NFL superstar Patrick Mahomes enters the Las Vegas stadium on Sunday night to face an invisible opponent.
Super Bowl The leader of the Kansas City Chiefs not only plays against the San Francisco 49ers. He will also play against the ghosts of football's past. Can the dynasty continue and usher in a new era of football icons?
The Chiefs have an undisputed reign in football. They prove to be one alongside the legendary teams of the past, such as the New England Patriots of the 2000s, the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s and the Green Bay Packers of the 1970s. 1960s of the greatest teams to ever take the field in the Super Bowl era.
On a personal level, Mahomes would be in a special situation. Only Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady have won three Super Bowls as starting quarterbacks. And with all due respect to Aikman and Bradshaw, no one would say either of them are equal to Mahomes.
A victory for Mahomes would fundamentally transform his career
A win over San Francisco would fundamentally change Mahomes' career. It's no longer about whether he is the undisputed star of the NFL. (This argument, as silly as it is, will continue to exist even if Mahomes loses and one of his competitors wins next season.) Instead, it's now about moving on from Montana and Brady, the two men who are widely considered the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
At just 28 years old, Mahomes has the opportunity to write his name in the history books of professional football. An overview of his accomplishments could include three championships, two NFL MVPs, at least two Super Bowl MVPs, two 5,000-yard seasons, six Pro Bowl appearances, an Offensive Player of the Year award, two first-team titles, all… Earned all-professional honors and a second-team All-Pro designation.
Tom Brady had three titles and two Super Bowl MVPs at the same point in his career, but only three Pro Bowlers with no 5,000-yard seasons, zero All-Pro teams, and zero NFL MVP awards. Of course, the argument for Mahomes over Brady is premature at this point, regardless of Sunday's outcome.
To keep up with Brady, Mahomes would likely have to play at least a dozen more years as long as he stayed healthy and had a great team around him. This challenge is not easy at all.
Mahomes could do like Michael Jordan in the NBA
However, it is also legitimate to have this debate from another perspective. Michael Jordan won six NBA titles, while Bill Russell won eleven. Both received five MVP awards each. Additionally, Russell is viewed as arguably the best defensive player in league history.
Still, Jordan is generally considered the better player. Russell is the most decorated player of all time. And Jordan is still the GOAT.
In the future, this could be a similar build for the Brady-Mahomes matchup. Winning seven Super Bowls and reaching 10 is nearly impossible, although Mahomes has a chance to get closer to that goal on Sunday. But do we, as viewers, have to use these numbers to crown Mahomes?
During his career (excluding rookie seasons in which both played little), Brady averaged 4,054 passing yards per season on 7.4 yards per attempt and 29 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. By contrast, Mahomes averaged 4,690 yards at 7.9 yards per attempt with 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Patrick Mahomes on the road to immortality
The Chiefs' star shines even brighter in the postseason. Brady has played in 48 playoff games, averaging 279.1 yards with 7.0 YPA, 1.8 touchdowns and 0.8 interceptions per game.
Mahomes has 282.4 yards on 7.7 YPA, 2.2 touchdowns and 0.4 interceptions. Super Bowl LVIII will be their 18th playoff game.
For certain athletes, it's not about the award of the year, but about the overall legacy. Mahomes may have reached that level, joining the ranks of Brady, Jordan, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and others. His mastery is undeniable, his unique talent is evident.
If Mahomes defeats the 49ers again on the sport's biggest stage, he will be elevated to a different class, a class that is difficult to reach.
On Sunday night, Mahomes doesn't just face the eleven men on the field. He faces the task of continuing his march towards immortality, an achievement that every athlete desires but that few achieve.
By Matt Verderame