It’s almost comical, to watch baseball grumble along in a damaging labor dispute, ruining its offseason marketing and promotion opportunities, making its own sport disappear from the national stage, and draining passion from the public with all of the arguments focusing on finances, with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred obsessed with mashing the players’ union and winning just another round of hardball to prove he’s the baddest man alive … or something like that. And when baseball returns in 2022 – TBA – nothing will have been done to make the game more energetic and entertaining. The slog will continue for a sport that puts its own fans to sleep.
As baseball’s tempers burn, and fans turn their eyes to more worthy endeavors, the NFL just gave the sporting nation the best weekend of divisional-round postseason football in league history. Three upsets, four walk-off wins, and a quarterback duel for the ages.
At a time when MLB still hasn’t figured out a way to popularize their star players and draw new fans to a tired game, the NFL put the spotlight on Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes for the prime–time Sunday viewing showcase.
With considerable assistance from teammates, these two spectacular and steadfast quarterbacks – unbreakable and unbelievable –gave us one of the greatest short-list NFL games of all time. Some 48 hours later folks are still buzzing about it.
And why not? The final two minutes of regulation had produced 25 points, three lead changes and a tie, three touchdown passes, and 220 passing yards amassed by Allen and Mahomes. The thrills continued into overtime, when Mahomes led a fast-paced, breathless drive to fling another TD pass and finish off the exasperated Bills defense. Finally, the missiles went silent. And a football nation tried to process what it witnessed.
It doesn’t matter if we hate Roger Goodell, or the NFL as a corporate entity. Hate on, hate on. But for all of the bad things about this league, the NFL knows how to create a show, market and brand the show, put on the show, and draw massive TV ratings for the show. This league understands the importance of turning players into stars, transforming non–events into huge events – THE SCOUTING COMBINE!!! – and keeping the league as the hub of the sports-media industrial complex for all 12 months of the year.
This past weekend was circus maximus … exhausting but so much fun … Joe Burrow leading Cincinnati to a second straight playoff win, with both victories coming at the wire to lift a Bengals franchise that hadn’t won a postseason game since the 1990 season.
In the snowglobe Saturday-night setting of Lambeau Field, the San Francisco 49ers put another painful postseason failure on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who made a dramatic, slow walk off the field and into the unknown. When the action resumed on Sunday, Tom Brady wiped the blood from his mouth before wiping out a three-touchdown deficit with a rally that stirred memories of every impossible victory engineered by TB12 during his greatest-QB-ever career. Alas, the Rams recovered for a three-point win to change Brady’s plans. Will he retire now? And then the masterpiece in KC, with the Chiefs losing the league with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter – and taking the Mahomes Express down the field for the game-tying field goal. One more throw to Travis Kelce for the win, and this iconic football game found its ending.
“To be in this game against that team, and to make a play to walk-off a game at Arrowhead, I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Mahomes said after the 42-36 victory. After embracing Kelce, Mahomes sprinted across the field to hug Josh Allen and offer praise for being such a fierce and relentless opponent.
Mahomes is 26 and already has done enough to fashion a Pro Football Hall of Fame career. Sunday, he’ll be challenged by Burrows and the Bengals at Arrowhead. Mahomes is the presiding “host” quarterback for the AFC Championship Game for the fourth consecutive year. He’ll be trying to outfox Burrow and lead the Chiefs to a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Only three quarterbacks have done that: Bob Griese, Jim Kelly and Tom Brady.
Mahomes is 50-13 as a regular-season starter. He’s 8-2 in the postseason, with both defeats coming to Brady. In his two playoff wins this month Mahomes has completed 76 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns passing, only one interception, an average of 391 yards per game – plus 10 rushes for 98 yards and a TD.
In only four seasons as an NFL starter in Kansas City, Mahomes has won a league MVP award, a Super Bowl MVP award, the Rookie of the Year Award, and been voted to four Pro Bowls. By the way, he’s the first quarterback to win league and Super Bowl MVP honors before his 25th birthday.
During the Chiefs 11-1 run that led to the AFC Championship Game, Mahomes passed for 3,528 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 260 yards and a pair of scores.
To repeat: Mahomes had accomplished all of this by age 26, and in his first four seasons as a starter. And another record is within reach: Mahomes needs 438 yards to break a 10-year-old record held by Eli Manning for most passing yards in a single postseason. Eli threw for 1,219 yards in the NY Giants’ four postseason wins (and Super championship) in 2011.
The career projections are enormous. As pointed out by Forbes: “Mahomes only plays another decade, which honestly seems too short, but let’s assume he does, he’ll be historic. If that happens he’s on pace for over 65,000 passing yards and 529 touchdowns, which would be 4th in league history in both categories, reaching the marks with fewer years played than those above him.”
I’m glad that Mahomes does his thing in the state of Missouri. It’s cool to have him as a neighbor.
He’s one of several younger quarterbacks that are taking over. Mahomes, Allen, Burrow, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott. Others may follow including Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson (if he returns), and Kyler Murray.
This league has star power that MLB can’t match. And the NFL knows what American sports fans want, and they serve it up with a skill that no other league can match. The NFL understands that sports are supposed to entertain us and inspire us and give us a reason to raise our hands and shout out loud in joy.
MLB is a bunch of grim people sitting around a table, glaring at each other while haggling over money. MLB has tanking teams that pocket big profits and make no attempt to win. In the NFL, just about anyone can win if they make smart decisions. The NFL is fast-paced and competes with extreme urgency because of the 17-game regular season. Baseball snores through 162 games. The NFL has a galaxy of stars and knows how to promote them, make them prominent in the culture. MLB locks out its own players then scrubs their likenesses from the league website — and censors its own TV network from discussing current players or anything pertaining to the negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement. Insanity.
I love baseball most of all, but the NFL entertains me more than any other sport. When the games begin, I don’t give a damn who the commissioner is. But let’s be honest here: Goodell is kicking Manfred’s butt.
Thanks for reading …
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.