Tom Brady: the best sportsman in history?Wikimedia Commons

February is always an extremely exciting time of the NFL season. The two-week gap between the Championship games (semi-finals) and the Super Bowl is always plenty of time for fans to build the hype for the biggest game of the year. And this season did not disappoint.

Conference Championships

AFC: Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs

Despite leaving the game against the Browns the week before with concussion, Chiefs’ QB Mahomes made it back to fitness in time for the Championship game. Despite going 9-0 down in the first quarter, the Chiefs provided an increasingly dominant display, conceding no further touchdowns until very late in the game and going on to score five of their own. At 38-15, the Bills scored a consolation touchdown and field goal but ultimately could do nothing to match the Chiefs. The game ended 38-24.

NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Green Bay Packers

Thanks to some highly impressive passes from the two elite QBs in the game, Brady and Rodgers, the first half was a gold mine for the highlights reel. With three touchdowns between them by the first minutes of the second quarter, it seemed as though nothing would split the two teams. However, a stuttering Green Bay drive led to three points (field goal), rather than seven (touchdown) and Tampa were presented with an opportunity, albeit highly optimistic, to put more points on the board before half time. With 28 seconds on the clock, and 51 yards to cover, Brady launched a ball to receiver Miller to score an unexpected touchdown, putting the Bucs up 21-10. Three touchdowns later, the score was 28-23 and the Bucs looked wobbly in their lead, throwing several interceptions. However, they clung on throughout the fourth quarter to beat the Packers 31-26.

Super Bowl LV

So, it was to be the Kansas City Chiefs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before a ball was thrown, this had already made history as the first home Super Bowl in its 55-year history. Each year, a ‘neutral’ venue is selected long before the season starts so as to avoid any bias. Until now, no team has managed to seize such an opportunity to play on home turf. Ironically, it would be the year of no crowds that the Bucs broke the mould. Despite the COVID restrictions however, it was possible to invite 25,000 fans, including 7,500 ‘healthcare heroes’ into the Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs did their best to make it as neutral as possible, promising not to fire their cannon at each score. But this was an advantage nonetheless.

Historically, neither the Chiefs nor the Bucs have been hugely successful. Kansas City broke their dry spell last year, appearing in a Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, had only ever attended one, having won it in 2003. Despite this, Super Bowl 55 was the first time two QBs had faced off, each having won the previous two finals: Mahomes won last year, and Brady the year before that, with his dynastic Patriots.

Before kick-off, this game was too close to call. Bookmakers were offering negligibly better odds for the Bucs, making them slight underdogs, having also been beaten 27-24 in the same fixture in Week 12 (late November). The game was nicknamed ‘The Kid vs The Goat’, the kid being the 25-year-old quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) being the 6-time winner, 43-year-old Tom Brady. Such was the age gap that when Brady won his first Lombardi Trophy, Mahomes was 6 years old. 

The game began as an especially tight affair, with the defences reigning supreme throughout the first quarter. After four punts, one field goal and one touchdown, the quarter ended 7-3 to the Bucs.

Early in the second quarter, the Buccaneers looked to strengthen their lead, gaining a first down six yards from the Chiefs’ goal-line: four chances to make six yards. Three times in a row, the Chiefs held the Bucs short and with one more chance, Tampa went for all seven points, as opposed to opting for an easy 3-point field goal. Unsuccessful. The Bucs came away with nothing and the Chiefs could now take advantage. Was this to be the turning point?

However, the Chiefs now looked shaky, with superstar Tight End Travis Kelce dropping a crucial yet catchable pass, which would have set them on their way toward the end zone. Instead, Kansas were forced to punt the ball back to the Bucs. But badly. Typically, it seemed, the Chiefs’ punter skewed the ball out of bounds, giving the ruthless Brady only 38 yards to cover to score another seven.

Capitalising on the Chiefs’ ill-discipline – they gave away a Super Bowl-record 8 penalties in the first half, gifting 95 yards and six first downs to Tampa Bay – the Bucs racked up the points to end the half 21-6 to the good. The Chiefs needed to settle down if they were to stand any chance against the infinitely cool Brady.

Upon returning to the field, it looked as though the Chiefs might stand a chance. They received the ball from kick-off and set off on an impressive, rhythmic drive racking up chunks of yards: a 26-yard run, then an 8-yard pass, a 10-yard run, back to back to back. But all of a sudden, the attack petered out, gaining three more yards, then being forced to kick for three points.

The Bucs regained possession of the ball and went for the jugular. Churning 74 yards down the field, and climaxing with two big plays from Gronkowski and Fournette, Tampa gave themselves a seemingly unassailable 19-point lead. Could it really be all over, just halfway into the third quarter?

Mahomes gets desperate

Indeed, it could. Just a minute later, as the Chiefs became more and more desperate, with Mahomes scurrying around in the backfield like a hunted animal, the young quarterback threw a stray pass, which was intercepted by the Bucs defence. This gave Tampa full control of the game and, realistically, there was no coming back. The rest of the game was a formality, with the BBC’s Mark Chapman saying “towards the end it was getting painful” to watch. Full time came and the Bucs had done it: 31-9 in their own backyard. 

While the game may have been a one-sided affair, it was pure entertainment as Brady made it his night, yet again. The statistics are baffling: this was his seventh Super Bowl win, not only the most of any individual, but more than any team in the 55-year history of the Super Bowl; he became only the second player ever to win with two different teams; and the first player to win Super Bowls in three different decades. Over the last decade, the debate has been ‘is Brady the greatest NFL player?’; now the question is whether he is the greatest sportsman in history.