As Patrick Mahomes hit Damien Williams for the go-ahead touchdown pass, Deland McCullough II’s world turned into a blur.
McCullough II had been sitting in Section 101, Row 12, Seat 20 of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, watching his Kansas City Chiefs go down by double digits in the first three quarters of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV.
But after Mahomes and Williams gave Kansas City the lead with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, McCullough II and everyone around him scrambled. They were handed field access passes and hurried toward the elevators.
“My mom was, like, sprinting,” said McCullough II, who just finished his freshman season on Miami University’s football team.
They waded through a crowd of more than 62,000 people, trying to get on the field.
Moments later, McCullough II, his mom, Darnell, and two of his three younger brothers, Dasan and Daeh, watched, as his dad, Deland McCullough, and the Chiefs clinched a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The elder McCullough was a Miami Athletics Hall of Fame running back in the 1990s and is now Kansas City’s running backs coach.
“Seeing it in real life — smack dab right on the field — people holding the trophies, people holding up the newspapers, it’s just, like, ‘Wow, this is real.’” McCullough II said. “You’ve got dudes laying down in the confetti, crying. It was just a big moment, especially with the way that we [the Chiefs] won the game.”
He’d only witnessed scenes like that in video games.
McCullough II, while standing on the field, saw a stray newspaper being trampled by the herd of celebrating people. He grabbed it and held on tight. He later said he kept everything he could from this weekend.
Kansas City won in heroic fashion, trailing, 20-10, with less than seven minutes left, before clawing back to win, 31-20.
“It was crazy. The nerves were going,” McCullough II said about the dramatic comeback his dad’s team staged. “By the time they [the 49ers] got up, and it was no longer a one-possession game, I remember looking around.
“Little kids were crying to their moms, saying, ‘It’s over.’ This was in the fourth quarter. We all thought it was over, but then, with the Chiefs being the Chiefs, they scored 21 unanswered points in six minutes.”
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He was surprised by the comeback, but it made sense. Kansas City fell behind by double digits in both of its previous playoff games this year, before charging back to win.
“I guess the Chiefs have a very good reputation of just making your nerves go wild,” McCullough II said, “before coming back and winning.”
McCullough II’s nerves had been simmering at a slightly higher level than usual all weekend anyway.
He arrived in Miami with his family Friday.
In the hotel, he looked over and noticed the soon-to-be Super Bowl MVP, Mahomes, on the phone.
He saw Tyrann Mathieu and a group of fellow Kansas City Chiefs hanging out.
And that was before the game even happened.
“I mean, Patrick Mahomes, that’s a guy everyone dreams of seeing, and I’m just casually hanging out, [and I see him],” McCullough II said. “It’s like, ‘Man …’”
And then there was his dad.
“He was hyped up,” McCullough II said. “He was super excited and super confident coming into the game … But he was his normal self, just a lot more excited and ready for the game.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, McCullough II woke up shortly before noon. His dad, hours away from coaching in a Super Bowl, brought breakfast — pancakes and bacon — into the hotel room.
McCullough II, his mom and his brothers left the hotel and got to the stadium around 2 p.m. All afternoon, they tailgated with eight buses worth of the family and friends of other Chiefs players and coaches.
Hours later, he was with the same group, when he heard the crowd roar.
One of his dad’s protégés, Damien Williams, put the game out of the 49ers’ reach, scoring a 38-yard touchdown with 1:12 remaining.
In the bustle of the moment, McCullough II was running through the stadium. He didn’t see the game-clinching play, but he heard the crowd erupt while scurrying toward the field.
As the clock hit zero, he ran up to his dad, embraced him and congratulated him.
McCullough II’s phone started to blow up. He was bombarded with more than 50 texts.
“At least 40 of them were people I hadn’t talked to in years,” McCullough II said with a laugh. “People would congratulate me on my dad and the family. But, they’re congratulating me like I played in the game. I was like, ‘I was just there watching it.’ The funniest ones, to me, were just like, ‘Oh, congratulations on the win.’ Of course, I said, ‘Thank you,’ but in my head, I’m like, ‘I didn’t play.’”
Then came the afterparty. McCullough II was “dead-tired” and hadn’t eaten since before the game. He found some sliders to munch on and tried to shake off the drowsiness.
He fought it into the early hours of Monday morning, through the 3 a.m. ride to the airport and the five hours of waiting with no charge left on his phone battery.
He stayed awake until after the two-hour flight and the more-than-one-hour drive back to Oxford.
Twenty-six hours, no sleep, not much food. Just a Super Bowl trophy for his dad and the best weekend McCullough II had enjoyed in a while.
Monday afternoon, when he finally returned to his dorm in Flower Hall, Deland McCullough II hung the crumpled newspaper on the wall above his bed and fell asleep.