This Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to do battle in Super Bowl 54. The season has been unprecedented, to say the least, and unpredictable as a result. However, as unforeseeable and different as this season was, the season’s finale features the two teams that had the best odds to represent their conference.
Whether you call it odds or destiny, it is poetic that this Super Bowl will be played between one of the greatest to ever play the game in the twilight of his career, Tom Brady, and the only person currently playing who could even consider being better than him, the young Patrick Mahomes. The rivalry between the two, despite having only taken place over the last three seasons, has been emotional, captivating, and legendary.
These two have played four times in the last three years, with the record currently tied at 2-2. To celebrate their upcoming fifth, and possibly final, game against each other, it is only appropriate to look back at the origin of their rivalry, how it has played out up to now, and how the Super Bowl will forever change both players.
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Patrick Mahomes changed football forever on September 9, 2018.
After having spent a full season on the bench in 2017 behind Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes was officially given the reigns of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense for the 2018 season. Alex Smith had been traded to Washington Football Team (then Redskins) and the expectations were beyond sky-high for the 22-year-old quarterback. KC rarely drafted quarterbacks in the first round, and not only had they do so for Mahomes in the 2016 NFL Draft, but they had traded up to do so.
In the first game of the 2018 regular season, he showed the world exactly why the Chiefs had made the move they had. 256 yards passing, four touchdowns through the air, and a statement victory over a divisional opponent, Patrick Mahomes wasted no time letting the league know that he had arrived.
The Chiefs rolled to an impressive 5-0 start to the season, with Patrick Mahomes putting up impressive performances in each of those games. Patrick Mahomes quickly became a household name, jumping not only to the top of the MVP betting odds but also to the top of NFL jersey sales in only a month. The question on every sports talk show was the same, “How do you stop Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense?”
However, the old era of football was not quite over.
The New England Patriots had been dominating the NFL since the early 2000s, thanks in large part to the talent of veteran quarterback Tom Brady. Since 2001, the Patriots had been in 8 Super Bowls, with appearances in the last two Super Bowls. Tom Brady had led the franchise to five Lombardi trophies, which gave him the most Super Bowl rings ever for a quarterback.
The Patriots’ season had started rough, with losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 2 and the Detroit Lions in week 3. However, it was never about September for the Pats, but instead how they finished the season in January and February. The Pats had started slowly only to dominate in the playoffs and win the Super Bowl too many times for people to doubt them.
On October 14th, 2018, those two worlds collided for the first time.
The old guard up against the new age of the league, the potential passing of the torch, the beginning of the new era of NFL football; this game had the attention of NFL fans everywhere and at the center of the game was the QB battle. The undefeated Patrick Mahomes up against the QB with more Super Bowl wins than most NFL franchises, the new age, mobile quarterback up against the cerebral pocket passer of old, the rocket of an arm of a Texas gunslinger up against the trained and computer-like football mind of a longtime NFL veteran.
The two teams battled hard, with the Chiefs tying the game up at 40 apiece with only three minutes left to go in the fourth. Patrick Mahomes had been electric, with 352 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air, while Tom Brady showed that he could still keep up with the youngster, putting up 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns of his own (one through the air, one on the ground). Unfortunately for the Chiefs, despite the effort they had put in to tie the game and compete with the Patriots, Tom Brady is the best player in NFL history on game-winning drives.
Brady and company drove the field, and thanks to a great downfield connection between Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski (and also a mental mistake from Kansas City’s Josh Shaw, who tackled Gronk with a minute left on the Kansas City nine-yard line) the Patriots were able to kick a field goal in the closing seconds to secure a win.
Patrick Mahomes’ first loss as a starting quarterback came by way of Tom Brady’s cold, clutch hands. This game should have been less important for Tom Brady, who just won another game against another quarterback, but this one felt different. It was immediately clear that these two were destined to do this sooner rather than later.
The Chiefs would go on to win seven more games that season, landing them the AFC top playoff seed and securing them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Patriots put together seven more wins of their own, but due to the slow start, only secured the second seed. After the Chiefs and Patriots easily disposed of their divisional opponents, the world would eagerly get the next, and arguably most important, chapter in the Mahomes-Brady story.
The future of the NFL began on January 20, 2019.
