WHITEHOUSE, Texas — Behold ... The Arm, perhaps someday in itself to be cast in bronze along with the bust in Canton already being prophesied for the man to whom it's attached.
Its uncanny power couldn't be more real.
But it's also an optical illusion.
Because from out on this limb extends such a distracting aspect of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' play that it obscures his essence, somewhat in the superficial way a fashion model or book cover might make indelible impressions that have little to do with their substance.
Because the reigning NFL most valuable player is anything but just another pretty arm.
"Everyone wants to talk about the arm; there have been arms better than his, I'm sure," Bobby Stroupe, Mahomes' personal trainer who has worked with him since fourth grade, said as he sat in his backyard one evening in July. "Been arms out there. There's a thousand guys. Doesn't matter.
"Arms don't play quarterback. People do."
In fact, the appendage isn't even what most distinguishes Mahomes either as a player or a person, separate phases of his life that not coincidentally run on many parallel tracks in how he behaves and thinks.
When Stroupe considers what makes Mahomes unique, it starts with a quenchless work ethic counter-intuitively made possible by Mahomes being the "most prolific sleeper in the history of professional sport."
"He's like a sloth," Stroupe said, laughing. "This dude sleeps, and that has got to be the No. 1 performance enhancer for him."
But the real secrets to his success can be found in what Stroupe calls Mahomes' true "superpowers": empathy, social intelligence and real-time problem-solving capacity.
Guided by what Stroupe identifies as "almost a sixth sense" and a beautiful mind that longtime family friend and former coach Chad Parker calls a "geo-spatial magic box" (yes, we'll get back to that), Mahomes is as readily considerate of others around him as he might be cognizant of a fleeting vulnerability in a defense to be exploited.
"He's a guy who is extremely aware. Of everything," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. "He's aware of how hard you have to work to be successful. He's aware of how much time you've got to put in the film room. He's aware of how important it is to study.
"He's aware about how you carry yourself and conduct yourself. He doesn't miss anything."
So as Stroupe put it with a smile, "You can talk about the arm. But you don't have to."
Instead, it's all that animates the arm that makes Mahomes something to be cherished as he makes anything feel possible for the Chiefs and is on trajectory toward the most lucrative contract in NFL history.
And a composite view through people who have known him for years and the lenses of his super-powers (beyond the arm) helps illuminate some of the phenomenon that is Mahomes.
Mahomes grew up a Dallas Mavericks fan, so he was thrilled to hear that "the guys would love to meet Patrick" when he was in Fort Worth after the season training with Stroupe's APEC group.
As they stood courtside at a practice, superstar Dirk Nowitzki stayed focused on his post-practice routine and hit what Stroupe and Mahomes separately recalled was 23 of 25 three-pointers. But as soon as Nowitzki made his last shot, he hurried toward Mahomes and yelled, 'M-V-P!" and said, "I love watching you play."
At Nowitzki's urging, Mahomes threw him some passes with a football, which Nowitzki perhaps grasped less masterfully than his own game. After Mahomes talked a little trash, as he put it, Nowitzki "made me go out there" for a three-point shoot-off.
With Nowitzki feeding him, Mahomes hit his first three-pointer and thought, "I'm about to go off" ... only to make about seven of 25.
Amid all that commotion, Mahomes learned of a Chiefs fan working in the Mavs pro shop. Since he either was too shy or awed to approach Mahomes, Mahomes approached him.
Clad in Chiefs gear, the man started crying almost instantly as he told Mahomes of several close relatives dying in the past year and how last season kept his spirit alive.
"Patrick, like, tears up," Stroupe said. "All this stuff going on, he locked in with this young man, giving him everything he had until the kid didn't know what to say any more."
It was a lovely thing to do that said something more about Mahomes, who remembered the moment instantly when asked months later.
"What that moment meant to (the fan), Patrick is intelligent enough to recognize that immediately," Stroupe said. "Which is what he does with everything. ...
"He's thoughtful about, 'What are other people experiencing in this moment that I'm here, and how can I affect that?' "
The same mechanism accounts for why he'd remind Whitehouse High football coach Adam Cook of teammates' birthdays ... and why Parker said he'd always look out for the "last kids" picked ... and why seventh-grade English teacher Dee Landers said "it was always good to have Patrick walk in the room," since he'd smile and acknowledge everybody.
Stroupe figures caring about the feelings of others even was at play in Mahomes' relationship his rookie year with incumbent Alex Smith.
Much has been made, and rightfully so, about the gracious and unselfish way Smith worked with Mahomes. But there is something to the flip side of that equation, too — the respect with which Mahomes treated Smith as his job was at stake.
"He was empathetic with Alex," Stroupe said. "It allowed Alex to be himself. Some would even argue that Patrick not being a threatening personality elevated Alex's play ...
