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The stuff of dynasties: This Chiefs championship built on defense and perseverance

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The stuff of dynasties: This Chiefs championship built on defense and perseverance

Red, yellow and white confetti falling at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas was the confirmation of their coronation. Once again, the Kansas City Chiefs experienced the feeling only one team achieves in an NFL season, accomplishing a daunting objective that leads to an exhilarating sensation.

With their 25-22 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, the Chiefs became the NFL’s first repeat champion in two decades. The win cemented a golden era for the franchise and its status as one of the true dynasties in the league’s 104-year history.

“It’s the start of one,” Patrick Mahomes insisted. “We’re not done.”

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Chiefs defeat 49ers in OT of Super Bowl to cement dynasty status

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To secure their third Lombardi Trophy in five years, the Chiefs had to overcome the worst regular season in the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes era as well as the most treacherous postseason path.

The Chiefs, the AFC’s No. 3 seed, dominated the Miami Dolphins in freezing conditions, a game in which Reid coached with icicles hanging off his mustache. Then, in the first road playoff game of Mahomes’ seven-year career, the Chiefs rallied in the second half for a 27-24 victory, their defense holding the Buffalo Bills scoreless in the fourth quarter. They reached the Super Bowl with another road victory, a 17-10 win over league MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, who entered the postseason with the NFL’s best record.

Mahomes led the winning 75-yard drive in overtime against the 49ers, capping it with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs rallied from a 10-0 deficit and got the score they needed on the final drive of the game.


Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman and quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrate the Super Bowl-winning touchdown in overtime. (Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)

Mahomes won his third Super Bowl MVP award, but make no mistake, defense was the backbone of the 2023 Chiefs.

“This is the best defense I’ve ever played with,” tight end Travis Kelce said midway through the season. “Honestly, they’ve been saving us in a lot of situations.”

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No opponent scored 30 points on coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit, which allowed the fewest second-half points in the league. Defensive tackle Chris Jones and defensive end George Karlaftis led the team with 10 1/2 sacks. Spagnuolo’s defense benefited from career-best seasons from several players, including cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie, safety Justin Reid and defensive end Charles Omenihu.

“Seeing this defense all year long, I’ve learned that sometimes I’ve got to let them play, let them be the show,” Mahomes said.

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Kelce yells at Reid on sideline in Super Bowl LVIII

Mahomes, the league’s most talented quarterback, demonstrated his leadership, creativity and acumen all season but played his best when the Chiefs needed it in January and February.

“It’s hard to describe someone that good,” general manager Brett Veach said. “He’s a legend. He’s a blessing.”

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Kelce, an 11-year veteran, also had his best moments in the postseason as he overcame lingering injuries to his knee and ankle to pass Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice for the most postseason receptions in NFL history.

“We got the best quarterback in the world,” Chiefs linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “We got the best tight end in the world. We got the best coach in the world. We got the best defensive coordinator in the world. We got the best general manager in the world.

“When you have all of that? It’s only a matter of time.”

But it took time for the defending champions to put it all together this time. The Chiefs stumbled to start the season, losing to the Detroit Lions in the league’s opening night game. All-Pros Kelce and Jones didn’t play — Kelce because of a knee injury and Jones because he was holding out. But the Chiefs lost because of eight dropped passes, the two most egregious by wide receiver Kadarius Toney. Dropped passes would be a recurring problem through the regular season as Kansas City led the NFL with 44.

Mahomes and company won their next six games and went into their bye week with a 7-2 record after shutting down the high-powered Dolphins offense in Frankfurt, Germany. But they lost four of their next six as the errors piled up. The low point came on Christmas Day at Arrowhead Stadium with an ugly 20-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

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Veach is convinced that without that Christmas Day humbling, there’s no way the Chiefs would have made it to the Super Bowl.

“Something was off,” Veach said. “That loss, I think it really hit us. It allowed the whole organization to take a look in the mirror.”

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What makes the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes partnership as special as any great coach-QB combo?

