They soared into Super Bowl 55 quite literally, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes combining for 605 passing yards in their respective conference championship games. Their arrival in this matchup is no coincidence.
Buccaneers vs. Chiefs contains the best quarterback of all time vs. the best quarterback of this time.
There never has been a Super Bowl QB matchup like it.
That’s right: 55 Super Bowls, no precedent.
Of course, there have been great quarterback duels before: Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach to close the 1975 and 1978 seasons; Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino to end the 1984 season; John Elway vs. Brett Favre to finish the 1997 season; Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees to conclude the 2009 season and Brady vs. Russell Wilson to complete the 2014 season.
What separates the 2020 season finale from all the others is the presence of the aging GOAT and the one player in the game who feasibly could surpass him.
The only thing close in that regard was Montana-Elway in 1989, with Montana already having banked three Super Bowl titles at age 33 and Elway, at 29, making his third appearance without a victory. Elway was not expected to break through that year, and he did not, with the 49ers’ 55-10 blowout easily covering the 12-point spread.
Brady owns six Super Bowl rings, all earned with the Patriots, the first won in the 2001 season and the last as recently as the 2018 season. He has thrown more touchdown passes than any other player, made 14 Pro Bowls, earned three MVP awards, appeared in a record 10 Super Bowls. On a day when he threw three interceptions and his team’s ground game alternated between underutilized and underwhelming, Brady maneuvered ably enough through the Green Bay defense to accumulate 280 yards, three touchdowns and a 31-26 victory.
And if there is anyone who can surpass him, it would be Mahomes, who earned his first Super Bowl ring at age 24, the same as Brady, and is back for a shot at a second in a row and a chance to become the youngest to win consecutive Super Bowls at the quarterback position. He threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, did not turn over the ball and only allowed the KC punter onto the field once.
As Sporting News NFL expert Vinnie Iyer noted, this is like if Michael Jordan had met LeBron James in the NBA Finals in the mid-2000s.
“Kobe [Bryant] has one of the best mentalities of all time as far as competitors going out there and winning championships, not just winning games,” Mahomes said, taking the NBA analogy a step farther in speaking with reporters after Sunday’s victory. “I take a lot from that, going out there every single day and not being satisfied with where you’re at.
“The job’s not finished. When we went into the season, we weren’t talking about going to the Super Bowl. We were talking about winning it again.”
Just three years into his career as a starter, Mahomes has appeared in the conference championship game each time. He recorded double-digit victories in each of those seasons. He has averaged 4,622 passing yards and 38 touchdowns per season. He has thrown only 23 interceptions, total, in those three years.
After his first three seasons as the Patriots’ No. 1 QB, Brady had appeared in two conference championship games and won them both. He was averaging 3,409 yards and 23 touchdowns, but the league was not as pass-oriented even that short time ago. To demonstrate the difference: Brady’s 28 touchdowns in the 2002 season led the league. Aaron Rodgers threw 48 this season.
“It’s a big-time matchup, big-time challenge,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu told the NFL Network. “We’re going against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.”
Mahomes was 6 years old when Brady won his first Super Bowl, to close the 2001 season. Mahomes’ father, Pat, still was pitching in the major leagues back then. He is only seven years older than Brady.
It may depend entirely on one’s perspective to determine which is more astounding: Brady’s longevity or Mahomes’ precocity. The middle-aged may marvel at what one of theirs still is able to accomplish. Generation Z may be more amazed that a contemporary can reach the heights Mahomes has scaled without the benefit of extensive experience.
“This is a goal, but at the same time, it’s a week-to-week league,” Brady told reporters after the Bucs had won. “You know, we’re at 7-5 seven games ago, not feeling great. We felt like we needed to find our rhythm, and we played four great games in a row. And after that, it was all bonus.
“Football is the ultimate team sport. It takes everybody. Everybody plays a role. And I’m just so proud of this whole team and just glad to be a part of it.”
He is the biggest part, of course, just like his counterpart. Who is bigger, Brady or Mahomes? The answer in two weeks might not be the same answer in two decades, but that person will earn another championship ring.