Los Angeles – The greatest quarterback in NFL history faces off with the young star who hopes to one day sit on that throne on Sunday when Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes go head-to-head in a Super Bowl clash of generations.
After a tumultuous season played amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face Mahomes and the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs in a matchup that has all the makings of a classic.
The 55th Super Bowl pits the 43-year-old Brady, chasing his seventh title in his 21st season, against 25-year-old Mahomes, who is trying to win for the second straight year.
Depending on the outcome, Sunday’s clash at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, could be remembered either as a passing of the torch or yet another improbable chapter in Brady’s career.
“This is literally going to be like LeBron and Jordan playing in the NBA Finals,” said analyst Tony Romo, a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback.
For once, the hype appears to be justified.
Win or lose, Brady will make history. At 43 years and 188 days, he will become the oldest player to start a Super Bowl, an astonishing milestone in a brutal sport where the average career lasts 3.3 years.
Brady reaching a record 10th Super Bowl is all the more astounding given he’s doing so with a new set of teammates, after leaving the New England Patriots last March, and with virtually no offseason preparation after COVID-19 shut down sports in North America last year.
“It’s been an incredible team effort throughout my life on and off the field,” Brady said this week.
The Buccaneers will also make history by becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
They earned that right the hard way, winning three straight road games in the playoffs, including an NFC championship game victory over the top-seeded Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, who came out of retirement to take over at Tampa Bay in 2019, will become the oldest head coach to win the Super Bowl if his team hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The 68-year-old leads a Buccaneers team that boasts the sixth-best defense in the league, and a potent Brady-led offense brimming with receiving and rushing weapons.
The key to the game may hinge on whether Tampa’s defense is able to pump the brakes on Mahomes and the Chiefs, who averaged 29.6 points per game in the regular season.
Mahomes has an array of targets at his disposal, notably towering tight end Travis Kelce and quicksilver receiver Tyreek Hill. Mahomes has also demonstrated an ability to thrive under pressure.
In last year’s Super Bowl in Miami, Mahomes turned a 20-10 deficit with six minutes remaining into a 31-20 victory.
“I think he’s got the ability to focus when the moments are the biggest and to deliver for his team,” Brady said this week. “That’s probably the mark of any great athlete — coming through in the clutch.”
Mahomes is also blessed with a peerless ability to scramble out of trouble in the pocket, and uses his prodigious throwing arm to unleash passes to all areas of the field.
“He’s unique,” Arians said. “There are no other quarterbacks who run all the way out to the right and then throw the ball back across the field to the left. In fact, you teach players not to do that. He’s an amazing player. There’s nothing about his game that’s not better than most.”
Sunday’s Super Bowl is the final act of an NFL season that has been completed successfully despite the backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic that has surged out of control at different times in the U.S.
While COVID-19 forced multiple games to be postponed, and in one case required a team to start a game without a quarterback, the league’s safety protocols have largely held firm.
While most games this season took place in empty stadiums, a limited number of fans were allowed into some venues.
The Super Bowl will host a socially distanced crowd of around 25,000 in a venue that normally holds around 65,000.
The crowd will include 7,500 vaccinated frontline health workers who have been invited to attend by the NFL.
The slimmed-down nature of the event also extends to the hoopla surrounding the game.
VIP parties have been scaled back and several corporate giants have also declined to take part in the traditional blitz of television advertising that accompanies the Super Bowl.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden, has urged Americans to not gather for parties for fear of causing a resurgence of the virus.
“As much fun as it is to get together for a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that,” Fauci said this week. “Watch the game and enjoy it, but do it with your family or the people in your household.”
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