That self-evaluation on the cusp of the playoffs resulted in Reid condensing the playbook and simplifying the game plan.

Running back Isiah Pacheco ran the ball with determination, rookie Rashee Rice blossomed into a No. 1 wide receiver and the offensive line jelled at the right time. The mistakes that hamstrung the offense during the regular season disappeared. And the Chiefs didn’t lose again.

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“We might not be the prettiest, but we’re going to battle,” Reid said. “That’s the personality of this team.”

A team that once hung its hat on high-powered offense and Mahomes’ improvisational passing, needed to change its personality this season. From day one of training camp on July 18 until the end of overtime in the Super Bowl on Feb. 11, the Chiefs maintained their status as the league’s best by earning a second consecutive championship not with flash but through gritty perseverance.

This essay is the introduction to “Undeniable: The Kansas City Chiefs’ Remarkable 2023 Championship Season” The Athletic’s commemorative book about the Chiefs’ 2023-24 season. Order a copy today for $16.95, plus shipping and tax. Books will ship the week of Feb. 19.

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How the Chiefs stack up among NFL dynasties (and a path past the Patriots): Sando’s Pick Six

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Travis Kelce, after Chiefs season under the microscope, finishes ‘on top of the world’

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Andy Reid stayed the course in Chiefs’ Super Bowl win, now numbers among all-time greats

(Photo of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce: Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)

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Sue Bird: Caitlin Clark can be an All-Star next year

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Sue Bird: Caitlin Clark can be an All-Star next year

Caitlin Clark’s transcendent play, from her logo 3-point shooting to her unique skills as a “get ahead” passer, has captivated basketball fans from Maine to California. A question that often arises is how will her game translate to the next level. In a wide-ranging 60-minute interview that will air in full Thursday on the “Sports Media Podcast,” WNBA legend Sue Bird said Clark can be a WNBA All-Star in her first year.

“I think if she plays up to her potential, yes, that’s realistic,” Bird said. “And, by the way, that’s not a knock on anyone in the WNBA. It’s going to be hard, but I think she can do it. You do have to see what happens when they get there. You are now playing against adults and this is their career. But I do think she has a chance at having a lot of success early, and I think a lot of it comes down to her long-distance shooting. That is her separator. You’re not really used to guarding people out there.”

Bird went on to say that the era Clark is stepping into helps complement her style of play. Another WNBA legend, Diana Taurasi, “could have been playing the way Caitlin is playing right now,” Bird said, but did not come of age in an era to play the way Clark plays today.

Players in the WNBA just aren’t used to guarding shooters that far, Bird said. Bird retired in 2022 after a 20-year WNBA career.

Clark has the option to return to Iowa next year due to the extra year of eligibility thanks to an NCAA waiver for student-athletes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But if she opts to go pro and is selected by the Indiana Fever with the No. 1 pick, “that is a really good roster for her,” Bird said.

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“She’s going to be teaming up with right out the gate with two really good post players (Aliyah Boston and NaLyssa Smith) that are going to complement her,” Bird continued. “There is precedent for people coming out of college and coming in and playing amazing, players such as Candace Parker, Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and others. But she still has to come in and do it and there’ll be some growing pains just like all those players I just listed had.”

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Caitlin Clark’s journey to 3,528 points: The Iowa star’s greatest highlights of the past 4 seasons

Bird spent time with Clark last December in Iowa City as part of an episode of her ESPN+ Original series,“Sue’s Places,” a 10-episode college basketball travelogue produced alongside Omaha Productions and Words + Pictures that features Bird darting across the country to learn about the history and traditions of college basketball. (The Clark episode ran on Feb. 14.). The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes will next play at No. 14 Indiana on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, Peacock).

Asked why Clark had captured the imagination of the broader basketball public during her time at Iowa, Bird said it was a combination of her long-distance shooting and being one of the faces of women’s college basketball during such an ascendent time.

