In a small side room at the Chiefs’ team hotel on Tuesday, Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt considered the question of how this period in the team’s history might be perceived a generation or two from now.

Even with the franchise about to play in its fourth Super Bowl in five years while seeking to become the first team to repeat in nearly two decades, Hunt prefaced his response by saying “I certainly hope it doesn’t end any time soon.”

“I think how you end up labeling this era of Chiefs football is really for an outside observer,” he continued, smiling and adding, “It’s not for me to say what it was, to label it with the ‘D’ word.”

While how long it goes remains to be seen, any lingering debate or quibbling about whether this remarkable time constitutes the “D” word — dynasty — were quelled on Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium when the Chiefs outlasted the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in just the second Super Bowl to go to overtime.

The Chiefs prevailed on Patrick Mahomes’ 3-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman, establishing another landmark in the Chiefs’ very own Eras Tour.

Emblematic of a regular season that often was a grind and at times made the Chiefs appear vulnerable and splintering, they fell into a 10-0 first-half deficit that featured more airing of grievances in Travis Kelce’s appalling and berserk dash into Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

Also mirroring the season, though, they reset and rallied courtesy of the defense that never rested and four field goals by Harrison Butker — including a Super Bowl record 57-yarder and a 29-yarder with 3 seconds left to send the game into overtime.

And with the considerable help of a stupefying special teams blunder by the 49ers that set up the Chiefs’ vital first touchdown on a pass from Mahomes to Marquez Valdes-Scantling — the picture of redemption this postseason after a dud regular season.

While perhaps none of this recent run could eclipse the sheer thrill of winning Super Bowl LIV after a 50-year drought, the real triumph has been all they’ve achieved since … and it would be hard to top how it went Sunday.

As the air has gotten thinner and thinner on the way to the top in a league predicated on creating parity, the Chiefs fended off so many factors — including their own issues — to achieve something seldom seen in the annals of pro football history.

Whatever else is to come, the victory cemented an enduring legacy for the Chiefs and particularly Reid and Mahomes — the man who altered the very meaning of what it is to be a Chiefs fan and even the self-image of Kansas Citians.

With a third Super Bowl victory to his name, Reid now trails only Bill Belichick (six) and Chuck Noll (four) and is on trajectory toward becoming the winningest overall coach in league history should he continue to coach for another five or six seasons.

With Mahomes’ third Super Bowl title, he now is 15-3 in postseason play and in Super Bowl wins trails only Tom Brady (seven) and Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw with four apiece.

At age 28.

If that speaks to the abundant future possibilities with Mahomes, the victory also embodied the rich intersection of the Chiefs’ past and present. Because it reiterated the momentous place in the pro football world of the Hunt family, starting with Chiefs and AFL founder Lamar Hunt, who died in 2006, and Norma Hunt, who died last summer.

In the first Super Bowl ever played without the regal “First Lady of Football,” the Chiefs punctuated a season of wearing a patch honoring her with an exclamation point paying further tribute.

The game and season also will be remembered for the glitz and glamor of the Taylor Swift Effect: The worldwide pop icon’s rabidly followed relationship with Kelce has had a multiplier effect on the popularity of the NFL itself but also on the Chiefs’ ambitions to become “the world’s team.”

(As if the Swift-Kelce dynamic hadn’t been phenomenon enough, having one of the most popular performers on Earth fly here between concert dates in Japan and Australia to attend one of the most-watched events in the history of the planet makes for a mind-blowing impact that could take years to fully comprehend.)

And that world’s team campaign surely was enhanced by winning their third Super Bowl in five years to give them four overall — two fewer than New England and Pittsburgh’s record six and one behind Dallas and San Francisco’s five.

But something else distinguished the meaning of this win.

Not just the result but the journey.

Not the glitz but the grit, perhaps captured in a snapshot of a chunk of Mahomes’ helmet being knocked off in the 30-below windchill of the playoff opener against Miami.

This has been not so much about the spectacular scenes that have so defined the Mahomes Era but the resolute and methodical moments from a simplified offense and the anchoring of a stellar defense that paved the way and enabled all this.

In this four-year cycle, as general manager Brett Veach put it last week, “everything has just kind of flipped itself.”

With a laugh, he thought of the contrast between previously just hoping the defense could get the opponent “to punt once” to give the Chiefs a chance to feeling that if the offense can just score once “we’re good.”

While the offense reset from an epidemic of dropped passes and pivotal offensive penalties and other issues, that came only after it pushed off bottom after the Christmas Day debacle against the Raiders.

The hideous 20-14 loss was marked by disorganization and sideline dissension, including the bizarre spectacle of Reid turning his back to the start of an offensive drive to block the return of Kelce’s helmet to him after Kelce had spiked it.

To that point the Chiefs were an aimless 9-6, and nothing was assured — even a playoff berth.

“It’s almost like because of the (past) success, there’s that mindset (that) this team might be just fast-forwarding to the playoffs,” Veach said. “But it’s so hard to do, you can’t do that. And (if) you do that, you might not end up making the playoffs.”

So that Raiders game, Veach said, made for a “come-to-truth moment” that may not have been as effective if the Chiefs had snuck in a win and been lulled into thinking everything was fine.

The Star’s Sam McDowell diagnosed the turning point last week:

The coaches met alone first, without any players, and decided to “make things easier for the players schematically,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. So coaches shortened play calls to reduce the lengthy and complicated verbiage, reduced substitution patterns and made a concerted effort to get plays into Mahomes’ headset more promptly.

The decluttering helped diminish crucial pre-snap mistakes and clarify assignments, making for far crisper offense.

But the Chiefs have continued to play a more complementary style to take advantage of the breakthrough defense — traits that proved essential on the way to the monumental win on Sunday that stands for something more.

“Each one is more satisfying than the last,” Veach said the other day.

He was speaking of just getting to the Super Bowl, but the same doubtless applies to winning it.

So the Chiefs will revel in this for days, including at the parade on Wednesday. But soon they will be looking toward the future and another tier of possibility. No team ever has won three straight Super Bowls.

That in itself will be a fresh challenge, and the Chiefs will have to contend with some offseason question marks before they embark:

Will they be able to sign Chris Jones to a long-term deal after being unable to last offseason?

What if Travis Kelce were to retire — a prospect he has hinted at considering only to later walk back?

And might Reid, now 65, be pondering that despite the Chiefs’ brain trust saying they expect him to stay for years longer?

But that’s all for another day while we try to process and appreciate this momentous feat — all the more incredible considering the half-century of futility before.

Asked the other day if he ever steps back and thinks to himself how this all happened, Hunt immediately pointed to the hiring of Reid after the 2012 season as the day it all started to change.

Optimistic as he was then, he smiled and added, “I would be lying if I told you that (I thought) we would have this level of sustained success with him.”

Sustained enough already to call it the “D word” — a term that may need amplifying in the years to come.

This story was originally published February 11, 2024, 11:07 PM.


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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