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What a difference a superstar makes

Chronicle Editor Mark Frost writes: The National Football League won the lottery with the emergence of charismatic quarterback Patrick Mahomes as the new face of pro football. At the age of 24, he was MVP of Kansas City’s 31-20 victory over San Francisco in Sunday’s Super Bowl. He’s already been league MVP. On top of being wondrously skilled as passer, runner and guy who plays with full-throttle abandon, Mahomes seems to have a personality as genuine as it is exuberant.

Patrick Mahomes

For a casual fan like myself — who hasn’t had a team to root for since the Colts fled Baltimore for Indianapolis in 1983 (yes, I’m bitter) — it takes someone like Patrick Mahomes to make the NFL must-see TV, just as Peyton Manning and Aaron Rogers did at their career peak. No, it’s not all about the quarterback, but it starts there.

The bonus for the NFL is a Patrick Mahomes makes the whole show irresistible. Three or so years ago the invincible National Football League was staggering. Colin Kapernick’s anthem-kneeling racial protest made it a political football. Studies increasingly revealed that constant collisions battered players’ brains. Football embodied now maligned macho manhood, amid a trail of domestic abuse incidents and other crimes. Even the TV ratings softened. Would football go the way of the Roman gladiators? Was pro basketball the new passion? Might soccer finally become America’s football too?

Well, no. Wipe the whiteboard clean. Football is undisputed king again. “Sunday’s game averaged 102 million viewers…The NFL’s TV viewership for the 2019 season was up roughly 5%…The most-watched NFL season in three years,” said a report I read. Football is by far TV’s highest rated attraction. To give a sense of the NFL’s dominance, the next highest rated sports championship, this year’s college football championship won by Louisiana State over Clemson, drew 25.6 million viewers.

The NFL P.R. machine co-opts Kapernick’s criticism. Sleek commercials highlight players’ efforts to bring justice to their communities. New rules prioritize safety. No more does the sport celebrate players who “man up” and play on after having their “bell rung” by a ferocious hit to the head; now there’s a mandatory concussion protocol.

But high-ground initiatives take it only so far. Football, like every other sport and show biz endeavor, hinges on the players. The NFL, emulating pro basketball, is now doing a better job of showcasing more of its best current and former stars, revealing personalities, letting us into their worlds. It’s all good for the league. But when one star then manages to rocket to the moon, a whole nation climbs aboard for the ride. Enter Patrick Mahomes, football’s
gift from the gods.

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