I’m taking revisionist liberties, I admit, but the road to Super Bowl 55 was an impossible inevitability; a perfect truth inaccessible all season-long, but which now feels so painfully and eternally obvious. That we were tempted to believe, even for a second, despite all that’s happened, in a reality in which the Kansas City Chiefs do not arrive in Tampa Bay on Sunday, feels almost blasphemous.
It is easy to paint Patrick Mahomes as the miraculous and Tom Brady as the meticulous. The former with his ecstatic explosions of arm-strength, and the latter with his relentlessly methodical drives. But, what ultimately makes this match-up so intriguing is that Brady, thinking of championships rather than cliff-edges, remains entirely capable of the miraculous, shown by his long touchdown to Scotty Miller at the end of the half in Green Bay, and Mahomes is understatedly well-versed in the meticulous.
This weekend, in Raymond James Stadium, so it’s been billed: the old will meet the new; the champion will meet the challenger (you decide who is who); the story will meet the superstar. For a world obsessed with the eyes of history, and populated by people who fight to narrativize away the immediacy of life, this is a game of mythology – make no mistake. In this age of upheaval – in this year of asterisks – we will have our impossible exclamation point.
Back to the Future
For a moment, imagine Marty McFly, his Grays Sports Almanac in hand, reading that Tom Brady, aged 43, will leave the New England Patriots dynasty to take the perennially-mediocre Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the first home Super Bowl. Now imagine he reads, more reasonably, that Patrick Mahomes will trounce the AFC for the second straight year, imposing his faultless superiority, but that he will be injured in the divisional round and need crucial assistance from a guy called Chad Henne. Suppose that Marty finishes his reading and swiftly bins the Almanac, thinking it all absurd, unaware that this isn’t even the most outrageous place to begin.
We might better begin with “The Brady six”, the six quarterbacks selected before Tom in the 2000 NFL draft, or the infamous combine video in which the “greatest of all time” looked like a Steve Rogers of pre-Captain America fame; or begin with Brady’s uncertainties at Michigan before then, and focus on his horrific ACL and MCL injury since. Truthfully, that Brady’s right arm is now the site of countless intersecting mythologies, American or otherwise, is incomprehensible to all but the man himself. He is certainly the Super Bowl story, but Mahomes is its unquestionable superstar.
No footwork, no problem
Though less is known of Mahomes’s origin story, his own meteoric rise was far from a formality. For those, like me, who take great joy out of reading “freezing cold takes”, a growing collection of evidence pointing to the stupidity of self-proclaimed NFL prophets, Mahomes’s game has attracted some of the most cripplingly bizarre perspectives.
In the aftermath of the 2017 NFL Draft, one expert said, “Calling Mahomes a project is a major understatement. He’s nowhere near ready to play in the NFL. And, honestly, he may never be.” Another kindly added, “If you’re the Chiefs and you’re that close [to a championship] … why are you trading up to draft a quarterback that doesn’t just have bad footwork – has no footwork.” Others questioned his mechanics, his play-style, and the cost of the Chief’s trading up for him.
Mel Kiper perhaps said it best when he wrote, “This is a pick — and grade — that could look like great or silly in five or six years.” Now, with only four years gone-by, Mahomes’s contemporaries, rightly or wrongly, will be defined by their inability to overcome the insurmountable weight of his successes. Though history will look kindly on the careers of Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, all brilliant players in their own right, there will always remain a narrative of each being – excuse the grammar – “not-Mahomes”.
The future is now the past
Indeed, in the face of impossibility, there is an inevitability in the way that both players approach the game. They simply do not expect to lose: to lose and refuse to improve is offensive to them.
Describing Brady after his first Super Bowl win in 2002, with the Patriots beating the Rams 20-17, a New York Times article stated, “Nobody could have imagined, even a year ago, that Brady would be here now. He was a scrawny sixth-round draft pick … But by the time training camp rolled around in 2001, Belichick [the head coach] already suspected that Brady was the best quarterback on the team. He had put on muscle and worked on his speed.” His improvement was impossible; his improvement was inevitable.
Brady supplanted Drew Bledsoe as the quarterback for the Patriots that season. And, prior to that 2002 Super Bowl, with trade rumours swirling and the off-season looming, Bledsoe philosophically commented, “The future’s the future, and right now we’re focused on this game … And whatever happens after that, happens.” Well, the future is now the past, and whatever has happened has happened, and the focus is on the next game: who have you got on Sunday, and why is it an impossible inevitability?
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons