If 2024 has not been the desired new year, new you you were hoping for, fret not and use Mecole Hardman as an example of how quickly life can change. He caught 15 combined passes for two teams during the 2023 regular season. During the playoffs he tallied two receptions and was not even targeted during the AFC Championship Game. But when the Kansas City Chiefs needed Hardman the most, he had his best game of the season and hauled in, perhaps, the biggest reception in franchise history.
Going into the Super Bowl, Hardman had only one game with 50-plus yards receiving since Week 9 of the 2022 season. A day after tallying six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown, he began suffering from osteitis pubis. It is an inflammation of pubic bones that kept him in the hospital for 10 days.
Hardman would not return to the Chiefs lineup until last year’s AFC Championship Game. He caught two passes for 10 yards, and was inactive for their Super Bowl victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. After four seasons with the Chiefs, Hardman hit free agency and signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the New York Jets.
In two preseason games he caught four passes for 24 yards. Following Aaron Rodgers’ grand opening, grand closing, season-ending injury, Hardman managed to haul in one catch for six yards on five targets with the Jets. After a Week 6 win against the Eagles, they traded Hardman to the Chiefs for a sixth- and seventh-round pick in 2025.
This had to be a low point of Hardman’s career. This 2019 second-round pick out of Georgia attracted little to no attention in free agency, and was traded back to the team that he left to try and test the market. Hardman was a five-star recruit in high school, and by his fifth NFL season his career was headed towards being on roster bubbles for as long as he continued to play.
During Super Bowl LVIII, Hardman made two of the biggest plays of the game. The Chiefs’ longest play of the first quarter was 10 yards and they scored no points. Down 3-0 early in the second quarter, Patrick Mahomes and the speedster connected for what would be by far the longest play of the game. Mahomes split two defenders with a pass that dropped right into Hardman’s hands at the 49ers’ nine-yard line. If Isiah Pacheco did not fumble the ball on the next play, San Fran could have been stuck in a deficit for the rest of the game.
The only other pass that Hardman caught prior to overtime was for two yards in the third quarter. It was on the 3rd and 8, so the Chiefs were forced to punt on that drive. When big plays were needed late in the game, Mahomes largely relied on Travis Kelce’s hands and his own legs. Mahomes deserves no blame for that. If I were him, I, too, would have put my trust in my athleticism and Kelce’s future Hall of Fame hands.
However, if the other much maligned Chiefs pass catchers did not step up in the fourth quarter and overtime, then the 49ers would have taken Super Bowl Championship No. 6 to the Bay Area. When KC lucked up on that errant punt return, it was Marques Valdes-Scantling who caught the 16-yard touchdown pass on the following play.
Noah Gray, Justin Watson and Jerick McKinnon all came through during the drive near the end of regulation that ended with a game-tying field goal. In overtime, after Valdes-Scantling made a bonehead play that lost yardage, Mahomes went right back to him to get those yards back and more. Rookie Rashee Rice had a big third-down conversion on that drive, and Pacheco gained chunk yardage both as a rusher and receiver. Then, after Kelce converted that first down at the 49ers’ three-yard line, Hardman made the play of his football life that will be remembered for the rest of time.
Football had not gone Hardman’s way since he went to that emergency room more than a year ago. A disappointing free agency resulted in him returning to the team that he tried to leave for greener pastures. Combining preseason, regular season, and playoffs Hardman caught 21 total passes for the 2023 season. During Super Bowl LVIII, he caught two of the biggest passes in the history of the league.
The new year is still quite new. Fat Tuesday is still a day away, and the clocks don’t spring forward until March. These first 42 days may feel like the continuation of a Debbie Downer 2023 for some, but stay the course. You may have been discounted or dismissed, but that isn’t the end of the world.
Global warming and unfettered capitalism will one day be the cause of that inevitable fate, but that is society’s fault. People can bounce back from a rough 15 months. Just look at Mecole Hardman. A person who was measured as an adolescent to be one of America’s best athletes went from the hospital, to a one-year deal, to the Super Bowl moment of the decade. His 2024 turnaround is underway, and that won’t be the only one. The question is, do you want it?