"I think he just affects everyone like that."
That includes fans, who revere him for his play but no doubt all the more so for his evident character and authenticity and everyman humility — perhaps particularly meaningful traits in this market.
"Kansas City values, right?" said Parker, who was Mahomes' first coach (in baseball) and whose son, Jake, Mahomes calls his best friend.
And that mindset resonates in the locker room and the huddle and the way teammates gravitate to and follow him.
He somehow is absolutely is one of them even as he stands on a tier all his own.
"Even now when meet with him or we talk, it's always, 'Yessir, yessir,' " said Veach, noting he has stayed "true to who he is. The spotlight and notoriety and fame can change a lot of people."
It might be impossible to separate how much is nature or nurture with Mahomes.
His parents, Randi and Pat Sr., and broader family (a category in which it seems reasonable to include longtime girlfriend Brittany Matthews) have had a well-documented positive influence on him. Attempts to connect with family for this story were unsuccessful.
"He was brought up to say what you mean and mean what you say and raised to think of others more than yourself," said Parker, a local attorney whose office features a signed picture from Mahomes Sr. calling him "a man I can't thank enough."
It's also well-understood that some of Mahomes' poise comes from being exposed early to Major League Baseball through his father and godfather LaTroy Hawkins.
But it might as easily be noted that being the child of a pro athlete hardly guarantees modesty over entitlement as with Mahomes, something Cook observed at a football camp in elementary school when he asked Mahomes to turn his backward baseball cap around and Mahomes cheerfully complied.
If you're around Mahomes some now, or even watch him with interest from a distance, you can see vivid glimpses of a consciousness of his actions that one way or another has become instinctive.
A minor but telling case in point would be at the Pro Bowl, when he cursed on a live microphone and immediately put his hand toward his mouth in regret.
Sincerely caring about engagement with others is demonstrated by a disposition to listen, a rare gift indeed.
When Mahomes and other Chiefs quarterbacks last fall visited cancer patients at the University of Kansas Hospital, he was eager to offer encouragement at every turn and comforted many.
Alas, he initially misunderstood what one patient was starting to say about her condition, offering "that's awesome" as she took a turn and said it was the fourth time she had cancer.
That could happen to anyone. But what was notable was how rapidly and endearingly he adjusted, reminiscent of how nimbly he might respond to a surprise flourish from an opposing defense.
He went from "that's awesome" to ...
"Awesome (about) your determination, for sure," he told the woman, who was overjoyed by every moment with him.
Told of the scene, Stroupe smiled and said, "Recalibrating."
Veach also smiled and said, "The way that he's able to quickly adapt and adjust and create plays on the field translates to how he handles people. He can quickly adapt, adjust, maneuver, and always come up with a touchdown pass because he has a unique ability to process information quickly."
Cook called it a "great picture of Patrick." In his own way, he, too, related it to football.
While careful to say he wasn't remotely comparing fighting cancer to the game, Cook added, "When you look at him play on the football field, you always had hope that you weren't out.
"So when he says, 'Hey, that's great, you keep fighting like that,' think about the plays that look like they're broken down, nothing there. That's the outlook and the positive attitude that I guess he always has."
This also shows up more routinely.
Next time you see Mahomes' interviewed, notice that he almost always starts to answer by first saying, "Yeah" ... regardless of where his answer is going.
In the most practical of senses, the apparently subconscious agreeability buys Mahomes a second to think and gives him what Cook calls an opportunity to gently take the wheel and steer from there.
But it's also such an appealing trait that Landers, his now-retired seventh-grade English teacher, laughs and refrains from quibbling about the "yeah" vs. "yes."
"He may not agree with what you're saying, but he doesn't go about it in a way that makes you feel silly that you feel that way or that you might be wrong — he doesn't do that," said Landers, who makes it a point to watch every Chiefs game she can and is thrilled by his vocabulary and sentence structure in interviews and his NFL Draft cover letter.
Veach thinks of something slightly different when he considers how Mahomes answers questions. After Mahomes hit a home run during the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend softball game, his first words into a microphone were, "I'm going to Worlds of Fun!"
"Only Pat would say Worlds of Fun," he said, noting the riff off the traditional idea of going to Disneyland. "He hits the home run and he has the wherewithal and the understanding to keep it in Kansas City, to keep it here. ... I think he always lets his fanbase know how much he appreciates them."
With a laugh, he added, "This guy just gives the perfect answer to every question. It's remarkable."
Even in more sensitive situations. As Parker pointed out, after the Chiefs cut Kareem Hunt last year in the wake of video released of Hunt kicking and shoving a woman, Mahomes acknowledged his friendship with Hunt but said, "We don't do those things."
Something else comes with this inner voice: a tight circle of trust that has helped him flourish.