The Chiefs had only won one playoff game since 1993, which was also the last time the Kansas City Chiefs had made it to the AFC Championship game. They had suffered heartbreak after heartbreak in the playoffs since then, leading Chiefs’ fans to talk about a “curse” anytime the Chiefs made it to the playoffs. With a win over the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round, Patrick Mahomes helped the Chiefs break that curse, breathing new life into the franchise and providing the Chiefs’ Kingdom with something it had not had in a long time: Hope.
The Chiefs had not won, or even been to, a Super Bowl in 49 years, which means that the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named after the Chiefs’ founder, had never been lifted in Arrowhead stadium. Clark Hunt, the Chiefs current owner, had never lifted his father’s namesake, and it was about time to change that.
Meanwhile, the Patriots’ had been in the AFC Championship game every year since 2011. Tom Brady was trying to get his sixth ring and hold as many Super Bowl victories as the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team with the most Lombardi trophies in franchise history. The Pats had just lost to Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles in Super bowl 52 and wanted nothing more than to redeem themselves.
The AFC Championship would be featured in Arrowhead for the first time, and that is where the Brady-Mahomes story picks back up.
Despite starting the game slowly, the Chiefs picked up the pace in the second half and made things extremely competitive. As a matter of fact, this game looked to be over for the Patriots several times in the fourth quarter, including a Charvarious Ward interception with a minute left in the game that was called back due to a Dee Ford offsides call.
The Patriots scored a touchdown with 39 seconds left in the game, putting the Chiefs behind by 3 points and all but sealing the game. Although the Chiefs were too motivated and too competitive to quit there. With 39 seconds and only one timeout, the Chiefs drove into field goal range and tied the game. Patrick Mahomes was too fired up to let the game end there, he wanted 15 more minutes.
However, he did not get another chance to prove that.
The Patriots won the overtime coin flip, which allowed them to receive the opening kickoff. On the opening drive of OT, the Patriots drove 75 yards, down the field on a worn-out Chiefs’ defense. Then, without ever giving the ball to Patrick Mahomes, without ever giving the Chiefs who had scored with only 39 seconds to take the game to overtime, the Patriots scored a touchdown, ending the game.
Patrick Mahomes put up 295 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air, he had fought tooth and nail to not only stay in this game but potentially win it. If it had not been for the Dee Ford offsides, or the overtime kickoff had fallen the other direction, or Eric Berry just swats the ball away on one of the Pats’ overtime third-down conversions, Mahomes goes to the Super Bowl in his first year as a starter. However, he gets robbed of that opportunity without even getting to touch the ball.
This devastated the young quarterback, with him saying after the game that “It hurt… it’s supposed to hurt,” He went down 0-2 to Brady, and how could he ever be the best with a record like that?
Meanwhile, Tom Brady was on his way to his ninth Super Bowl, his third in a row. He would beat the Los Angeles Rams and get his sixth Super Bowl victory. This would be the Patriots and Tom Brady’s last Super Bowl together and would begin the division between the two.
Reportedly, after all the press questions and ceremonies, Tom Brady requested a private room with Patrick Mahomes, and although we will never know what was said, it is very clear that Mahomes took this conversation personally and used it as motivation moving forward.
It has been a little over two years since that chapter in the rivalry took place, with two more matchups taking place over the course of those years.
Patrick Mahomes won both of those games, although there are reasons to have reservations about both games. In 2019, Mahomes finally beat Brady for the first time, although there were two huge missed calls by the officials that essentially won the Chiefs this game. Mahomes also beat Brady this season, although this game is more known for Tyreek Hill getting over 200 yards in the first quarter.
With those two years and two matchups came quite a few changes as well. Tom Brady changed the face of the league when he signed with Tampa Bay in free agency this offseason, while the Chiefs finally lifted the Lamar Hunt and then the Lombardi last February. Patrick Mahomes got paid half a billion dollars, got engaged, and has a baby on the way, while Tom Brady learned a whole new playbook, led a whole new team, and became a Florida man.
But through all the changes, destiny would have it that one more time, these two elite players are set up to do this yet again. A win for Brady would give him seven Super Bowl rings, with two separate teams, which sheds most of the doubts and criticisms that have ever been brought up about him being the greatest of all time. For Mahomes, he finally gets to purge the mental demon that is losing to Brady in the AFC Championship game and win back to back championships. Mahomes would also win the series against Brady and preemptively end the debate about who the greatest of all time is if he continues to be as successful in his career.
This game means everything to these two players, and the winner gets an immeasurable amount from their victory. This Lombardi may just sit in a team’s stadium moving forward, but it will so much more than a trophy to the winning quarterback.