LAS VEGAS — The winning quarterback in Sunday’s Super Bowl will earn a special prize in addition to a Lombardi Trophy and a flashy ring.
The winner gets to be Tom Brady.
Brady’s legacy looms large over Sunday’s starting QBs, Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy. Whoever wins will have a résumé and Wikipedia page that looks an awful lot like Brady’s did at the same stage of his career.
Should Mahomes win, he will have begun his career in Brady-like fashion, with three Super Bowl championships in seven seasons. Mahomes is also looking to be the first quarterback since Brady 20 years ago to win back-to-back titles. Mahomes, only 28, likely has a long NFL career ahead of him to chase after Brady’s seven rings.
“Right now, it’s doing whatever I can to beat a great 49ers team and try to get that third ring,” Mahomes said. “Then if you ask me that question in, like, 15 years, and I’ll see if I can get close to seven. But seven seems like a long ways away still.”
Then there’s Purdy, the 2022 Mr. Irrelevant who was drafted 262nd overall. Should he bring the title back to San Francisco, it will cement the most improbable rise to superstardom since Brady, the 199th pick, led the Patriots to their upset win over the Rams in 2001. Purdy is in his second NFL season, just as Brady was when he won his first Super Bowl.
Purdy’s quick ascension has made him one of the NFL’s best underdog stories.
“You got Kurt Warner. You got Terrell Davis. And you’ve got Tom Brady. But Brock’s right up there with it,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I think fans love stuff like that. I mean, it’s what they can relate to. He got undersold because it’s how he looks, but it’s not how you look standing there. It’s how the film looks. And the film shows everything.”
If Mahomes wins Sunday, he still won’t be halfway to Brady’s seven championships. Yet he is already threatening to chase down Brady’s records, which seemed untouchable.
Brady through seven seasons had three Super Bowl victories, four conference championship game appearances, a 70-24 record, and an 88.4 passer rating.
Mahomes, with one game to play in his seventh season, has two Super Bowl victories, six conference championship games, a 74-22 record, a 103.5 passer rating, and two MVPs.
Troy Aikman also won three Super Bowls in his 20s, but what sets Brady apart from every other NFL quarterback is his longevity — playing 23 seasons and adding seven more Super Bowl appearances in his 30s and 40s.
But the Brady comparisons will take off with a win Sunday for Mahomes, who is the first quarterback in NFL history to start four Super Bowls in his 20s.
“It’s Tiger Woods-eque in terms of that run,” CBS’s Charles Davis said. “Mention any of the greats of the game, that’s where he is headed. I can’t see anything derailing him other than injury. And, for my money, he’s never played the position of quarterback better than he’s playing it right now.”
Brady may serve as motivation for Mahomes after reaching the height of his profession at such a young age.
“I think one of the great gifts for Patrick Mahomes in his career is the fact that there is a Tom Brady out there,” said Tony Romo, who is calling the Super Bowl for CBS. “I think that’s such a unique gift for him to have something to chase, like Tiger had Jack Nicklaus’s records on his wall. Each major was another one to get to where he could get to, it wasn’t the endgame.
“And I think Mahomes having that is going to allow him to not ever rest on his laurels, where he never takes an offseason off.”
Then there’s Purdy. He hasn’t won anything yet, but his rise from the bottom of the draft to top of the NFL in just two years is straight out of the Brady playbook.
Purdy said he is motivated by the doubters — those who didn’t think he could play coming out of Iowa State, and those who thought he couldn’t replicate his eight-game stint as a rookie that ended with an elbow injury in the NFC Championship game.
“Earlier this year, there’s not a lot of talk or buzz about myself,” Purdy said. “And not that I’d listen to it and buy into all of it, but it’s almost like I still have to go and play with that chip on my shoulder and prove to my teammates that I can be the guy for this team.”
Purdy almost wasn’t the 49ers’ starting quarterback this year. Shanahan confirmed last week that there was just one other quarterback available that the 49ers would have started over Purdy this year — Brady, of course. But Brady turned down their overture, and Purdy responded with a remarkable season, with 31 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions, a league-high 113.0 passer rating, and a spot in the Super Bowl.
“I’ve seen Brock play since college; I knew how good he was,” Mahomes said. “He was a winner and he made plays happen all through his college career. Usually when you can make it happen in college, no matter what your surroundings are, and turn around a program like he did at Iowa State, you’re going to make it happen when you get your opportunity in the NFL.”
Purdy, as Brady did early in his career, fights the perception that he’s just a game manager who benefits from talent around him. A win Sunday should squash that.
“I hope we finally stop worrying about the fact that we didn’t think he was very good going in,” Davis said. “Because he was No. 262, Mr. Irrelevant, we evaluators, we don’t look very smart. So we’re slow to give him the credit; we want him to collapse a little so we look smarter. If he wins this whole thing, just let it go, folks. Occasionally we get one wrong.”
The NFL should have Brady stand on the sideline at the end of Sunday’s Super Bowl. Then once the confetti rains, Brady can place a crown on the head of the winning quarterback.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.