By Steve Keating
MIAMI (Reuters) – When the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers meet in the Super Bowl on Sunday there will be three quarterbacks to focus on — Jimmy Garoppolo, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady.
Chiefs’ outrageously skilled Mahomes and the immensely competent Garoppolo will be the central figures at Hard Rock Stadium. But make no mistake, Brady will be an omnipresent figure throughout the NFL championship game.
This will mark the first Super Bowl in four years, and just the second in six, that Brady and the New England Patriots will not be on the field. However, the future Hall of Famer is sure to be part of the conversation from beginning to end.
While Garoppolo was Brady’s understudy in New England, Mahomes, to many, is his obvious heir apparent and the outcome of Sunday’s game will put one on the path to assuming a leading role when the 42-year-old finally decides it is time to retire.
Garoppolo already has two Super Bowl rings from his time at the Patriots from 2014 and 2016 but never took a single snap in either contest.
If he is to win his third (halfway to Brady’s six), he will have to earn it and that is ok with him.
“Your past is part of you,” said Garoppolo, who was traded from New England to San Francisco in 2017. “The Patriots is where I started, what they did there got to this point here.
“Last two Super Bowls I tried to treat them like I was the starter. It’s not too far off – all this extra stuff that comes with it is a little different.
“The two (Super Bowl) rings mean a lot but a third would mean more.”
At the start of Super Bowl week Brady offered his former-understudy the sporting equivalent of that old showbiz cliche of ‘break a leg’, texting Garoppolo to “just go win”.
In the two postseason wins over the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings that got the 49ers to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2013, Garoppolo totaled 27 passing attempts and 17 completions for 208 yards.
That is around what Mahomes might throw in half a game.
Garoppolo has displayed impressive game management in his career, going 23 wins for five losses as a starter. Mahomes has produced similar results (27-8) but with considerably more flair.
Garoppolo’s contributions have also been minimalist with a 49ers team constructed around a ferocious defense and a run first attack.
In their 37-20 win playoff win over the Packers the 28-year-old completed just six passes for 77 yards while running back Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards – the second most in NFL playoff history – and scored four touchdowns.
Mahomes, on the other hand, has been a one-man highlight reel, particularly when he led the Chiefs back from a 24-0 deficit to dismiss the Houston Texans 51-31 in the divisional playoff.
With the help of a speedy receiving corps of Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and running back Damien Williams that could almost contend for a 4×100 meter relay Olympic gold medal, Mahomes has thrown for 608 yards and eight touchdowns in two postseason contests.
The 24-year-old does not have any Super Bowl rings, yet, but he does already have an NFL most valuable player award on his growing resume.
If the Chiefs, back in the Super Bowl for the first time in half a century, beat the 49ers Mahomes will become the youngest player to win both an NFL MVP award and a Super Bowl title.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us, we have to make sure we’re executing at a high level and not making mistakes and taking it one play at a time,” cautioned Mahomes. “I think the best thing about it is giving it to these playmakers around me and letting them make plays.
“It’s going to be amazing.”
(Additional reporting Amy Tennery. Editing by Christian Radnedge)