The Super Bowl ticket-punching celebration had begun to wind down in the visitors locker room at Arrowhead Stadium, so Tom Brady slipped off to tend to some important business that January evening in 2019.
He had to speak with the young, rising star he had just bested. Because even in defeat, Patrick Mahomes made an impression on the future Hall of Famer.
“I was kind of leaving the stadium and they had obviously been celebrating, about to go to the Super Bowl,” Mahomes recalled, the memory still fresh in his mind 22 months later. “And he just kind of talked about how he respected how I did everything the right way and stuff like that. So, it’s just cool to have a guy of the stature who’s won championships, seems like year in and year out that has respect for your game just as much as you have for his. It was definitely a cool experience that I was able to know I was doing things the right way early in my career.”
Two weeks after that AFC championship showdown, Brady won his sixth Super Bowl ring, and fourth Super Bowl MVP trophy. But in retrospect, during that talk with Mahomes, he very well may have begun the process of passing the torch of greatness onto the Chiefs’ quarterback.
The next time they faced, late in the 2019 season, Mahomes emerged victorious after outdueling Brady. Two months later, Mahomes hoisted his own Super Bowl after leading the Chiefs to victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
The GOAT and meteoric-rising youngster meet again this Sunday in Tampa, Brady’s new home. The 43-year-old is again trying to stave off Father Time, this time in hopes of leading the talent-rich Buccaneers on a quest that ends with him adding one more ring to his collection.
The 25-year-old Mahomes again is playing at a MVP level while on a mission to join Brady in a fraternity so elite that it currently consists of only 11 members: the multi-Super Bowl-winning quarterback club. (And only seven quarterbacks have won back-to-back Lombardi Trophies).
The meeting pits Brady — the face of the NFL for the better part of two decades — against Mahomes — the player best positioned to succeed the former and orchestrate a similarly legendary career. Think Michael Jordan versus an ascending LeBron James.
It’s impossible to know how Mahomes’ career will play out, but enough parallels exist that you can’t help but like Mahomes’ chances of leading a long and trophy-filled career.
Like Brady, he won his first Super Bowl at the age of 24.Like Brady for all those years in New England, Mahomes has the luxury of playing for a highly successful and innovative coach, and an organization with a strong foundation. Mahomes also possesses an exceptional football IQ and feel for the game, just as Brady does.
“I think it starts with they’re both extremely smart. They process information very, very quickly and they’re very talented,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, who evaluated Mahomes extensively leading up to the 2017 draft, said when asked about the similarities between Brady and Mahomes.
Mahomes, Arians said, “probably had the best workout of any kid I went and worked out personally – he and Andrew Luck were the two by far on the board. Unbelievable ability. He has great weapons around him, and I think keeping those guys around him and keeping that offense intact – especially next year with the cap – it’s going to be harder and harder. He’s a great, great player – I knew he would be great. He’s so smart and so talented.”
But Mahomes and Brady certainly have their differences, on and off the field.
While Brady is the classic, pocket passer, Mahomes is a hybrid, possessing proficiency from the pocket, mobility and athleticism that enables him to torment defenses with his arm and his legs and the wizardly ability to do things on the field few others can.
Off the field, Mahomes checks every box. He embraces the opportunity to use his platform to impact lives through charitable work and political activism. He has a growing business portfolio, including his ownership stake in the Kansas City Royals, and like Brady, he is highly marketable. Last year, Mahomes’ jersey led in NFL jersey sales, just ahead of Brady’s. In the last two months, Brady’s Bucs jersey ranks No. 1, and Mahomes’ ranks second.
Mahomes seemingly is fully equipped to anchor the NFL and lead this generation of quarterbacks as the sun sets on the careers of the stars of the last 20 years.
“The league is in such great hands from a quarterback perspective,” Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers told USA TODAY Sports when asked about Mahomes.
But the ever-modest Mahomes doesn’t consider himself as someone capable of reaching Brady’s level of popularity nor does he concern himself on whether he ever will.
“He’s someone that’s a global star and so for me I just try to be myself,” Mahomes, who leads the NFL in passing yards, said this week. “I just go out there every single day and put in the work and try to win football games and all that other stuff kind of comes with it. For me, I just try to be a normal guy and live it up with my teammates and have fun doing it.”
So, on Sunday, Mahomes will focus on extending the Chiefs’ winning streak to six games and continuing their title defense.
The sun certainly is setting on Brady’s career. But in the meantime, he still craves another grand finale, although it could prove challenging.
This week he is trying to rebound from Monday night’s performance in which he threw a game-killing interception rather than the familiar game-winning drives of his storied career.
Although he ranks fourth in passing yards, Brady has indeed shown signs of mortality. He at times has looked uncomfortable in the new offense, and he has battled inconsistency. Three times he posted multiple-interception games, and his Bucs are 0-4 in prime time.
But the potential is there (the Bucs rank sixth in scoring), as is the respect Brady still commands.
Said safety Tyrann Mathieu, “I see the greatest quarterback of all time. Obviously, we have Patrick, but I don’t think you can take anything away from Tom Brady. He’s still very smart, he’s still trying to throw the ball down the field, and he has all of the weapons that any quarterback could ask for. We’ll have our hands full with him.”
If both teams have it their way, this will not be the last meeting between Brady and Mahomes. Instead, this would simply serve as a preview for the Super Bowl, a dream shootout between the most-decorated quarterback of all time and his highly gifted, potential successor as a generational standard-bearer.