As impossibly fun as Super Bowl LV would have been if it was a fireworks show between Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, there’s no other matchup that fits exactly within the stories the NFL loves to tell more than Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady.
Brady is the unquestioned GOAT. His undisputed status is pretty much unmatched in team sports. The Montana vs. Brady debate died for good in 2017 when Brady won his fifth ring. Then he won a sixth.
Chiefs fans know that Brady’s road to his sixth ring ran through Arrowhead Stadium during Mahomes’ first year as Kansas City’s starting quarterback. The infamous offsides penalty that erased a game-ending Brady interception may not feel as painful as it did before the Chiefs finished the job last season and won Super Bowl LIV, but in the context of Mahomes’ infinite trek toward the title of GOAT, it looms large.
Everyone recognizes Mahomes has the best chance to out-GOAT Brady. Extolling his talents and accomplishments is already unnecessary. We all know how great he is, and how great he can be. It’s a matter now of just how close to his ceiling he can get.
Brady capitalizing on his second chance in that 2018-19 AFC Championship game also took away Mahomes’ chance to get the fastest possible head start on his quest to be an even more all-consuming monster than TB12. It’s not unrealistic to posit that if Dee Ford never lined up offsides, the Chiefs would be currently chasing the first-ever Super Bowl three-peat.
That would have taken one ring away from Brady and put Mahomes on track to have 60% of Brady’s ring total before he turned 26. Instead, if the Chiefs win Super Bowl LV, Mahomes will be 33% of the way to Brady’s mythical total of six rings. That single AFC Championship loss added a massive canyon to Mahomes’ trek to the title of Greatest Of All Time.
That trek could end immediately if Kansas City doesn’t beat Tampa Bay. The Chiefs could win 15 straight Super Bowls after losing to the Bucs and we’d still have to listen to an 85 year old Skip Bayless scream about how Mahomes can never be the GOAT because he never beat Brady. I don’t want to live in that world. I want to live in the world where Mahomes crashes through his ceiling Willy Wonka-style and is universally agreed upon as the single greatest player in the history of team sports. With a loss to Brady, Mahomes would only have 14% of Brady’s seven rings (with arguably two of those rings having been taken from Mahomes) and the trek to undisputed GOAT becomes pretty much impossible.
This all may sound silly, but it is unabashedly what Mahomes and the Chiefs are chasing. They’ve been talking dynasty since the moment the clock hit zeros in Super Bowl LIV. Hell, their inescapable mantra this season has been #RunItBack. Few teams in any sport have been so brash and open about their dynastic visions before even winning multiple championships. This team already sees itself as an all-time great, and the beating heart of that confidence comes from the quarterback. Despite his affable goober persona, Mahomes has shown repeatedly he has all the same lethal competitiveness of Brady or Michael Jordan.
This is all why this Super Bowl is so important. It’s easily — and by far — the most important game of Mahomes’ career. Not just for now, but for 20 years from now. Win or lose, the result is going to reverberate through time and control the narrative of his career for decades. Either Mahomes establishes he's on the path to be the greatest, or Brady snuffs the kid out before he even gets a chance.
Mahomes is young enough, talented enough, and has enough competitive poison to catch Brady. But now, standing in Mahomes' way is the GOAT himself. At no point did Brady have to beat Joe Montana, nor did LeBron James have to beat Jordan. Taking a Super Bowl ring away from Brady would be more impactful to Mahomes’ legacy than the win itself.