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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Super Bowl LVII a Black victory regardless of the result

From the vantage point of history and Black culture, the classic between Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts was a win for everyone

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s only fitting that a historic Super Bowl meeting between two Black quarterbacks would also become a game for the ages.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes playing on one leg and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts playing out of his mind put on a performance that will echo for Super Bowls to come. Mahomes threw for three touchdowns and made play after clutch play in what had to be excruciating pain with an injured ankle. Hurts was nearly as good, running for three touchdowns and throwing for another. They turned in performances so extraordinary that it seemed criminal that one of them had to lose.

In the end Kansas City won 38-35 and Mahomes won his second Super Bowl championship in a brilliant six-year career.

For neutral fans and for students of history, the performances of Mahomes and Hurts extended a legacy and wrote yet another grand chapter in the history of Black quarterbacks. They had the two longest individual quarterback runs in Super Bowl history — Mahomes for 26 yards and Hurts for 28.

From the vantage point of history and Black culture, everybody won.

Dre Brown shows off his Patrick Mahomes jersey at Mug & Mane barbershop in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Feb. 11.

Phil Ellsworth/ESPN for Andscape

I spent a large part of Saturday at Mug & Mane, a Black-owned barbershop in Scottsdale, Arizona. I wanted to explore the idea of who the Black barbershop universe was rooting for on an historic Super Bowl Sunday. What better venue than a Black barbershop to examine such a vexing issue.

If the Eagles had faced the Cincinnati Bengals, and the matchup was Philadelphia’s Hurts versus Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow the choice would be easy: “If it was Cincinnati playing Philadelphia, we’re rockling with Philadelphia,” said Dre Brown, the shop’s 36-year-old owner.

Similarly, if the matchup was Kansas City against San Francisco the choice would also be simple:

“We would choose Kansas City; we’re rocking with Mahomes,” he said.

But this season, fate threw us an historic curveball and two Black quarterbacks would face each other for the first time in Super Bowl history.

The Black barbershop universe was conflicted. Mug & Mane has become a popular spot for local pro athletes and athletes who visit the area. During the course of the week, Brown said, a number of Eagles and Chiefs players came into his shop for haircuts.

“Actually, it’s been more Eagles players and some Chiefs players,” said Brown, who opened his shop five years ago, “We enjoy cutting athletes’ hair and they love coming here for the vibe and the energy. So, we feel kind of stuck in between the two teams right now.”

Brown didn’t seem too conflicted when we spoke. He wore a Mahomes No. 15 Chiefs jersey.

“It’s tough to choose; it’s tough to have a dog in the fight, but you see I’m wearing a Chiefs jersey,” Brown said. “Mahomes, it’s hard to bet against him. Would you bet against Tom Brady?

“Mahomes is coming up and he’s in that light — being such a young athlete, always going to the championship game and divisional round. I feel that Super Bowls [are] his second home at this point.”

From left to right: Jeff Hughes, John Hughes and Juan Johnson talk at Mug & Mane barbershop in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Feb. 11.

Phil Ellsworth/ESPN for Andscape

There was a clear divergence of opinion in the shop among the barbers and customers.

The more Brown and I spoke the more apparent it became that he was conflicted. He believed Hurts was a more authentic representative of “the community.”

Brown said that he was not always feeling Mahomes culturally. Until couple weeks ago all he knew was that Mahomes was biracial — Mahomes’ mother, Randi, is white; his father, Pat, is Black. Then, a couple weeks ago, after the Chiefs’ victory over Cincinnati in the AFC Championship Game, Mahomes’ exuberant, trash-talking father was interviewed on national TV. Mahomes Sr. told the interviewer as he held his lit cigar that “I’m smoking on that Joe Burrow,” a shot at the Bengals quarterback who lights a cigar after big victories.

After Brown saw Mahomes’ dad and listened to him, his attitude changed.

“Mahomes’ father made an appearance at the end of the game and he said a few things that made the community realize where Mahomes comes from, where his background comes from, just how we actually have more in common with him than we initially thought,” Brown said. Anyone who has spent time with Mahomes’ father knows he is no shrinking violet. He is, as they say, authentic.

“We definitely didn’t know that his daddy was a brother, like that. So, to see that, it was like ‘Oh, we really got two brothers in the Super Bowl.’ It definitely amped up the energy.”

Brown was raised in Washington state and Warren Moon, who played at the University of Washington, was the first Black quarterback he became aware of. “But the first one who grabbed me was Daunte Culpepper,” Brown said of the former NFL quarterback who played in the NFL from 1999 until 2009. “He was very likable for any young kids coming along watching him. That is, until Mike Vick came into the picture.”

The barbershop perked up at the mention of Vick and others chimed in with names of other Black quarterbacks, past and present, they feel represented. But the electric Vick, who became the first Black quarterback drafted No. 1 in 2001, was the name that resonated.

Vick was football’s equivalent to the NBA’s Allen Iverson and the sense, in terms of the topic at hand, was that Hurts was closer to Vick than Mahomes.

“Vick was the culture; he was what you saw every day when you went to school,” Brown said. “He was what you saw when you went home. You saw cornrows, you saw the bigger, baggy clothes, He brought hip-hop into the space, similar to Allen Iverson. You felt more welcomed. Then you saw that white people loved him. When you started seeing that it made you feel more welcomed around them if you lived in an area that was predominantly white. Mike Vick and Allen Iverson sort of tore down those barriers.”

I asked Brown who he thought was closer to Vick: Hurts or Mahomes?

