Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl gives Bears fans another chance to wonder what if

Mahomes’ dominance is a reminder that the Bears could have had him.

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Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws against the Bears in September.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws against the Bears in September.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

PHOENIX — Aaron Rodgers is about to spend four full days in a dark room while he contemplates his future — a “darkness retreat” after the Super Bowl.

From a football standpoint, he might never emerge into the light.

Upon reflection (and maybe hallucination), he could choose to return to the Packers, with whom he’s frustrated. He could retire. Or he could meet a terrible fate, such as having to play for the Jets.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has replaced Rodgers as the NFL’s shining light. When Mahomes won the MVP Award on Thursday night — his second in only five seasons as a starter — he became one of just seven players to claim more than one MVP trophy. And at 27, he has a decade or more to chase down Peyton Manning’s record of five MVPs. Or Rodgers’ four.

“There’s so many greats that have won that award,” Rodgers said this week. “To be part of that history is amazing.”

But for Bears fans, the passing of the torch from the 39-year-old Rodgers to Mahomes presents a different kind of torture. Rodgers was a twice-yearly reminder that he owned the Bears. His dominance was as steady as it was painful. He won the MVP in 2011, 2014, 2020 and 2021. He has gone 25-5 against the Bears, turning the best rivalry in the NFL into not much of one.

The Bears don’t have to face Mahomes and the Chiefs twice each season. But when the world gets to see him on the Super Bowl stage, Bears fans are left to wonder, again, “What if?” His otherworldly career is a reminder they could have had him.

Mahomes said this week that he thought he was the Bears’ first choice at quarterback during the 2017 draft, but he was told general manager Ryan Pace likely wouldn’t pick a QB. Instead, Pace traded up for Mitch Trubisky, whom the Bears let walk after four years.

Newly retired Tom Brady wasn’t picked until the sixth round of the 2000 draft. The entire NFL should share that pain; everyone passed on the greatest of all time, over and over again, until the Patriots took a chance on him.

But with Mahomes, the Bears are in rarer company — one of nine teams that could have had him without trading up. Most of those teams didn’t need a quarterback. The Bears did.

The Chiefs loved Mahomes during the predraft process. Matt Nagy, the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator a year before becoming the Bears’ head coach, gave Mahomes advance notice of what Chiefs coach Andy Reid would quiz him about the next day. Nagy wanted him to ace the test.

The Chiefs traded up to take Mahomes 10th. That number stuck with Mahomes. In a 2019 game against the Bears, he counted to 10 on his fingers after scoring.

His career has been, and will remain, one of the great what-ifs in Chicago sports — like Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, but in reverse.

But if he were a Bear, would Mahomes be nearly as successful? Or would he have been Trubisky?

Mahomes himself credits his success to the place he landed.

“I understand how lucky I am to be in this organization with this coach and these players around me, and Coach Reid,” he said. “If I didn’t come to the Chiefs, I don’t think I’d be in this spot. He got the best out of me.

“I had to sit for an entire season. He never had any doubts of who I was going to become. He kept getting me better and better as the season went.”

It hasn’t stopped. When Mahomes takes the field against the Eagles on Sunday, he’ll become the youngest quarterback to start three Super Bowls. When Brady did it, he was 39 days older.

And Mahomes accomplished it this year without the NFL’s leading receiver. The Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins last offseason, leaving Mahomes to prove his greatness all over again.

“His talent level goes far beyond his ability to instinctually go out there,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “He’s playing a step ahead, more so this year than any other year we’ve played, knowing the pieces were a little bit different in terms of the weapons he has.

“And the scrutiny — everyone was looking to see how he was going to take his game to the next level. He’s got three of four moves already in his pocket, depending on what the defense does. That’s what’s going to make him the greatest to ever go down.”

His talent is unmistakable, but Reid is perhaps the greatest offensive head coach of all time. Where did Mahomes’ skills end and his development begin? The Bears never got a chance to find out.

“You’ve got Pat Mahomes as a quarterback,” Reid said. “That’s a special thing.”

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