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You could debate exactly when the Chiefs became the NFL’s “it” team. Or a happening. Or whatever you call an electrifying franchise that has played in three of the last four Super Bowls — and appears to have so much more within reach thanks to a too-good-to-be-true quarterback who has become the face of the league and of Kansas City itself.
But what started with the hiring of Andy Reid after the 2012 season has been a magical mystery tour virtually ever since Patrick Mahomes became QB1 in 2018: a mesmerizing span of unprecedented success, boundaries vaporized, jaw-dropping comebacks and a compelling come-along-with-us aura.
All of which at least for the moment has merged with Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour by virtue of her appearance on Sunday as a guest of Travis Kelce.
That made for a surreal scene to have another transcendent star suddenly enmeshed with all this. But it’s also part of what this remarkable time is all about.
The Chiefs aren’t America’s Team, exactly. But defined by irresistible figures like Reid and Mahomes and the charismatic Kelce they seem at least as widely admired as resented for their success — success further amplified on Sunday, when the host Chiefs trounced the hapless Chicago Bears 41-10.
Reid won his 271st game, including in the postseason, to pass Tom Landry and move into fourth on the NFL’s career victories list. And in throwing for 272 yards, Mahomes reached the 25,000-yard plateau in fewer games (83) than anyone in NFL history.
That helps account for why it’s hard to get away from the Chiefs at this point.
Mahomes is available in sensurround by virtue of his commercial appeal and being a focus of the Netflix documentary “Quarterback.” His friend and favorite target, Kelce, is almost as omnipresent through his “New Heights” podcast with brother Jason and other ventures.
So now with all that comes this out-of-body collision of worlds: the intersection with intergalactic celebrity.
We’ve been accustomed to that to some degree through the local roots and unyielding fandom of Melissa Etheridge, Heidi Gardner, David Koechner, Janelle Monae, Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Eric Stonestreet, Tech N9ne and Kevin Wilmott. Count Springfield native Brad Pitt on the list of fans. And among those who’ve admired from afar: Henry Winkler and Henry Cavill.
But the notion was punctuated in an entirely new way by singer-songwriter-pop star Swift, who watched Sunday afternoon’s game in a suite with Kelce’s mother, Donna, among others.
Just another Reid innovation.
“I set them up,” Reid joked.
Tight as Mahomes is with Kelce, he didn’t know whether to believe him or not when Kelce on Friday casually mentioned she would be coming. But count him among those who admire her and would like to have said hello.
“I guess if she ends up being with Travis,” Mahomes said, “then I’ll probably meet her at some point.”
In the locker room after the game, defenders Justin Reid and Mike Danna were surprised and pleased to hear she was there. Justin Reid called her a “generational talent” and said he hoped she had a great time. Danna said, “It’s always cool to see the big-name celebrities come and watch us do what we do; we watch them do what they do on the stage.”
But, honest, this isn’t a column about Swift, whose vast appeal and reputation for incredible shows I appreciate even if I can’t say I follow her music. (Turned out I knew “Shake It Off” but, full disclosure, hadn’t realized it was her.)
It’s about the blessing and burden symbolized by her apparent addition to the entourage — at least until the Chiefs in November play the Eagles, which Swift says is her team.
The moment speaks further to the dynamics of being at the top and trying to stay there amid an increasingly intense glare.
Such stature confers contradictions: the more the Chiefs achieve, the more people are drawn to them.
And the higher they rise and more popular they get, the more thin the air gets and the more others want to beat them … though you wouldn’t know that from the pitiful Bears on Sunday.
For that matter, that targeting also may be hard to distinguish over the next five games. Those upcoming opponents, including two games against Denver, stand 2-13.
But you can bet it will be a factor when the Chiefs play the Dolphins in Germany on Nov. 5 and then, after a bye week, play host to the Eagles on Nov. 18 in a Super Bowl rematch.
And on into the postseason.
Managing that has come with the territory for the Chiefs for a few years now. But it figures to become a more white-hot challenge yet as they seek to become the first team to repeat in nearly 20 years while attaining more and more cultural clout.
“When you’re at the top, there’s always people looking and wanting to take what you have,” Danna said.
So be it, he added, and that’s nothing to dwell on.
Especially when you’ve come to learn that your biggest vulnerability seems to be your own self-inflicted mistakes — as the Chiefs demonstrated in their first two games — and that they’ve got the goods to keep on surging if they stay on point.
Or as Danna put it: “‘It’s your Super Bowl?’” he said with a shrug. “‘We’ll play, too.’”
On Sunday, they rose to the occasion, such as it was, with the Bears. They added to the luster, even if it’s hard to know if they actually got better in the process, while they took a crossover step into the nation’s consciousness with Swift in attendance.
That made for another phase of a riveting transformation these last few years, one that makes following the Chiefs all the more fascinating but underscores the looming challenge of being the team to beat.