The kids from Kansas City’s inner-city football program were already in the kind of happy-go-lucky mood that comes with a modest holiday shopping spree when they lined up to take a picture.
Some were laughing. All of them were smiling.
Then their idol stepped out from his hiding place and the screaming started.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had taken time out of his day off Tuesday to show up at Dick’s Sporting Goods and surprise the kids from KC United. He took photographs, signed autographs and presented the team’s founder, local pastor Adrian Roberson, with $5,000 to fund next season.
“I have no words for it,” said Roberson, who broke into tears.
Mahomes is arguably the hottest player in the NFL this season, his record-setting performance as a first-year starter helping the Chiefs to a 9-2 record. And not surprisingly, that has caused the demands on his time to skyrocket, from the unending interview requests to meet-and-greets and other events.
Somehow, the 23-year-old quarterback has managed to take everything in stride.
“I don’t know if it does something for me. It’s just part of being in this community,” Mahomes said the following day, before stepping onto the practice field to prepare for Sunday’s trip to Oakland.
“This community loves football and they love each other,” Mahomes continued. “It’s more than just football. It’s being a good person and giving back to the community.”
Mahomes has certainly ingrained himself in the community.
He threw out a first pitch at a Royals game over the summer. He was the grand marshal for the NASCAR race, wearing a cutoff jersey from the T-Bones, the local minor league baseball team. He pops up at stores, concerts and restaurants as if he was anybody else, even sitting front row at Sprint Center last week to watch his college, Texas Tech, play in the Hall of Fame Classic basketball tournament.
When he showed up at a Verizon store on Monday for a meet-and-greet, store officials were worried the crowd would be too large and asked that his appearance not be publicized. Several hundred people still found out, forming a line that snaked around the building as they awaited his arrival.
“I feel the excitement and I feel the love not only for me but for the Kansas City Chiefs,” Mahomes said. “It’s special. This is a special place. There’s great people here. That’s one of the main reasons I love playing for this team.”
Von Miller is leading a $200,000 initiative to provide protective kits to first responders in mass shootings and improve local law enforcement relations.
The donation from Miller, his teammates and the organization to SHIELD616, a Colorado Springs-based nonprofit organization, will provide more than 125 advanced protective kits for police and firefighters responding to active shooter or mass shooting situations.
“It’s been 300 mass shootings this year, and I’ve only heard about four. When I was hit with that information, it really hit home for me,” Miller said. “I’ve got personal ties with Colorado — of course, we had the shooting here at the theater my second year in the league — and really heavy ties in Dallas. It was what, two years ago that we had the shooting there.”
Miller said his best friend is a police officer in Arlington, Texas, “so I can help him and some of his colleagues with some of these vests. It’s a real cool deal, the 616 initiative.”
Miller spoke up at a team meeting last week to get his teammates on board with the initiative, and nearly 20 players pitched in, as did team president Joe Ellis, general manager John Elway, and coach Vance Joseph.
SHIELD616 kits include a ballistic vest and helmet, along with a wound trauma kit, that upgrade standard equipment to protect against automatic weapons and assault rifles.
The initiative also allows for donors to contact the first responders they are helping protect to foster ongoing relationships, the Broncos said.
“It takes the unification of an entire community to not only better protect our first responders with physical armor, but to break down barriers between first responders and the citizens they serve,” said SHIELD616 President Jake Skifstad, a former police officer who founded the organization in 2015.
“It’s priceless to see complete strangers invest in the safety of first responders, changing their lives and the lives of their families,” Skifstad said. “We are humbled and proud to see that Von Miller, his teammates and the Broncos are utilizing their God-given leadership gifts and influence to not only better protect our protectors, but to also help build positive community relations.”
Joseph said he was proud of Miller for leading the initiative.
“Von is a special person. He wants to help people,” Joseph said. “He’s a great teammate and he’s great in the community. This is huge for Von to provide resources for our first responders. Obviously there have been a number of shootings in our country. It’s a huge issue.”
DAK THE DUCKLING
Dak Prescott’s first game with Drew Brees on the other sideline was a chance for the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year to reflect on the Pro Bowl trip they shared during that magical year for the Dallas quarterback.
Prescott had just led the Cowboys to an NFC-best 13 wins, while Brees got his 10th Pro Bowl nod following his record fifth 5,000-yard season. New Orleans had missed the playoffs for the third straight year, all 7-9 finishes. Prescott, who grew up in Louisiana, wasn’t thinking about those Saints records. He was thinking about Brees’ records.
“You do everything you can,” Prescott said when asked if he picked Brees’ brain during those few days together. “Like a little duckling. You just follow Drew Brees and just figure out what he does, how he does stuff. I was thankful to have him. Drew opened up and he shared some things.”
Prescott also noticed how Brees responded to those three straight losing seasons. With the 39-year-old having one of his best seasons in 2018, the Saints are on the verge of their second straight trip to the playoffs after winning 11 games last season.
“He’s taking care of his body, has done all the right things,” Prescott said. “Especially facing adversity, facing the middle of his career and some people were saying he wouldn’t do what he has done now. It just speaks to the character of that guy.”
HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?
The Minnesota Vikings have been at the forefront of the creativity around the league since the celebration rules were relaxed last season to allow for more group play in the end zone.
In a game at Chicago last year, the Vikings initiated a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” (or “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck,” as it’s called in Minnesota) after a touchdown reception by Kyle Rudolph. In their game against Green Bay last weekend, Dalvin Cook’s catch, run and score prompted the assembly of a purple-colored limbo line.
Cook exuberantly motioned his teammates over, as offensive linemen Tom Compton and Rashod Hill stood facing each other and wide receiver Adam Thielen was hoisted in the air to serve as the bar. Cook, wide receiver Stefon Diggs and offensive lineman Brian O’Neill each strutted through, with their backs bent backward to try to slide underneath Thielen without touching him.
“It was supposed to be the lightest guy on the field. Diggs was supposed to be up there, but Dalvin really wanted to do it, so I jumped up,” Thielen said.
Said Cook: “I knew Diggs needed to be the one that comes behind me, because he’s more of the dancer.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was impressed, though not enough to find a place in line.
“When I heard they were going to do it I thought, ‘That one is going to be a tough one to pull together in 10 seconds,'” Cousins said. “But they did it. It was pretty good.”
Miami Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch says he’s going to start flopping to draw the attention of officials when he’s held.
“I saw J.J. Watt fall over, so I’m going to start doing that,” Branch said. “It’s time for me. I’m pulling out the Vlade Divac.”
His latest source of frustration: Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo wasn’t called for holding Branch on a key play late in the Colts comeback win over the Dolphins last week.
The video replay was tough to swallow, Branch said.
“I jumped and I got pulled back,” he said. “That was the play of the game.”
Some pro football washouts as quarterbacks might have another avenue back to the NFL: They now have teams in the Alliance of American Football.
The Alliance, with eight teams that will begin play the week after the Super Bowl, conducted a four-round draft of only quarterbacks. Josh Johnson, who has made many stops in the NFL, was the top selection, by San Diego.
Other players who have been on NFL rosters, whether in the regular season or preseason, were selected or protected by their regional franchise and will head to a league training camp in early January. Among those were Aaron Murray and Matt Simms by the Atlanta Legends; Garrett Gilbert and Stephen Morris by the Orlando Apollos; B.J. Daniels by the Salt Lake Stallions; Christian Hackenberg and Zach Mettenberg by the Memphis Express; and Scott Tolzien by the Birmingham Iron.
AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner, Arnie Stapleton, Schuyler Dixon and Dave Campbell, and Sports Writers Steven Wine and Dave Skretta contributed.
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