GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — With all eyes on what the NFL’s king would do next, Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes cut through the cigar smoke in Sunday night’s winning Chiefs locker room, sprinting to embrace teammates, staff members, and coaches.
“Don’t spill that champagne on me right now!” Mahomes joked as he rushed past the receivers to his locker, then threw a wrestling championship belt over his right shoulder.
Mahomes’ world is now professional football. Everyone else is simply existing within it:
Five consecutive AFC title game appearances. Three trips to the Super Bowl in the last four years. There have been two championships. Two MVP awards in the league. Two MVP awards for the Super Bowl.
And that man, along with future Hall of Fame coach Andy Reid, selected former Giants receiver Kadarius Toney as the target for their game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of their 38-35 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium.
“It’s really surreal,” Toney said, smiling. “You fantasise about moments like that, and I got to experience them.”
That wasn’t even Toney’s most memorable moment. Minutes later, he set a Super Bowl record with a 65-yard punt return to set up another Kansas City touchdown.
As fate would have it, two former Giants played leading roles in Sunday evening’s melodrama on the Arizona Cardinals’ slick grass, and both ended up crying.
Eagles cornerback James Bradberry’s eyes welled up in the losing locker room as he accepted responsibility for a killer holding penalty on Chiefs receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster with 1:48 left that sealed Philly’s fate for Kansas City’s game-winning field goal.
“He used a pivot and a wheel,” Bradberry explained. “I was just trying to get some momentum going and go back with the wheel. They called it because I pulled on his jersey. I was hoping they’d let it go. However, it was a holding.”
Toney, on the other hand, burst into tears as red and yellow confetti fell from the sky as the clock struck zero. He’d just made two of the biggest plays of “the biggest game of my life,” as he put it.
“S—t, I was crying,” Toney said, smiling. “I was thinking about everything I’ve been through and everything I’ve overcome, coming here and winning.”
With 12:04 remaining, Toney faked an inside motion and caught a 5-yard walk-in touchdown from Mahomes in the right flat for a 28-27 Kansas City lead.
Following an Eagles three-and-out, Toney caught a shanked Arryn Siposs punt outside the left hash marks, juked a few Philadelphia tacklers cold, and vanished up the right sideline for the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, down to the 5-yard line.
Toney initially thought he had nowhere to run as a wall of Eagles beared down on him, but Toney didn’t see it that way.
“Blood in the water,” he smirked, describing his thoughts at the time. “I knew what I was capable of doing with the ball in my hand.”
Joe Judge was well aware of Toney’s abilities with the ball in his hands. That’s why, after trading back in the NFL Draft, the Giants’ former head coach selected him No. 20 overall in 2021.
Toney, on the other hand, flashed intermittently in New York while struggling to stay on the field and failing to demonstrate appropriate commitment. So Giants general manager Joe Schoen dealt him to Kansas City in late October for a late third-round pick and a sixth-round pick.
“I didn’t care back then, and I don’t care now,” Toney said of being traded.
Toney also struggled to stay healthy while with the Chiefs. After being injured in the AFC Championship Game, he only played one snap in the first half on Sunday.
But he stayed focused and delivered the same kind of distinct, explosive moments that the Chiefs had in Tyreek Hill before trading him to the Miami Dolphins and were hoping to replace when they signed him.
Reid’s quick recognition of Toney’s abilities aided him in scoring a touchdown in his second regular season game with the team in November. But it was Reid’s trust in him that meant the most to Toney.
“He gave me a chance,” Toney explained. “I mean, most coaches hissy fit, cry and complain, or whatever when something goes wrong. If you make a mistake, he’ll come over and crack a joke with you. He’ll return to you. He’s just the type of coach you want to play for.”
Of course, Bradberry’s departure from the Giants last spring was very different.
He was released because the new Giants regime had a lower opinion of his abilities than the previous one, and it also saved them money by dumping his massive salary cap hit.
On a one-year deal in Philadelphia, he responded by earning second-team All-Pro honours.