“I like Hurts. He walks it, he talks it. If you have a Black kid and create a player in Madden, he’s going to look like Jalen Hurts,” Brown said. “Hurts just has that look about him that we really can relate to.”

And yet, Brown said his money was on Mahomes.

“If you look at history, Mahomes is proven,” Brown said. “He’s been there. He’s done that, and also, he’s a Black quarterback. He gets the same kind of restrictions put on him that all other Black quarterbacks have, He’s light-skinned; that doesn’t make any difference. He’s still looked at in the same light that Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts and all the guys before him.

“To the Black community, does he carry himself like we do? Not necessarily, but at the end of the day, you’re the same as we are. Open arms, we accept you and we love that. We have two Black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl.”

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts runs for a 4-yard touchdown during the second quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium on Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Arizona.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When I was beginning to watch football and sports events with my father, the rooting interest were very simple: We cheered for the team with the most Black players. It didn’t really matter whether it was our hometown Chicago Bears, the New York Giants or whatever the rooting interest had to do with. It was similar to just about everything else that went on, whether it was watching singer Nat King Cole’s groundbreaking television show, or listening to Leontyne Price singing opera. We cheered and supported those productions, those games, those activities where African Americans had gained. These Black pioneers managed to circumvent the myriad rules, conventions, and customs whose sole purpose was to deny access and opportunity.

Fast-forward to Brown’s generation, when the NBA and the NFL have been dominated by Black players for so long that young schoolgirls could ask men in all seriousness: “Who was the first white player to integrate the NBA?”

“For me, I don’t even look at that anymore when it comes to choosing a team to go for,” Brown said. “When you look at the field, all the skill players are brothers. Name a white running back besides Christian McCaffrey. Name a white receiver — I can’t.” (He overlooked Cooper Kupp, last year’s Super Bowl MVP.)

”Honestly, in the Black community, in the Black barbershop, we don’t even look at that anymore. That’s a blessing in itself, that we don’t have to play that game anymore.”

Until Sunday, when both men playing the game’s most glamorous position were African American.

Just when you think there are no more milestones, here’s a milestone.

“I can see it being hard for some people because you don’t want to choose,” Brown said. “You want them both to win.”

Brown believed Hurts would get the nod in the Black barbershop universe because he represented the struggle and overcoming the struggle — the being knocked down and bouncing back.

“I believe a lot of people are going to choose Jalen because of what he’s been through,” Brown added: “The turmoil he went through at Alabama, getting his spot taken in the national championship game; going to Oklahoma, coming back through the ranks, and now look where he’s at. So, I think the community is behind that all the way.”

Hurts addressed that last week when he said, “I know there are a lot of kids who have aspirations to play whatever position, whatever it is. A lot of people will tell them they can’t do it, but they can.”

On the other hand, the struggle has not been lost on Mahomes, whose father spent several years in the minor leagues in the process of becoming an MLB pitcher. Mahomes heard the stories, he knows that the journey of Black quarterbacks has been no crystal staircase.

“We’ve talked about [it] the entire week,” Mahomes said during an interview session when asked about sharing a historic stage with Hurts. “It’s something that has been long overdue. It’s taken a lot of quarterbacks who haven’t had the opportunities that we’ve had, it took the quarterbacks before us to pave the way. And so, for us to be in this moment on this stage to be able to show where we’ve come as a league, this will be just the start of it, just the beginning of it.”

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes speaks to the media Feb. 9 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I asked Mahomes when do we stop counting Black quarterback firsts. Next year, if two more Black quarterbacks reach the Super Bowl? The year after that? Mahomes said never, as long as Black quarterbacks are marginalized and underestimated.

“You still see the stereotypes, whenever guys come out for the draft and stuff like that,” he said. “I think it takes us to keep talking about it, honestly. On a platform like this, for guys like me and Jalen to be in this game and show that we can have consistent success every single year.”

There certainly will be more barbershop debates around Black quarterbacks, such as who will be the next Black quarterback to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As of now, Moon is the only one. Donovan McNabb? Probably not. Vick? Probably not. Randall Cunningham? Probably not.

Two seasons ago, Russell Wilson seem assured of a spot in Canton, Ohio. But his interception in Super Bowl XLIX and his disastrous season in Denver in 2022 put Wilson in the position of having to be exceptional in the next few years of his career. The reality is that the likely future Black quarterback Hall of Fame candidates are still young in their careers. Two of them faced each other on Sunday.

So, what does all of this mean?

Over the last three weeks, as we anticipated the Hurts-Mahomes matchup and parsed the history of Black quarterbacks and head coaches, I was haunted by the by the image of five Black police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, beating and ultimately killing an unarmed Black man. What is progress? We march, we picket, protest and advocate for more African Americans— as quarterbacks, as police officers, as CEOs.

Is it time to be more discerning? We advocate for more Black general managers and team presidents who do not hire Black head coaches, Black head coaches who do not hire Black coordinators. What does it all mean if it doesn’t really mean anything?

But this is a feel-good week, and I’ve had to remind myself to not go so far afield that I forget the significance of this historic Super Bowl Sunday.

Before I left his shop on Saturday, I asked Brown for a prediction.

“My prediction tomorrow is that I wouldn’t bet against Pat Mahomes,” he said. “But I want the Eagles to win. I want Jalen Hurts to get that ring. But only a fool would put their money against Pat Mahomes.”

Dre thought for a moment.

“Honestly, it’s a win for us either way. Either way we’re getting a win.”

Mahomes and Kansas City won on Sunday but for those of us who grew up cheering for the team with the Blackest presence, this was a day when everybody won.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is a writer-at-large for Andscape.