Chiefs gain fame while being hunted

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Five seasons ago when the Chiefs returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years, they were the new sensation and a sentimental favorite about everywhere beyond the fans of their foes, the San Francisco 49ers.

The dynamics of that wave were uniquely appealing. They included the team's fresh and redemptive tale after a half-century marked by mind-bending playoff torment, the play of mesmerizing second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes and an abiding admiration of Coach Andy Reid around the NFL -- and a prevailing sense it finally was his time.

That was true even in Philadelphia, where most fans were ready for change when he lost his job after the 2012 season. Perhaps aided by the fact the Eagles had won their first Super Bowl two years before, many Eagles fans with whom I grew up or went to college in the area were Team Reid all the way. Somewhat unabashedly, so were a number of Philly and national broadcasters.

"Listen, I'm insulated from it, but if that were the case it's probably because I'm old and hadn't won one (as a head coach)," Reid said with a smile.

Two titles in three Super Bowl appearances over four seasons later, the Chiefs at midseason are on trajectory to add to their NFL record by hosting a sixth consecutive conference championship game and in fine shape to play in yet another Super Bowl.

So the broader NFL view of them has long since ceased being that of the cuddly fairy tale. And it might be surmised that this is particularly true when it comes to the Eagles and their fans entering their Super Bowl LVII rematch on Monday night in Kansas City.

No doubt there's plenty of aversion toward the "it" team that not only overstayed its welcome but also sprawled out all the more. In this case, that's globally through the virtually omnipresent and immensely marketable Mahomes, the Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift phenomenon and recently playing in Germany.

If one of Mahomes' infinite sponsorships wasn't with Head & Shoulders shampoo, he and the Chiefs would be a perfect fit for a reprisal of that old Pantene "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" campaign.

All of which brings us to a paradox:

Because of those fascinating avenues of growth and this ascent into uncharted terrain, the Chiefs simultaneously are better known and quite arguably more popular than ever ...

Even as they've no doubt amassed more NFL fans eager to see their comeuppance.

In an interview with The Kansas City Star during training camp in St. Joseph, Mahomes said he could feel resentment building "in a sense" and that "it's not as fun for other people to root for us because we've won so much recently."

"No one likes when a team is winning a lot," he said. "I remember growing up, and I didn't like the Patriots because they won all the time. Everybody wants change. They all want their opportunity to win."

For sure. And this seems like about the time that boomerang should be coming back this way.

But despite the legions who are over the Chiefs and ready for somebody, anybody, to derail their dynastic aspirations, they remain a huge draw -- playing before two of the NFL's three highest audiences this season, with what seems likely to be the highest-rated of all looming on Monday night -- and basking in a galaxy of new followers.

So much so that team president Mark Donovan recently told The Associated Press that the Chiefs' ambition is to become "the world's team."

Then there's the matter of Mahomes -- the winsome face of the league and of Kansas City itself.

Between his creativity and sportsmanship on the field and his engaging and solicitous persona off it, Mahomes has become a world-wide star admired by his peers and consistently surveys among the most-liked NFL players.

And that takes us to another element of this.

While these Chiefs haven't remotely achieved what the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Patriots did, winning six of nine Super Bowls they played over a 20-year span, they also have none of the same sort of notoriety as the polarizing Pats.

Incredible as their achievements were, they'll always be linked to Deflategate, Spygate, the ever-grim Belichick and the perception of Brady as a privileged whiner who was married to a super-model.

Meanwhile, no one has ever accused Reid's Chiefs of cheating. And part of Mahomes' down-to-Earth appeal is the fact he's married to the high school sweetheart he pursued.

Moreover, Reid's approachable demeanor also is unchanged as he's gone from one of the greatest coaches never to win the Super Bowl to simply one of the greatest ever. He typically remains restrained in his public remarks but seldom is dour and has let his personality show in a few recent commercials.

Compared to Belichick speaking with the media, Reid might as well be hosting The Tonight Show -- where Reid worked as a caterer when he was growing up in Los Angeles.

As for this whole Kelce-Swift bit, yes, it's a nuisance to some locally. Other Chiefs fans fret it is, or will, become a problematic distraction. Doubtless, it's a point of cynicism to non-Chiefs NFL fans.

But it carries a certain charm of its own because its origins have been nurtured right here in our unassuming city, not on a coast or one of the nation's megamarkets, and it sure seems to me to be just a lot of fun.

A tipping point or a reckoning may soon await the Chiefs, whether on the field or in the general public view of them.

But in the meantime, they're still expanding the brand and gaining popularity even as the novelty of their rise has expired.