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The Chiefs are the new Patriots, the team everyone loves to hate

There’s a constant, unwavering cycle in American sports: We love you when you’re on the way up. We applaud you when you reach the top. We hate you when you stay there too long.

Welcome, Kansas City Chiefs, to the loathing zone. You were a cute story before, but now America is tired of you, your star quarterback, your teddy-bear-looking coach, your celebrity girlfriend, and most of all, your constant presence in the Super Bowl.

Congratulations, Kansas City. You’re the new Patriots.

The NFL is always more fun when the league has a common enemy, and for nearly 20 years, the New England Patriots happily filled that role, reaching Super Bowls in nearly half those seasons and winning six of them. Kansas City is on a path to that kind of success — four Super Bowls in five years, with two already won and a third possibly just days away. Now that is how you get everyone else to hate you.

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Granted, the Chiefs can’t yet manage the bone-deep rage and disgust that the Patriots inspired in their day. Where Tom Brady looked like a throwback to the '80s movie jock who stuffed nerds in lockers, Patrick Mahomes vibes — and sounds — a whole lot like those same nerds, albeit a nerd with the ability to throw a football into orbit. In their respective commercials — which, of course, is how we judge our athletes’ image these days — Brady always comes off like an ex-high school bully playing nice for the cameras, while Mahomes never seems quite comfortable enough in his own skin to torment anyone else.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates after the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore. The Chiefs won 17-10. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Patrick Mahomes celebrates another trip to the Super Bowl, his and the Kansas City Chiefs' fourth in five seasons. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

And then there’s the sideline. While Bill Belichick glowered through every glorious Super Bowl run, Andy Reid just gives off a more genial vibe, from his frozen mustache to his amiable-doofus TV persona. Reid has the steel of a lethal coach — thanking the people of Baltimore for their “hospitality” after beating them on their own field Sunday was a wicked jab — but he doesn’t remind you of a never-satisfied boss or distant, disapproving father.

Still, what the Chiefs do is win. And not just win, but win in a way that breaks your heart, win in a way that makes you wonder why you even bother trying at all. Nice little regular season you had there, Miami, now welcome to frozen hell. Want revenge on us for 13 seconds, Buffalo? Not this year. So you’re the likely MVP, Lamar? Yeah, we’ll be intercepting those desperation passes now. Thanks for playing.

The Patriots used to do this, and so did other dynasties led by all-time icons — the '90s Chicago Bulls, for instance, come to mind. There’s an entire generation of NBA players who don’t have a championship ring because of Michael Jordan’s enduring dominance — Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone — and you don’t have to look far to see the 2020s NFL equivalent. How many Super Bowls would Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson pile up if Mahomes had decided to play baseball?

Finally, there is, of course, The Taylor Swift Thing. This is as perfect a case of internet lifecycle as you’ll ever find: star gets exposure, people complain about star’s exposure but keep clicking on stories about said star, star gets more exposure, people complain more but continue to tune in, and on and on it goes.

The NFL is, and always has been, a league of stories more than scores, a league where narrative is as important as what happens on the field. Otherwise, why have two weeks of downtime before the Super Bowl? Why flood the zone with media coverage in the days leading up to the game? Swift would have gotten all of the same coverage had she been dating a member of, say, the Carolina Panthers … except that her January and February would be wide open.

No serious argument exists against Swift’s overexposure — she’s the most popular entertainer in the world at the moment, of course she’s going to draw the camera’s eye every game. Besides, would the Swift haters rather see yet another shot of a team owner celebrating? Who cares if this is all a carefully choreographed production for the cameras? Unless and until the cameras on Swift interrupt actual game play, broadcast away, and forget the haters.

Here’s the thing with hate, though: It’s not rational, and it doesn’t respond to logical arguments. In the abstract, the Chiefs are a joy to watch, led by a quarterback who might already be among the game’s all-time greats. As long as you’re not on the receiving end, it’s pretty amazing to see the way they find another gear in the postseason, and then use that gear to crumble skulls into the dirt. You just kind of wish it didn’t happen so often, is all.

Had the Detroit Lions managed to win Sunday, there would be no doubt which team America would favor in the Super Bowl. The 49ers aren’t exactly a hard-luck, happy-to-be-here franchise. But if the Chiefs manage to win, expect the Kansas City fatigue to hit new highs in the 2024 season. It’s the price of victory in America.