The 49th annual 101 Awards took place in downtown Kansas City on Saturday night, marking yet another memorable installment in the longest-running awards show dedicated to professional football in the country.
Players, coaches, executives and media personalities from around the NFL were all in attendance to pay tribute to the league's top performers from last season.
The event was sponsored by CommunityAmerica Credit Union and, for a fourth-straight year, benefited The University of Kansas Health System.
Founded in 1969, the 101 Awards have been honoring the best of the best for nearly a half century.
"This is the 49th annual event, and it's hard to believe it's been 49 years," said Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt. "My dad got the idea to start the banquet after our Super Bowl IV victory – that was really the catalyst for it. It's a great opportunity for our organization and the city of Kansas City to congratulate and say thank you to the coaches and players who make the NFL special. That's what tonight is all about."
Here's a rundown of the event's honorees, beginning with the Chiefs' two team awards.
Derrick Thomas Most Valuable Player Award – Quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Named for Pro Football Hall of Famer and franchise legend Derrick Thomas, this award is voted on by those in the Chiefs' locker room and recognizes the team's top performer.
And, following one of the best seasons by a quarterback of all-time, it's no surprise that this year's recipient is Patrick Mahomes. The 23-year-old signal caller shattered multiple NFL and franchise records during his first campaign as Kansas City's starter, leading the Chiefs all the way to the AFC Championship Game.
It was a thrilling season that not only captured the heart of Kansas City, but earned the respect of the Chiefs' locker room.
Mack Lee Hill Award – Offensive Guard Andrew Wylie
Annually presented to the Chiefs' top first-year player, this award is named for the late Mack Lee Hill, who passed away on the operating table during knee surgery following an impressive rookie season with Kansas City.
The award – which is also voted on by the locker room - seeks to honor Hill by recognizing young players who perform at an exceptional level early in their careers, and Wylie certainly fits the bill.
After going undrafted an offseason ago and spending time on three different practice squads, Wylie was given a shot with the Chiefs prior to last season to show what he could do. He went on to make the most of that opportunity, putting together a strong training camp and earning a spot on the Chiefs' regular-season roster.
Wylie later appeared in all 16 of Kansas City's games and made 10 starts at right guard, authoring a truly incredible journey from a longshot to a regular face in the Chiefs' huddle.
"My time in the league has been an uphill battle, but I wouldn't have it any other way," Wylie said. "I got thrown in there against the Patriots in Week 6, where I realized it's hard, but I can do it, and then when I started the next week against the Bengals, I think I really proved to the coaches that I'm here to stay and that I can play in this league."
Now, let's take a look at the national awards.
NFC Coach of the Year – Chicago Bears' Head Coach Matt Nagy
Chiefs' fans are plenty familiar with Nagy, who served on Kansas City's staff from 2013-2017 and handled offensive coordinator duties during his final two seasons with the red and gold. It was a body of work that caught the eye of the Chicago Bears, who hired Nagy as their head coach prior to the 2018 campaign.
And, as the season went on, it proved to be a wise decision.
Nagy led the Bears to a 12-4 record and captured the NFC North title, standing as another successful member of Chiefs' Head Coach Andy Reid's coaching tree.
"I think back to the very first time that we talked and when he presented me with the opportunity to come work with him in Philadelphia," Nagy said of Reid. "It was an entry-level position, but once I got that opportunity, it was about earning his trust and doing things the way that he does them. He's my greatest mentor in this business that we're in, so we have an unbelievable relationship…to be a part of such a special tree that he's built just speaks volumes to who he is as a person."
Fittingly, Reid served as Nagy's award-presenter at the ceremony.
AFC Coach of the Year – Indianapolis Colts' Head Coach Frank Reich
Reich led the Colts to a 10-6 record in his first season at the helm, turning things around after a 1-5 start to reach the Divisional Round of the postseason. The former quarterback, who is known for leading the greatest comeback of all-time with the Buffalo Bills in 1993, also has somewhat of a Chiefs' connection, as the man that hired him - Colts' General Manager Chris Ballard - served in Kansas City's front office from 2013-17.
Ballard was back in town as Reich's award-presenter on Saturday.
AFC Offensive Player of the Year – Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Mahomes added yet another piece of hardware to his mantel with the AFC Offensive Player of the Year Award, which recognized his stellar performance under center for the Chiefs in 2018.
In fact, Mahomes is one of just two players in NFL history to throw for 50+ touchdowns and 5,000+ yards during a single season – joining Peyton Manning – and he did it in his first campaign as a starter.
But despite all the accolades and fanfare, Mahomes reiterated that his preparation for next season is already underway.
"Whenever you end just short of getting to the Super Bowl, that mentality just stays with you," Mahomes said. "For me, I really didn't take much time off at all. I just got out there and started working out. When I'm traveling, I'm working out with whoever I can, wherever I am. I'm trying to get myself in the best shape possible - mentally and physically - for next year."
AFC Defensive Player of the Year – Houston Texans' defensive end J.J. Watt
Watt was back wreaking havoc on opposing offenses last season after injuries kept him away from the field for much of the two previous years, racking up 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
It marks Watt's fourth time winning the award (2012, 2014-15, 2018).
NFC Offensive Player of the Year – New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees
Brees earned NFC Offensive Player of the Year honors after compiling arguably the best season of his incredible career. The veteran signal caller led the league in passer rating (115.7) and set an NFL record for completion percentage (74.4 percent) while throwing for 3,992 yards and 32 touchdowns.
This was Brees' fourth time winning the award (2006, 2008-09, 2018).
NFC Defensive Player of the Year - Los Angeles Rams' defensive tackle Aaron Donald
Donald was back in Kansas City for a third time in the last four years on Saturday to accept the NFC Defensive Player of the Year Award. It's an honor that was undoubtedly much-deserved.
The All-Pro defensive tackle sacked the quarterback a league-most 20.5 times in 2018 – the most ever by a player at his position.
The Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football – Super Bowl III and IV
Finally, the banquet concluded with the evening's most prestigious award – the Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football.
Named in honor of the Chiefs' late founder, this award seeks to recognize a person or group that significantly contributed to the NFL and its status as the preeminent professional sports league in the country.
That honor went to the participants of Super Bowl III and IV this year, identifying the efforts of those players – the Joe Namath-led New York Jets in Super Bowl III and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV – who helped prove that the American Football League belonged alongside the NFL.
The Jets' victory in Super Bowl III marked the AFL's first triumph in the championship bout with the NFL, and Kansas City's win a year later reasserted that the AFL was no fluke. Chiefs' Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell was in attendance to discuss that impact before being joined on stage by several of his teammates to a standing ovation.
It was a fitting conclusion to the event as the ceremony remembered those who first established the AFL as an equal with the National Football League, and all these years later, the best of the best are still gathering in Kansas City to celebrate what makes this game so special.