This Super Bowl is a hypothetical come to life. We’ll never have to speculate about how the NFL’s emerging great one in Patrick Mahomes would fare against the league’s all-time champion in Tom Brady. We’re about to find out.
People often exaggerate about things like this, but this time it’s true: This will be the greatest quarterback matchup in Super Bowl history. Set aside that the Bears failed to persuade Brady to sign last offseason and bypassed Mahomes in favor of Mitch Trubisky, and enjoy something historic.
It outshines Joe Montana’s battles against Dan Marino and John Elway, as well as when Drew Brees beat Peyton Manning a decade ago. It’s as though Kobe Bryant or LeBron James had gotten a real shot at Michael Jordan while he was still at the top of his game.
Brady, of course, can’t be considered at the top of his game at 43, but he’s close enough to it for this to be legitimate. He had a 102.2 passer rating this season, same as he posted in 2015 and higher than many of his prime years, and he indicated he intends to keep playing well beyond this.
The scary thing for every team other than Kansas City, by the way, is that Mahomes can’t possibly be considered at the top of his game, either.
As incredible as he has been, putting together arguably the greatest start to a career in NFL history, he’s just 25 — a year younger than Trubisky. There’s plenty more to come for a player who already has a regular-season and Super Bowl MVP on his shelf.
So it’s not as perfect as if they could time travel and face each other at 30, but it’s close enough. And the great drama of this showdown is the implication it will have on each player’s legacy.
Much like James, it won’t be long until Mahomes is competing against ghosts rather than his contemporaries. He will spend his career chasing Brady’s legacy, and this game will be pivotal in that pursuit.
Brady has an NFL-record six Super Bowl rings and toppling Mahomes for No. 7 while simultaneously keeping him stuck at one would give him a nearly insurmountable lead. Conversely, a Mahomes win would keep him very much in the race, trailing 6-2.
“I think that’s more of a long-term thing,” Mahomes said. “For me, I’m trying to find a way to repeat, find a way to win a second championship and find a way to do whatever I can to win with this team. You don’t get these opportunities every single year in the NFL. You don’t want to look back and have regrets about how you played and how you went about the week.
“Once your career is done, then you look at those things and see where those moments were in your career—where you could’ve had something or where you executed and you did go out there and achieve your dreams.”
Brady, who identifies with Jordan’s obsessively competitive nature, likely has that long-term score in his mind. But there’s plenty else.
Many believed he was on his way out after declining production in 2018 and ’19, but here he is outlasting Brees and Philip Rivers — two players who entered the league after him. There was doubt as to whether Brady could win without Bill Belichick as his coach, too, and he has seemed particularly intent on dousing that conversation this season.
“We are one game away from the ultimate goal in this sport [and] I’ve been a part of that ultimate goal six other times,” Brady said. “They’ve all meant something a little bit different to me. They’ve all been very unique in their own way. It’d just be cool to accomplish it this time.”
And, whether it’s him or Mahomes raising the trophy, it’ll be cool to watch.