Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes poses during the NFL football...

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes poses during the NFL football Super Bowl 57 opening night, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in Phoenix. Credit: AP/David J. Philip


The joint on which this Super Bowl may hinge made its first appearance on Monday.

Patrick Mahomes climbed into his seat for Opening Night, the third time in his career he has assumed that perch as the starting quarterback of a team playing for the NFL championship. Now the face of a league whose greatest quarterback of all time retired last week, he already is a Super Bowl champ and already a league MVP and, by the end of this week, perhaps a two-timer in both. It was a throne both lofty and familiar.

Mahomes was peppered with questions for the better part of an hour, but the most important answer he gave wasn’t vocalized at all. It came from the much-scrutinized way he walked to his seat on the sprained right ankle that had visibly limited his mobility in Kansas City’s two postseason games .  .  . though clearly not enough to prevent him and his team from doing what was necessary to win.

Had the extra week of rest helped in the recovery? Had the physical toll of the AFC Championship Game against the Bengals set him back? He could say whatever he wanted, whatever he thought we wanted to hear. What he couldn’t do was hide his stride.

So all eyes were on how he moved more than ears were on what he said. The assembled media took on the role of gait-keepers.

He passed that inspection, bounding up the steps unencumbered.

“It’s definitely in a better position than it was at this time last week,” he said, adding that the ankle is “feeling good” and that he will be doing everything he can to get it as close to perfect as possible.

It’s unlikely that Mahomes will be 100% healthy by Sunday when he faces the Eagles. How close he can get to that ideal — and whether he can remain there for the duration of the game against a defense that has more sacks than any other team but two in the history of the stat — will determine Kansas City’s chances for victory.

Mahomes has skyrocketed to the top of the NFL’s quarterback hierarchy in his five short seasons as a starter. As the previous generation begins to drain from the game, he is at the forefront of a new wave of history-makers and memory-crafters.

Mahomes already has put several momentous drives and victories into football’s collective consciousness. His Super Bowl win over the 49ers, his epic playoff win over the Bills last year, his winning drive to beat the Bengals last week, make him more accomplished than any other remaining NFL player.

A loss Sunday will be a blemish, but it won’t spoil that pre-existing resume. Especially if it is clear to everyone that Mahomes isn’t able to function as he would like.

If Mahomes beats the Eagles while looking the way he did for most of this season, dashing out on scrambles and making plays on the run without any evidence of the sprain, it will be a significant victory for him and his burgeoning legacy but likely will blend into his career.

If he can somehow beat the Eagles while bouncing on just one good leg, though, it immediately will become an iconic moment in sports lore. Decades from now, folks will talk about the hobbled Mahomes willing Kansas City to the win, like Willis Reed’s entry at Madison Square Garden or Michael Jordan’s flu game.

In that way, the ankle injury can taketh away, but it certainly can giveth, too.

Mahomes has not appeared on any injury reports throughout the postseason, so he should be able to start the Super Bowl feeling about as fresh as he has since he was brought down with that awkward tackle — one the NFL will debate outlawing this offseason, by the way — in the Divisional Round win over the Jaguars on Jan. 21.

But as late as Friday, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was saying there will need to be concessions in the game plan to accommodate his quarterback’s handicap.

Asked if there will be limitations on what he is able to call or if the entire playbook will be at his disposal, Bieniemy said: “I think it’s a mix of both. We want to make sure that everything we’re putting in [the game plan], we can bring it into the game.”

That’s leading up to the game. Ultimately, Bieniemy said he expects there won’t be much Mahomes cannot do come Sunday.

“We know that Pat will be at his best when his best is needed,” he said. “You guys know him. He’s a competitor. He’s not going to shy away from anything.”

Kansas City’s hopes probably depend on it.

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