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“There are two that stand out the most with her, and let’s start with her long-distance shooting,” Bird said. “The one thing that cancels out people’s obsession with dunking as it relates to the comparison between men’s and women’s basketball is deep shooting. If we want to call it the logo 3, let’s call it that. For whatever reason, men in particular, they don’t hate on it. There’s nothing to hate on because it is what it is. So I think that part of her game lends to people cheering for it. I think it’s also captivating, right? The way that she plays with the long-distance shooting, it’s captivating. Everybody’s interested in it. So that’s one part of it.”

Bird added: “I think the other part is that women’s basketball is having a moment and that moment needed somebody to team up with it. So Caitlin, based on just the year in which she was born and doing what she is doing in college right now, is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this moment. There are other players right now in college basketball where you can feel excitement. JuJu Watkins is killing it at USC and could arguably end up being one of the best players ever. I’m not saying that loosely; it’s because of the way she is starting her career.”

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Caitlin Clark’s scoring record makes her historic. Her greatness makes her unmatched

Clark’s decision about whether to leave Iowa has become a major debate in sports media and among sports fans. Recently, former WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes discussed that potential rookies like Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese will take time to develop in the WNBA because it’s a veteran-heavy league.

When asked what she would do if she were Clark, Bird did not hesitate.

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“If I am Caitlin Clark, I am coming out of college,” Bird said.

Required reading

(Photo: Morgan Engel / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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WWE star Randy Orton touts Cody Rhodes' rise to top of pro wrestling

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WWE star Randy Orton touts Cody Rhodes' rise to top of pro wrestling

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Before Cody Rhodes was on a collision course with Roman Reigns, The Rock and the rest of The Bloodline faction, he was just trying to make a name for himself in WWE like anyone else.

The famous wrestling name of “Rhodes” carried as much weight as it could early in his career. He had a leg up on the competition when he entered Ohio Valley Wrestling because his father, the late great Dusty Rhodes, had trained him since he was 12. He enhanced his skills in the territory before he moved up to the main roster in 2007. Toward the end of 2008, he was in a faction with superstar Randy Orton.

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Ted DiBiase Jr., Randy Orton and Cody Rhodes appear during the WWE Monday Night Raw show, Aug. 24, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Orton, whose career will be profiled in the A&E series “Biography: WWE Legends” on Sunday, led The Legacy with Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr. The two-year run in the group included a tag team championship with DiBiase, but the group would split in 2010.

Orton told Fox News Digital in a recent interview he didn’t necessarily see the possibility of Rhodes becoming the transcendent superstar he is today while the two teamed up in the late 2000s.

“I definitely saw potential, but to say I saw the potential of what he [is] now, I don’t know that if in 2007 or whenever he came on the roster, I don’t know if I looked at a young Cody Rhodes and thought he’s going to beat the s— out of Brock Lesnar 15 years from now,” he said. “I don’t think I could call that one. But like last summer, he had a run of three or so matches with Brock where, I mean, he has just come so far.”

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Rhodes left WWE in 2016 and hit the independent circuit hard. He appeared in Ring of Honor, TNA Wrestling, New-Japan Pro Wrestling and later helped form All Elite Wrestling.

In 2022, his time with AEW came to an end. He stunned the crowd at WrestleMania 38 when he challenged Seth Rollins and beat him. Aside from a torn pectoral injury, Rhodes was catapulted into superstardom.

Cody Rhodes yells in delight

Cody Rhodes (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

WWE STAR RANDY ORTON SAYS HE WASN’T READY TO BE YOUNGEST CHAMPION AT 24, TALKS DOCUSERIES EPISODE

“And what he did for the business when he left and what he did for us talent in offering a competition, and I don’t know if I call it competition now, but for a hot second there, Cody was buzzing because he got these guys together, got a ragtag group of guys together and got a TV deal and was drawing eyes from all over the world with this product,” Orton said. “And the fact that he came back to us, I think, kind of shows you where the obvious No. 1 place to be is if you’re a pro wrestler.”

Rhodes is now due to headline WrestleMania 40 in Philadelphia and potentially finish his story and win the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship.

