ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The biggest moment of Nick Bolton’s young NFL career came in the second quarter of Super Bowl LVII.
Down 14-7 to the Eagles, the Chiefs were gifted a Jalen Hurts fumble that Bolton scooped up and took 36 yards for a game-tying touchdown. The play halted the Eagles’ momentum and became the defining play of Bolton’s time in Kansas City.
He had a photo of the play, but after a while he decided to gift it to his mother to have in her house. The season was over. Time to move on.
“She likes looking at it a little more than me,” Bolton tells CBS Sports at the start of Chiefs training camp. “I believe football’s played annually and you’ve got to pay your dues every year.”
It’s the mentality everyone here must have. The Kansas City Chiefs are seven-time defending AFC West champs. They’ve hosted the last five AFC title games. Three Super Bowl trips and two rings to show for it.
No team has repeated as world champions since the 2004 Patriots did it. But these Chiefs –the preseason betting favorites — appear to have as good a chance as any since, well … the 2020 Chiefs.
That’s when they went a league-best 14-2 before the wheels fell off the offensive line and they lost 31-9 to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. Anyone can talk about how hard it is in the modern NFL to repeat as champs, but no team in recent memory knows about it as well as this one.
“Just learning not to be satisfied,” reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes tells me when asked what he took from that 2020 season to apply to this summer. “Even the last run where we lost in the Super Bowl, I feel like we won a lot of games but at the end we didn’t have enough.
“And I think that this year we have to know that even if we’re winning games, even if we’re having early success, we have to keep building. Every year is a tougher year, especially this year in the AFC, so everyone has to know why we’re here every single day, starting in training camp and working our way throughout the season.”
The entire AFC loaded up this offseason for the express purpose of beating the Chiefs, and the hunted is seemingly unbothered. Perhaps the cockiest thing you’ve heard out of their locker room the last few years has been calling the AFC Championship game the “Arrowhead Invitational,” in which no lie is told. They aren’t looking over the hedges at the Jets or Bengals or Bills. They’re just doing what they do.
That means camp practices with (likely) more reps than any other team in the NFL. The Chiefs are one of just seven teams that still has its camp away from its team facilities. And for the 11th straight year, despite the winds of the NFL blowing toward more joint practices, Andy Reid’s Chiefs will not travel to or host another competitor.
“We get good work and we get good competition,” Reid says. “Our guys know how to practice against one another. And I feel like we get a lot done and we still keep it in-house. If I thought otherwise then I’d do the other thing, but I think the way we go about it is a good way to go.”
You’d be able to forgive a rookie if he thinks he can come to Kansas City, take a nap and be playing in late January. That’s not an idea that’s allowed here, though. Mahomes doesn’t allow it.
Reid calls Mahomes “the head” of the locker room. It’s not enough for him to be the greatest player in the NFL. He’s tasked with impressing upon anyone new here that the job’s never finished.
“You just have to motivate guys at practice every single day,” Mahomes says. “We had a lot of young guys last year that won the Super Bowl and I remember being in that position early in my career and thinking it’s just going to happen. You have to remind those guys that it’s a brand new year every single year, and I’m just excited for these guys to accept the challenge and let’s keep building and be even better than we were last year.”
Of course, Mahomes has to practice what he preaches. He’s still getting coached up between plays by Reid before full pads ever come on.
On some of the dog days of camp, in the middle of a long drive with the backup offense, Reid will look over to Mahomes and ask him the situation.
“Hey, what down is it?” Reid would ask his quarterback, who would instinctively look to the sideline for a marker. “Don’t look!” Reid would then quickly say to his two-time NFL MVP quarterback.
The point of the exercise is to never take any rep for granted as the great young quarterback continues to master the position.
“It’s like being a farmer: The work’s never done. You can always work on something,” Reid says. “It can be the smallest thing from a tiny step against a certain coverage on a certain play with a certain receiver. It never, never ends …
“With great players, and you’re a coach of a great player — I’ve been very fortunate to be around some great ones. And the great ones want you to find something to make them even greater than they are. And then they attack it.”
The ’90s Cowboys and the 21st century Patriots are the only dynasties of the salary-capped NFL. The climbing rates on quarterbacks coupled with the incredible parity of the league make it nearly impossible to keep any core group together for very long.
But if the Chiefs can get through the 2023 gauntlet and win it again for a third time in five years? Well, that just may qualify as a dynasty to the guy at the end of it.
“I think we’re the beginning of [a dynasty,]” Mahomes says. “In dynasties I always say you have to win three, and our job is to do whatever we can to win as many as we can and not have any regrets when we step off the field. I think if we keep the mentality that we have, then we can look back at the end of our career and decide if we’re a dynasty or not.”
But that doesn’t mean Mahomes wants the third ring any more than he wanted his first or second one.
“I think you want it just as much as every single year, at least I do,” Mahomes says. “It’s such a great feeling when you win that Super Bowl to be able to enjoy that offseason. And to be able to know that all the hard work you put in here paid off, that is more satisfying than anything else.
“Knowing that hard work wasn’t taken for granted. You really went out there and did it. And it was a long process, but you got it done.”
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