The story of the Kansas City Chiefs' season was all about redemption, so it was only natural that a few players followed suit. In the biggest game of the year, wide receiver Mecole Hardman was one of the team's key contributors in a Super Bowl LVIII victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
It's been a bumpy campaign for Hardman, who played just a single offensive snap in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens. He bounced back in a major way on Sunday by converting on all three of his targets. One of them led to a 52-yard reception deep down the field, and another was the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Hardman's experience in the offense and with quarterback Patrick Mahomes ended up paying off in a big way against a tough San Francisco defense.
On Sunday night, head coach Andy Reid explained what made Hardman successful in the big game.
"Yeah, because he works hard at it and he'll run like a son of a gun," Reid said. "He's fast. We were able to hit him on the deep one [but] we weren't able to capitalize on it with the fumble. We came back at the end and got another 'Corndog' to work for us."
Reid's 'Corndog' mention is a reference to the plays that Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney scored on in last year's Super Bowl LVII win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Dating back to their Super Bowl LIV win against the 49ers, each championship win has had a key play name from it be revealed. This time around, 'Tom and Jerry' saw Hardman get into the end zone on the above touchdown after starting in a variation of 'Corndog.' With Hardman's score, the Chiefs cemented themselves as a modern NFL dynasty after securing their third ring since 2020.
Mahomes, someone who's spent years throwing to Hardman, isn't surprised that he delivered on the big stage when asked to.
"I don't know if it was this week," Mahomes said. "I've played with Mecole for a long time, man. He's always ready for the moment. He's someone that continues to practice hard and get better. Obviously, [with] that receiver rotation, we were bouncing around a lot of guys all year long and those guys just continued to work. Just like last Super Bowl, man, you never know who it's going to be. It's about everybody being ready for the moment. He was ready for that moment in a couple of big plays."
It's fair to assume that not many anticipated this kind of redemption for Hardman. After missing last season's Super Bowl due to an injury, he underwent surgery and later signed with the New York Jets in free agency. With the Chiefs' receiver room not living up to expectations during the 2023-24 season and Hardman not getting on the field in New York, Kansas City opted to reunite with its former second-round pick via trade. Just four games into his second act with the Chiefs, however, injury struck for Hardman again and he didn't return until Week 17.
Despite a strong showing in the regular season finale, Hardman produced just two receptions for five yards during the Chiefs' run through the AFC playoffs. Two fumbles in the Divisional Round seemed to seal his fate for the rest of the postseason. As they have with others this season, Kansas City instead went back to their maligned wideout in another critical situation. This time, he helped get his team across the finish line.
Heading into the offseason, it's unclear what Hardman's future will look like. Now five years into his career, he'll have another opportunity to test free agency. Could the Chiefs pursue him and keep him in Kansas City for longer? That's entirely possible, especially considering the speed he brings to the table and his fit in the offense. Even if that doesn't happen, though, he'll still go down in franchise history as the latest player on the receiving end of a historic play. It doesn't get any better than catching the Super Bowl-winning pass from a future Hall of Fame quarterback so if this is actually the end, Hardman capped off his Chiefs tenure perfectly.