quarterback if not paid like a great one. If you have it and waste it, you’ll be a 30 for 30. But if you have it and don’t waste it, and combine it with an Academic All-American’s mind and a craftsman’s work ethic — well, that’s what I want to explore with Mahomes.
On an October afternoon in an office at the Chiefs’ facility, Mahomes doesn’t look like he wants to be explored. He looks explored out, polite but also maybe existentially exhausted from having his life change forever this season. He is 23 years old, without even 16 games under his belt, and he has a game-worn jersey in the Hall of Fame and leads the league (through Week 9) in touchdowns and yards and is second in passer rating. It’s been a year. Most impressive, he has normalized the impossible, making throws each week that defy reason and kinesiology.