'LeBron v Jordan': Brady-Mahomes set for Super Bowl classic
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Los Angeles (AFP)
The greatest quarterback in NFL history faces off with the pretender to his throne on Sunday when Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes go head-to-head in a Super Bowl clash of generations.
After a tumultuous NFL season played out under the shadow of Covid-19, Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers face Mahomes and the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs in what has all the makings of a classic.
The 55th NFL showpiece pits the 43-year-old Brady, targeting a record seventh Super Bowl at the end of his 21st season, against the 25-year-old Mahomes, chasing back-to-back Super Bowls.
Depending on the outcome, Sunday's clash at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium could either turn out to be a passing of the quarterback torch or yet another improbable chapter in Brady's age-defying career.
"This is literally going to be like LeBron and Jordan playing in the NBA Finals," was the verdict of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback-turned-pundit Tony Romo, and for once, the hype appears to be justified.
Win or lose, Brady will make history this weekend. At 43 years and 188 days, he will become the oldest player ever to star a Super Bowl, an astonishing milestone in a brutal sport where the average career lasts 3.3 years.
Brady's achievement in reaching a record 10th Super Bowl is all the more astounding given that he is doing so with a new set of team-mates after leaving the New England Patriots last March, and with virtually no off-season preparation after Covid-19 shut down North American sport last year.
"It's been an incredible team effort throughout my life on and off the field.
"I've tried to play my ass off every week -- and I'm still trying to do it," Brady reflected this week.
The Buccaneers will also make history by becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
They earned that right the hard way, winning three straight road games in the playoffs including an NFC Championship victory over the top-seeded Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
- 'Unique' Mahomes -
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, who came out of retirement to take over at Tampa Bay in 2019, will become the oldest head coach in NFL history to win the Super Bowl if his team hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The 68-year-old has built a Buccaneers side which boasts the sixth best defense in the league, and a potent Brady-led offense brimming with receiving and rushing weapons.
The key to the game may well hinge on whether Tampa's defense is able to pump the brakes on Mahomes and the Chiefs, who averaged 29.6 points per game in the regular season.
Mahomes has an array of targets at his disposal, notably towering tight end Travis Kelce and quicksilver receiver Tyreek Hill. Mahomes has also demonstrated an ability to thrive under pressure.
In last year's Super Bowl in Miami, Mahomes turned a 20-10 deficit with six minutes remaining into a 31-20 victory for the Chiefs.
"I think he's got the ability to focus when the moments are the biggest and to deliver for his team," Brady said this week. "That's probably the mark of any great athlete -- coming through in the clutch."
Mahomes is also blessed with a peerless ability to scramble out of trouble in the pocket, and uses his prodigious throwing arm to unleash passes to all areas of the field.
"He's unique," Buccaneers coach Arians said. "There are no other quarterbacks who run all the way out to the right and then throw the ball back across the field to the left. In fact, you teach players not to do that. He's an amazing player. There's nothing about his game that's not better than most."
Meanwhile, Sunday's Super Bowl is the final act of an NFL season that has been completed successfully despite the backdrop of a nationwide coronavirus pandemic that has surged out of control at different times.
While Covid-19 forced multiple games to be postponed, and in one case required a team to start a game without a recognised quarterback, the league's safety protocols have largely held firm.
While most games this season took place in empty stadiums, limited numbers of fans were allowed into some venues.
- Slimline Super Bowl -
Sunday's Super Bowl will host a socially distanced crowd of around 25,000 in a venue which normally holds around 65,000 spectators.
The crowd will include 7,500 vaccinated frontline health workers who have been invited to attend by the NFL.
The slimmed-down nature of the event also extends to the hoopla surrounding the Super Bowl.
VIP parties have been scaled back and several corporate giants have also declined to take part in the traditional blitz of television advertising that accompanies the biggest event in the US sporting calender.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to US President Joe Biden, has meanwhile urged Americans not to gather for parties for fear of causing a resurgence of the virus.
"As much fun as it is to get together for a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that," Fauci said this week. "Watch the game and enjoy it, but do it with your family or the people in your household,"
© 2021 AFP