Right or wrong, when it comes to the NFL, it’s so often all about the quarterbacks. That’s especially true of the Super Bowl, perhaps never more so than this year with Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers preparing to “host” Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs.
Even these former Super Bowl MVPs are excited.
Mahomes, whose only playoff loss came at Brady’s hands, expressed his admiration for TB12 before the game.
“I mean the way he’s able to dissect defenses before the snap is something that I truly admire, that I’m trying to get to that level,” Mahomes said. “The way he’s able to move within the pocket and to be able to reset his feet and to be completely calm and still make the throw right on the money, no matter who’s around him, is something that I’ll have continue to work on and as I continue in my career.
“I’m going to try to do whatever I can to watch tape on him because he’s doing it the right way, and you can tell by the Super Bowl championships he has and rings on his fingers.”
Brady reciprocated Monday, when he and Mahomes jointly appeared on NFL Network.
“He just has a great awareness of the pocket. Incredible vision of the field, he knows exactly when to get rid of the ball. He’s got great poise in the pocket,” Brady said.
“He’s got that nice, sweet little whippy arm that I used to have when I was a little bit younger. He’s got the athletic ability to extend plays. He’s got all the physical and he’s got all the mental tools. He’s gonna be in this game quite a few more times in my opinion.”
Helps set the table for what should be one of the greatest quarterback matchups ever on Super Sunday. Where does it rank, at least in terms of pre-game QB hype (as opposed to on-field performance)? Here’s my top 10:
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10. Boomer Esiason vs. Joe Montana
Super Bowl 23 was one of the first truly riveting Super Sundays, the San Francisco 49ers edging the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 after Montana threw the game-winning TD pass with 34 seconds remaining. For “Joe Cool,” the game brought a third ring. For Esiason, the league MVP that season (1988), the what-could-have-been moment represented the zenith of his 14-year career.
9. Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning
Following the 2009 season, Manning won league MVP honors for the fourth time with the Indianapolis Colts (he’d win it one final time in 2013 for the Denver Broncos). However Brees – he led the NFL with a 70.6% completion rate, 34 TD passes and a 109.6 passer rating that season – was Super Bowl 44’s MVP, getting the better of New Orleans native Manning and leading the Saints to their first-ever title just four years after Hurricane Katrina threatened the franchise’s future in The Big Easy.
8. John Elway vs. Montana
They were among the league’s elite QBs in 1989, Montana seeking a fourth ring and a Super Bowl repeat to end a season when he was named league MVP. Elway, the MVP two years earlier, was seeking a championship breakthrough after willing the Broncos to the big game for the third time in four seasons. Ultimately, this was no contest, the Niners’ 55-10 victory still the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history.
7. Earl Morrall vs. Joe Namath
Morrall was the 1968 NFL MVP, leading the heavily favored Baltimore Colts to a 13-1 record and prematurely into a discussion that they ranked among the league’s greatest teams ever. But the iconoclastic Namath, the AFL’s MVP that season, led the upstart New York Jets, infamously guaranteeing they’d topple Baltimore and become the first team from the junior league to win the Super Bowl. Namath delivered in a 16-7 victory that may be the most significant in football history. Morrall was benched for Johnny Unitas in the fourth quarter.
6. Brady vs. Eli Manning
TB12 already had three rings in 2007, but that season was significant – Brady becoming the first player to throw 50 TD passes in the regular season while leading the New England Patriots to an unprecedented 18-0 record as they entered Super Bowl 42. Manning and the New York Giants weren’t expected to stand much of a chance after losing to the Pats in the regular-season finale … not to mention the lack of success Manning’s older brother, Peyton, had had to that point against Brady in postseason. But a brilliant defensive game plan and an unforgettable “helmet catch” later, and Brady’s Patriots were rendered 18-1. Four years later, Eli Manning and the Giants got the better of the Patriots again in Super Bowl 46.
5. Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach
Three years after Bradshaw’s Pittsburgh Steelers bested Staubach’s Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl 10, probably the best there’d been to that point, they gave an even better encore to conclude the 1978 season. Bradshaw won the first of his two Super Bowl MVPs, passing for 318 yards and four touchdowns – though it was barely enough to outlast Captain Comeback’s late fourth quarter rally as Pittsburgh prevailed 35-31.
4. Elway vs. Doug Williams
As noted, Elway was the NFL MVP in a strike-marred 1987 season. But nearly all of Super Bowl 22’s attention was focused on Williams, who became the first Black quarterback to start on Super Sunday. After gracefully answering pre-game questions like, “How long have you been a Black quarterback?” Williams suffered a hyperextended knee that briefly knocked him from the game. He only rebounded to throw four second-quarter TD passes on his way to MVP honors as Washington rolled over Denver 42-10.
3. Elway vs. Brett Favre
It was 1997, and Elway was still a Pro Bowl performer in his 15th (and penultimate) NFL season. But the Green Bay Packers’ Favre was in the process of winning a third consecutive MVP trophy, a feat not matched before or since. But buoyed by RB Terrell Davis’ epic performance (3 TDs, 157 yards rushing) and his signature “helicopter” run that gave the Broncos a first-and-goal and set up Davis’ go-ahead TD run, Elway finally captured the Broncos’ first championship while thwarting the Pack’s repeat bid.
2. Dan Marino vs. Montana
It was 1984, when league MVP Marino passed for 5,084 yards and 48 TDs – single-season records that would stand for decades – as the Miami Dolphins cruised to an AFC crown, their superstar seemingly poised to become perhaps the greatest QB ever. On the other side, Montana was seeking his second ring after leading San Francisco to the league’s first 15-1 regular-season record. Montana left no doubt in Super Bowl 19, earning the second of his three Super Sunday MVPs after throwing for 331 yards and three TDs in a dominant 38-16 runaway. San Francisco remains one of only two teams to finish 18-1 and capture a title – the Chicago Bears matching that feat the following year. For Marino, then in his second season, it was first and only Super Bowl appearance.
1. Brady vs. Mahomes
Yep, Super Bowl 55 might actually feature the preeminent QB matchup in the game’s history. As annoyingly ubiquitous as “The GOAT vs. The Kid” tagline has already become, we may eventually look back on this game as a litmus test of quarterbacking royalty and legacy making if Mahomes can fulfill his vast potential over a protracted run. Brady and Mahomes enter Sunday having split their first four matchups, TB12 handing the Chiefs star that lone playoff loss in a 2018 AFC championship game that required overtime. Brady hopes to extend his own hard-to-fathom league records by earning a seventh ring and fifth Super Bowl MVP to cap his first season with the Bucs, whose only title came at the end of the 2002 season. Mahomes can win back-to-back Super Bowl MVP trophies by helping Kansas City become the first team to repeat … since Brady’s Patriots did so in 2004. Sunday marks the first time quarterbacks who won the previous two Super Bowls will oppose each other.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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