Not all Super Bowls feature marquee matchups at quarterback. Trent Dilfer vs. Kerry Collins didn’t exactly move the needle. Joe Flacco vs. Colin Kaepernick wasn’t viewed as an all-time matchup. Peyton Manning vs. Rex Grossman didn’t exactly bring much hype.
Then you have this year’s Super Bowl: Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes. The greatest of all time against the best young quarterback of all time.
The best players of two generations squaring off in a battle for the ages.
“This is like LeBron James facing Michael Jordan. Jack Nicklaus against Tiger Woods,” said CBS analyst Tony Romo, who is calling next Sunday’s game. “In 30-40 years from now, I have a funny feeling this might be the greatest matchup [of all time]. This could be one of the great matchups in sports history. This game will be talked about forever.”
Surely, Romo is building the hype for next Sunday’s showdown between Brady’s Buccaneers and Mahomes’s Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium. But his hype is realistic, not hyperbolic.
We already know that Brady, appearing in his 10th Super Bowl and looking to win his seventh championship, is going down as the greatest player of all time. And while Mahomes is just four seasons into his career, he has accomplished more by the age of 25 than any player in NFL history. He has one Super Bowl ring and an MVP trophy, and he could become the first quarterback to win two Super Bowls before turning 26. Mahomes may even win a second MVP this year, though he probably will finish second to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
If Mahomes wins, he would supplant Brady as the youngest quarterback ever to win two Super Bowls. A Mahomes win would also make him the first quarterback to go back-to-back since Brady in 2003-04.
“You almost couldn’t write a better script for us going into this game,” CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz said.
Nantz is pumped, because the last two Super Bowls he called were rather boring. Super Bowl 50 was a 24-10 yawner between the Broncos and Panthers, and two years ago there was a 13-3 dud between the Patriots and Rams, with the teams combining to run just one play inside the red zone all game.
But it’s hard to imagine a Brady-Mahomes matchup not delivering fireworks. Their four meetings have been a 43-40 Patriots win, a 37-31 Patriots overtime win, a 23-16 thriller for the Chiefs, and a 27-24 Chiefs win this season in which the quarterbacks combined for 807 passing yards.
A redux of the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl of two years ago “is impossible. It will not happen here,” Nantz said. “There’s going to be a big highlight coming at you every couple of minutes. I just know it’s going to have historical significance. This is just a dream.”
Having Brady and Rob Gronkowski back in the Super Bowl but with a new team adds a fascinating subplot. Not since Jake Delhomme in the 2003 season and Dilfer in 2000 has a quarterback gone to the Super Bowl with a new team.
“It’s really remarkable that you can do that in your first year,” Romo said. “Because it takes a lot to communicate with people, trust people, have them trust you. It really should have taken longer, but we are talking about the greatest who’s ever walked.”
The fact that Brady is in his 10th Super Bowl is mind-blowing enough. But the fact that he’s still on top of his game at 43, nearly two decades after appearing in his first Super Bowl, is nearly unprecedented in sports. Nicklaus winning the Masters at age 46 and Woods at 43 may be the only parallels, though football is obviously a much more physically demanding sport.
“Tom Brady’s not generational. He’s multi-generational,” Romo said. “You go from the class of [Peyton] Manning, [Brett] Favre, [Kurt] Warner to now. That doesn’t happen in sports. I don’t think I can talk about it enough. You’ll probably never see it again.”
OK, it’s too early to start thinking of Mahomes in GOAT terms. But he has had the greatest start to a career in NFL history. Brady won titles when he was young, but he wasn’t annually a part of the MVP discussion like Mahomes is now.
This is no fluke, either. Mahomes and coach Andy Reid should have the Chiefs in Super Bowl contention for many years ahead.
“Mahomes checks more boxes than anyone in the history of the game,” Romo said. “This is like going against New England back in the day. They’re that team now, and it’s going to be like that for a long time.”
If Mahomes wins a second Super Bowl next Sunday, he’ll still be four rings and eight appearances behind Brady. But only 25, Mahomes should have a long, fruitful career ahead of him. And he’ll have a head-to-head win over Brady in a Super Bowl, which can serve as a trump card in future debates.
“This is the biggest game Patrick Mahomes will ever play in for the rest of his career,” Romo said. “This game could put you over the top when all is said and done, to say you beat Brady, in the Super Bowl, head to head. I just don’t see another human being competing in 10 Super Bowls, winning seven, and being able to say you’re better than Tom Brady. [Mahomes] has to win this game. If he loses this game, he cannot catch Tom Brady.”
The Super Bowl has seen some great quarterback matchups over the years: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Rodgers; John Elway vs. Favre; Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino.
Twenty years from now, Brady vs. Mahomes may be the best.
“It’s LeBron vs. Jordan,” Romo said. “I’m telling you guys, this game will be talked about forever.”