By Robert Zeglinski
Patrick Mahomes knew what he was doing. He will deny it to the end in public circles. He may keep it as a valuable secret he only shares and laughs over with his closest family and friends; the key to the lock never being revealed. But Mahomes had a premeditated plan when he used his fingers to count to 10 in the midst of a Sunday night 26-3 pre-Christmas evisceration of the Bears. “10” for his draft slot in what increasingly looks like the biggest blunder nine other teams will make this century. “10” for how long football’s arguable best player was forced to wait, and for how he was forced to have his patience tested before becoming the face of the game. “10” for his struggling peer Mitchell Trubisky’s jersey designation, a player selected eight slots ahead of the transcendent Mahomes in the same draft. A player who himself helps twist the knife on his failure more and more with every agonizing week.
“10” for what could’ve been for the Bears.
“10” for might’ve been for a franchise again on the ropes.
“10” for what will never, ever be.
“I don’t know why a lot of things come out when I do celebrations, but I just try to go out there and enjoy it,” said Mahomes of his moment in front a muted, capacity Soldier crowd. “I know I can’t dance or anything like that, so I leave that to the receivers. I just do what I can do.”
What is humiliating for the Bears is that Mahomes sticking to “what he can do” is still miles and away better than their current quarterback situation. There was always the danger of presenting the chasm, nay, the canyon between Mahomes and Trubisky in front of a national audience. A secondary perspective at least allows for some dissonance and denial of a harsh reality. The mistake that can never be rectified and will reverberate for the Bears for decades to come can be ignored from a distance. Once Pandora’s Box is opened and Mahomes has his opportunity for vengeance, the first hand point of view annihilates all litigation. There is no denying the truth when it’s picking you apart seam by seam in front of your face, rocket throw by rocket throw, and finger by finger in a justified taunt.
The Bears missed on Trubisky. Mahomes knows the Bears missed on Trubisky and could’ve had him instead. And there was no one better to remind them of their incompetence, their swing and a miss, better than the man himself. Justice isn’t always served in such a harsh fashion, but then again it also doesn’t bash you over the head with a frying pan as soon as you look away. Mahomes took his liberties, made his stance known, and then drove right back onto the high road in a manner anyone could respect. The Bears looking listless, as if they had already surrendered the rest of their season while led by Trubisky, was almost too poetic in response.
There’s a danger in hindsight decision-making. Whatever looks correct in hindsight is the correct answer because there’s a benefit of possessing every necessary context, background knowledge, and outcome. But the Bears don’t receive the benefit of being defended by the crux of hindsight. General manager Ryan Pace and his scouts are paid, handsomely so, to make the right decision in the moment. When it comes to Trubisky and Mahomes, hindsight says the Bears (who had Mahomes as their No. 2 prospect) air-balled their move on a quarterback of the future. They don’t receive the benefit of the doubt. That doubt is reserved for lesser stakes, lesser moments. You hit, or you miss. There is only adulation for the hit, and only consternation and criticism for the miss. Grey area is a luxury reserved for those who earn it, or those who have an understanding of the color spectrum. It’s somewhere in between. Saying hindsight is 20/20 is the crutch every failure leans on in crisis, and the Bears in their decision to invest everything in Trubisky are no different.
NFL players physically gifted human beings are on higher planes of athleticism. They can accomplish athletic feats anyone watching their exploits on the couch could never even dream of, let alone conceive. But they remain human to their core. They are motivated by the same slights, warranted or perceived, as their viewing audience. They are pushed by the same demons and detractors alike. Being overlooked and cast off by supposed superiors and evaluators and peers drives their internal success as much as any obstacle a Regular Old Joe has to hurdle.
As special as he is and as bright as his career looks to be, Mahomes will never forget his personal embarrassment on a late night in April of 2017. Nine other teams, including the Trubisky-Bears, could have drafted him. He’ll be reminded of that short wait in the green room for the rest of his waking life. Anyone with working brain cells, the Trubisky-Bears once more included, may find it hard to wipe from their own respective memories. And Mahomes, as talented as he is, would never have it any other way.
The Bears would use every science fiction time machine if they could to walk back their mistake. Now that they know what they’re missing has a working vendetta, their guilt will never dissipate. Mahomes knew what he was doing, and the Bears didn’t. That’s why someone is getting candy canes for Christmas, and the other has coals waiting in their stocking.
“I ended up in a great situation in Kansas City. A situation where I wanted to be,” Mahomes said. “An organization that’s kind of taken me and made me the best player that I could be at this time.”
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.