Mecole Hardman the unlikely hero for Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII win

The Georgia product was not re-signed but brought back in a trade

                        Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (12) scores the winning touchdown in overtime during Super Bowl LVIII against the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. The Chiefs won 25-22. (Bridget Bennett/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

Credit: NYT

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (12) scores the winning touchdown in overtime during Super Bowl LVIII against the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. The Chiefs won 25-22. (Bridget Bennett/The New York Times)

LAS VEGAS -- Mecole Hardman was an unlikely hero for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII.

After not being re-signed after last season, Hardman returned to play a supporting role this season. With the season on the line, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Hardman, the former Georgia standout, for the overtime 25-22 victory on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.

“It’s really a two-way play called Tom and Jerry,” Hardman said of the final play. “I think Pat (Mahomes’) said, “We’ll let you all figure out who’s who. ... I knew I was going to get the ball, caught the football. I blacked out. I’m not going to lie, I blacked out. I seen Pat running toward me and I’m thinking, we just won. I understand now and after that. The rest is history.”

“Look, he was cut,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of the roster move. “That’s a tough thing. Tough to handle mentally.”

After the Chiefs didn’t re-sign Hardman, he signed a one-year, $4-million contract with the Jets. Hardman, who was a second-round pick in 2019 by the Chiefs, didn’t fare well with the Jets after quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a Achilles injury. He caught just one pass for six yards in six games with the Jets. The Chiefs, who were struggling at wide receiver, made a trade for Hardman. The Chiefs picked up Hardman and a 2025 seventh-round pick and sent the Jets a sixth-round pick.

“He came in with a positive attitude,” Reid said. “He said, ‘hey, I just want to help you guys win.’”

Hardman had a 52-yard catch earlier in the game.

“We kind of know what he does best,” Reid said. “(Offensive coordinator Matt) Nagy does a great job of putting him position. ... Where to put him and how to use him. So, you saw that, you saw it tonight.”

The Chiefs call the play that Hardman scored on a “corn dog.” They used it twice against the Eagles last season in Super Bowl LVII to break receivers Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney open for touchdowns.

“We got another corn dog that worked for us,” Reid said.

Hardman ran the play correctly. He went inside and then altered his direction back outside to get wide open and sink the 49ers.

Near the trade deadline, the Chiefs did a re-assessment and felt that Hardman could help their passing attack.

“Because he works hard at it and he can run like son of gun,” Reid said. “He’s fast. So, we were able to hit him on the deep one, but we didn’t’ capitalize on it. We came back at the end and we have a quarterback that made it work for us.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Wide receiver Rashee Rice is a big supporter of Hardman.

“He’s played a bigger role than anybody knows because on the sideline, things weren’t going good or perfect at all throughout the game,” Rice said. “He continued to say things to me and patted me on the back or slapped me on my knee and said, a big play is going to come to you.

“Obviously, I had that crossing route to convert to a first down, but him speaking that to existence, he also spoke his plays to existence. So, I’m happy for him.”

Mahomes was fine with getting the ball to Hardman with the 49ers directing most of their attention to tight end Travis Kelce and Rice.

“He’s always ready for the moment,” Mahomes said. “He’s someone that continues to practice hard and get better. That (wide) receiver rotation, we were bouncing around a lot of guys all season long. Those guys continued to work.

“You never know who it’s going to be, just everybody being ready for the moment. He was ready for that moment and made a couple of big plays.”

Mahomes wasn’t certain if Hardman was going to get open.

“I kind of looked back to him,” Mahomes said. “That’s always a little risky, but I wanted to make sure that it was open. Coach Reid definitely calls those plays at the right time.”

It was a great ending to a tumultuous season for Hardman.

“This was a roller coaster,” Hardman said. “(There were) a lot of ups and downs. I was going through a lot, especially with the injury, trying to start over with a new team. I didn’t really play well.”

The trade helped both parties.

“Kansas City welcomed me back with open arms,” Hardman said. “Now to get here to the Super Bowl and the end and got to end how it ended. I don’t think I would want it any other way.”

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