In Wednesday's Sports Illustrated Daily Cover, Greg Bishop told the story of Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, from his childhood to the Chiefs' Super Bowl victory. The wide-ranging article is a must-read for any Chiefs fan.
As for the story of how Mathieu ultimately found peace and sustained success on and off the field, Bishop described Mathieu's biggest helpers as "his own Three Wise Men—the pastor, the naturopath and the yogi." Again, you should really read the whole story.
But in Mathieu's journey to Kansas City and the success he's already achieved in his time here, Bishop tells the story of Mathieu's bond with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo:
In K.C., Mathieu and Spags bonded immediately. Perhaps that started with flattery. The coach told his new safety that he evoked Brian Dawkins, the Hall of Famer he oversaw in Philadelphia. He said, “You’re the guy I always wanted to coach,” and promised he wouldn’t move Mathieu all over the field, like others had. He wanted Mathieu to play free safety—to roam on instinct, blitzing regularly.
His coordinator’s belief meant everything to Mathieu. His belief in himself meant even more. He fit well in Kansas City—a homebody who loved football and barbecue and carried an ethos of everyman toughness, having lived a full life over 28 years and yet continuing to move forward. City, team and fanbase loved him back; they’d seen elite defenders in recent seasons, but never one like Mathieu, who claims, “I do things no other safety does.” He would tip the Chiefs over the edge, one way or another.
For a while, though, the franchise’s 2019 season took a turn toward mediocrity. Injuries piled up, with Mahomes playing through a bum ankle early and later missing two games after dislocating his kneecap. When slot corner Kendall Fuller joined the QB in the training room, with a busted thumb in Week 6, Spags had to undo his promise, moving Mathieu all over the field, like the queen on a defensive chessboard.
Mathieu can pinpoint the exact weekend the season was saved. The Chiefs were 6-4 in mid-November, headed to Mexico City to play the Chargers. The safety believed his teammates were making too many excuses, starting with Mahomes’s injuries, but they were also banking on the eventual coalescence of a revamped defensive unit. Finally, he and Spags addressed the group. The time had come, they said, to eliminate all the explanations and justifications. Just play ball.
Bishop goes on to recount the rejuvenation of the 2020 season and the fact that they never lost another game after their Mexico City victory over the Chargers.
“A lot of our wins weren’t pretty,” concedes Mathieu. “But if you took our logo off the helmet and put another team’s on, you would have said we were dominant.”
Then, the Chiefs made their way to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers did steer their offense away from Mathieu, but three of the tackles he made arguably saved touchdowns. He kept his teammates communicating as they fell behind, kept them talking and staying present, even if the scene may have looked like a sideline freakout on TV. In actuality, Mathieu was pleading with his teammates to stay calm.
After the comeback and the victory, the same player who was thrown off his college team for drug use—who went to rehab—steered clear of the championship party. Mathieu hung out with family and friends and a yogi and a naturopathic doctor at his hotel instead. Watching that all unfold, Lee-Collins says, “All I saw was growth.”
Asked what that moment represented to him, Mathieu pauses for five seconds. Finally, he says, “I don’t know, man. Like I knew we won the Super Bowl, but I still didn’t feel like I had that respect. I felt like: Now I gotta do it again.” Of course, he was now down when the team was up, the lack of chaos twinned with his lack of satisfaction, fueling the next round of introspection, and the next round of growth.