Tom Brady, Super Bowl underdog.
Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?
On so many levels, it’s hard to believe the best quarterback to ever play the game, the player with the most championship rings, won’t be favored in his 10th Super Bowl appearance.
But that’s what happens when the GOAT faces the baby GOAT.
Brady is the clear underdog, even with the Bucs playing Super Bowl LV at their home stadium, a first in NFL history. At least, that’s what the oddsmakers think.
They don’t favor the 43-year-old legend against the 25-year-old phenom, as the Chiefs opened as 3-point favorites last week.
Now turn the clock back to 2002. That’s the last time Brady held the same distinction at a Super Bowl.
Nearly 20 years ago, as a first-year starter taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe, Brady was given little chance to beat Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf. Brady, 24 at the time, didn’t have the experience to be a match for Warner, who had already won a Super Bowl, and was well into the process of building a Hall of Fame career. The Patriots were a prohibitive underdog, with St. Louis a 14-point favorite.
No matter. With just 1:21 left to go in a tie game, Brady calmly moved the Patriots into position for the eventual game-winning field goal.
Six championships and nine Super Bowls later, Brady finds himself back in the underdog role.
At age 43, it’s come full circle. And that’s perfectly fine.
Brady has always loved having doubters. He has always taken pleasure in proving people wrong. It’s hard to forget Julian Edelman, face-to-face with Brady on the sideline during the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs in 2018, screaming: “You’re too (bleeping) old.”
Edelman, whose sideline blast was captured by NFL Films, was mocking the critics, but also firing up Brady at the same time.
The man has made a living having a sizable chip on his shoulder, whether real or imagined. And even though he’s won more championships than any other player, Brady still carries the chip from being taken in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.
So for Super Bowl LV, as the underdog to Mahomes, it’s tough to count Brady out given that inner drive.
“Everything that guy has done, has always done, has come from the inside. He knows what he can do. He knows what he’s capable of,” said former Patriots left tackle Matt Light, Brady’s old blindside protector. “So if you want to make it about him, it’s going to fuel the fire that’s already burning. If you throw a little gas on the fire, guess what happens?”
While the Bucs are definitive underdogs, it still comes back to Brady, or rather, Brady versus Mahomes. The Chiefs star is the quarterback who has the best chance to challenge Brady’s records down the road. He’s hungry to capture his second ring, and has the talent for so much more.
Former teammate Rodney Harrison, who won two championships with Brady, knows all about the underdog dynamic.
“The older you get, the more motivation you try to find to drive you,” said Harrison. “And trust me, Tom hears everyone, he hears everything. He’s always going to find that kind of stuff to motivate him. He loves it.”
Or, as SiriusXM NFL analyst Solomon Wilcots remarked: “He wears it.”
After watching Michael Jordan’s “Last Dance” documentary, Wilcots sees a connection between the NBA legend and Brady. He believes they’re wired the same way.
“Michael Jordan would create stuff, villainize somebody so he would want to beat them more. That’s Tom Brady. He wants to vanquish Mahomes and Andy Reid, and everyone who didn’t believe in him,” said Wilcots. “He’s saying, ‘You guys thought I was done, everyone thought I was done, New England didn’t want me anymore.’ So he’s just stacking all that on the shelf.”
In 2021, Brady doesn’t have to conjure slights. All of that is real. While he may have taken down Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers on the trail, Mahomes is another matter.
That’s where the buck is supposed to stop.
Mahomes, with one Super Bowl win notched on his belt, is expected to win many more. In fact, that was Brady’s message to the quarterback when he visited him in Kansas City’s postgame locker room after the Patriots beat the Chiefs in that memorable AFC title game.
Brady basically told him to stay the course. He’d be a winner. Two seasons later, he’s a winner to the point of being a favorite against Brady.
Asked about being a Super Bowl underdog for the first time since 2001, Brady did his best to downplay the significance, or acknowledge he wasn’t the favorite to win.
“Whoever’s putting those lines down, I just think about what I gotta do, and how I gotta get ready to play,” Brady said during his availability earlier this week. “I know that’s important for a lot of other people, who’s favored, who’s not. I think for me, I realize if you don’t play great, you’re not going to win. If you play great, you’ve got a great chance.”
Given what’s at stake and the odds Brady will be hearing all the way through Sunday, it’s hard to imagine he won’t.