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WWE teased for a few weeks that, after winning the Royal Rumble for the second straight time, Rhodes would challenge Rollins for the World Heavyweight Championship. The Rock even came back to try to insert himself into the WrestleMania main event against Rhodes. The WWE Universe, instead, clamored for Rhodes to finish the story.

Orton said that support underscored just how popular and important Rhodes is in the company and in the industry.

“I love that he’s come back home. I love that he’s a part of the locker room,” he said. “I love when I see him talking to other young talent and the role that he’s in now as, like, a top guy. And if not just a top guy, possibly in a short amount of time, the top guy.”

Cody Rhodes in 2023

Cody Rhodes arrives at the red-carpet premiere of the Peacock original WWE documentary “American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes” on July 18, 2023, in Sandy Springs, Georgia. (WWE via Getty Images)

“I mean, think about it like this: There’s a lot of fans out there that would rather see Cody finish his story than to see arguably the biggest superstar in the world right now compete at WrestleMania. They prefer seeing Cody, and that is huge. There’s no one else on the roster that could take that position from Cody, not even The Rock.”

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Prep sports roundup: Birmingham to face El Camino Real for City Division I boys soccer title

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Prep sports roundup: Birmingham to face El Camino Real for City Division I boys soccer title

It’s happening again. One of the best sports rivalries in the City Section — Birmingham versus El Camino Real in boys soccer — will be showcased for the second consecutive season in the City Section Division I championship game on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Valley College.

Birmingham took care of business on Wednesday, defeating Fremont 5-0 in the semifinals. Damian Lopez contributed two goals. El Camino Real players attended the game. Many of the players know each other. Birmingham standout junior Steven Ramos plays on the same club team with several El Camino Real players.

“It’s going to be an exciting game,” Ramos said. “On the field, no friends. Outside the field, we’re close.”

Ramos is one of the best players in the City Section. Only a junior, his versatility playing defense and scoring goals makes him a marked man. He has seven goals and contributed a decisive corner kicker early against Fremont that was headed in by Lopez for a 1-0 lead.

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Birmingham has reached the final under first-year coach Gus Villalobos, who was part of the El Camino Real rivalry as a player.

“Can’t get any better than that,” he said of facing El Camino Real for the third time this season. The two schools split their league meetings.

Girls soccer

El Camino Real 2, Granada Hills 0: The reigning City Section player of the year, Sharon Alcocer, scored two goals to help El Camino Real advance to Friday’s Division I girls’ final at 7 p.m. at Valley College.

Cleveland 2, Palisades 2: The Cavaliers advance to the City final on penalty kicks, with Natalie Grant getting the winning score.

Baseball

Westlake 3, El Camino Real 1: The Warriors (5-0) won the championship game of the Easton tournament behind left-hander Dylan Volantis, who struck out 11 in six innings with no walks. He had 10 strikeouts last week against Birmingham. Kaden Youmans came on in the seventh for the save. Nolan Johnson had three hits.

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Arlington 7, Long Beach Millikan 5: The Lions are 3-0. Andrew Magallanez had two hits and two RBIs.

Harvard-Westlake 5, JSerra 0: Duncan Marsten threw five scoreless innings with five strikeouts and Bryce Rainer followed with two scoreless innings with five strikeouts to lead the Wolverines. Rainer also had two hits.

Hart 5, St. Francis 2: Michael Hogen had two hits for the Indians (3-2).

Corona Centennial 5, Barstow 0: Michael Nonis hit a three-run home run for the Huskies.

Corona Santiago 5, Charter Oak 4: Andres Zamaro broke a 4-4 tie with an RBI single in the sixth inning. He finished with two hits for Santiago.

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Orange Lutheran 3, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame 0: The Lancers (4-0) broke through for three runs in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI single from Josiah Hartshorn and two-run single from Nate Savoie to hand a defeat to Levi Sterling. Three Orange Lutheran pitchers combined for the shutout.

Softball

Norco 8, Yucaipa 1: Tamryn Shorter homered in the first at-bat of the first game of the season for the Cougars. She finished with two hits and two RBIs.

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