"He doesn't let the world influence him; he decides his circle of influence, and that's kind of it," Stroupe said. "And I think that's something special, too."
Playful with teammates, jovial with friends, accessible to fans, Mahomes is anything but robotic.
Yet he has some sort of guiding inner compass that leaves him assuredly self-possessed and bordering on unflappable.
In some 15 years or so knowing Mahomes, having seen him in hundreds of games in different sports and at his house frequently, Parker says he has never seen him betray anger.
"His dad used to say, 'Man, I wish he had some more fire in him,' " Parker said. "Because he didn't appear competitive. But sometimes that's a facade.
"He is internally the most competitive person you've ever met, and also the most controlled person inside as well."
That's part of why Parker believes Mahomes ultimately will be an historic figure, on and off the field, as his game and burgeoning brand make his name all the more potent.
"Politics or behind the scenes, he can move people and corporations in directions," he said. "He doesn't understand that kind of power yet."
Even so, Mahomes understands himself and what he wants. He doesn't get involved in what Parker calls "peripheral actions that are not substantive" and has a knack for keeping the broader perspective at his forefront.
"It isn't, 'Hey, I won this game,' or, 'Hey, man, did you see that great left-handed pass?'" said Cook, the current Whitehouse athletic director who was offensive coordinator when Mahomes was a junior and the head coach his senior year. "He's thinking about that fish that got away."
That commitment to getting stronger this offseason is just the latest manifestation of the sort of focus that Parker says Mahomes has had since elementary school.
"Patrick's always figured out what he wanted," Parker said. "And he never let anything, I mean anything, whether it be his free time, his relationships or anything else, get in the way of where he was headed."
In all this time, Parker also has observed something else striking about Mahomes: a mind he calls a "geo-spatial magic box."
It's a term he fused together from a combination of national intelligence concepts and figures appropriate with Mahomes, in fact, being a veritable magic box.
As somewhat of a marketing man himself (Parker's personal injury practice is known for the "Don't Get Hurt Twice" motto he crafted), he figures there's a nickname waiting to happen here.
"Tell (Mahomes') agent to go trademark 'Magic Box,'" he said in a follow-up text message, adding, "'Showtime, etc.,' just hasn't stuck. This will."
But it's the geospatial intelligence Parker elaborates most specifically on, confirming an outline of the concept including "where am I?" ... "where are the friendlies?" ... "where are the enemies?" ... "when might they move?" ... "what are the obstacles ... and how do I navigate among them?" ... "what is the environment?" .. "what does it mean?"
Mahomes has a capacity to process all of this at once, Parker believes, because his brain has a dexterity that few do — including a synergy of left and right brain characteristics.
So he can simultaneously apprehend terrain, situation, previous mistakes, chance of injury, where targets are moving, how to move in a collapsing pocket ... and then some.
And react accordingly. Or somehow even dictate the parameters.
All great quarterbacks have to be able to do this to some extent, of course, but it might be understood that Mahomes sees something else yet.
By way of example, Parker points to the scrambling lefthanded pass complete to Tyreek Hill for a first down at Denver last season.
"Here's the computer process: 'I'm running, I only need to throw a 5-yard pass, I can throw lefthanded,' " Parker said. "That would be the last thing on Eli Manning's mind. And it just went right to the forefront of his mind: 'I'm throwing it lefthanded. All I have to do is move that ball 5 yards just over there to that guy — and I know where the first-down marker is because everything is geo-spatially processed already.'
"Oh, and '(Von Miller is) closing on me, he's going to catch me in the next two steps.' ...
"This brain makes him about probably .2 (tenths of a second) in the 40 faster, probably a second quicker, right? If you anticipate like no other, what do you do? You buy yourself time. That's him."
If you understand his heightened awareness, you can see that it also refutes a misunderstanding of Mahomes' style, especially now under the sway of Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
The idea that Mahomes is a "renegade, rogue, throwing this thing around all reckless," as Cook put it, laughing, is absurd to those who know him this way. It was misunderstood even back in high school when he was lightly recruited (also in part because of concerns he would choose pro baseball) before playing at Texas Tech.
To Cook, Parker and Stroupe, nothing Mahomes does on the field is random or even a gamble.
Stroupe goes as far as to say Mahomes is averse to high-risk situations and disdains even 50-50 propositions.
So what if it might appear otherwise to many who don't understand him as foremost a problem-solver who relishes every new challenge?
"He can identify a problem before it happens, when it's happening, and he solves them pro-actively," Stroupe said. "Being able to see things before they happen is the simplest way to put it, but it's more complex than that."
Nevermind if it's unorthodox to others.
"It's orthodox to him," Stroupe said, laughing.
Because he's so much more than an arm.
"This kid is as close as you'll ever get to a guy who really is just everything you want," Veach said, "in not just a player but a person."