We deserve this Super Bowl

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It is only right, after all we have endured through a deadly pandemic in a country divided, that we get a Super Bowl like this. That we get 43-year-old Tom Brady chasing a seventh championship without Bill Belichick while Father Time futilely chases him. That we get wunderkind Patrick Mahomes standing defiantly between the GOAT and the Lombardi Trophy that he promises he will defend at all costs.

Somehow, some way, at the end of a sobering, treacherous marathon that demanded sacrifice from masked players and coaches socially distanced and fans far, far away, and vigilance from Control Infection teams hellbent on staring down the invisible virus as much as possible, the NFL has weathered the storm of a century and completed a fourth-down Hail Mary.

And has given us Brady versus Mahomes.

We deserve this.

The lionhearted versus the young lion.

The ageless face of the NFL versus the baby face of the NFL.

The GOAT versus The Kid.

The greatest Super Bowl quarterback showdown.

It is a legacy game for Mahomes, because if you can slay a living legend, you can live to be a legend one day.

Mahomes was expected to bring Andy Reid and the Chiefs to Tampa with him for the chance to be the first quarterback-head coach tandem to repeat since Brady and Belichick did it in Super Bowl XXXVIII and XXXIX with the Patriots.

Brady wasn’t expected to bring Bruce Arians and the Buccaneers to Tampa and make history as the first team to host a Super Bowl in its home city.

He’s still standing, and standing tall, at an age when most everyone else is either inside a television or radio booth or playing Mr. Mom.

Mahomes would love nothing more than to ignite his long-haul chase of Brady as Lord of the Rings.

Brady would love nothing more than the jubilation that would come from reuniting with his old friend, the Lombardi Trophy … the Holy Grail he yearned to hoist before Belichick could.

The Chiefs signed Mahomes to his record $503 million deal last summer with the express purpose of establishing the next NFL dynasty.

He represents a more formidable challenge than Brady has confronted in his previous nine Super Bowls — more of a challenge than Kurt Warner, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan and Nick Foles.

Mahomes is the 25-year-old Wizard of Ahs you dare not take your eyes off because you could miss something that maybe you’ve never seen before.

There will be approximately 25,000 fans allowed at Raymond James Stadium on Super Sunday, and some just might agree with what Reggie Jackson once said about Tom Seaver: “Blind people come to the park just to listen to him pitch.”

If Mahomes is a monsoon of shock-and-awe magic, Brady remains a steady rain of relentless perfection.

Mahomes can beat you with his rocket right arm, his opportunistic legs and his improvisational genius.

Brady can still beat you with his carefully coddled right arm and his beautiful football mind.

Mahomes looks as if he’s having the time of his life on a 100-yard field of dreams, while Brady’s everlasting love for what he does has him pondering life after 45 with a football in his hand.

Mahomes is mature beyond his years, while Brady is still a kid at heart. Their competitive fire bursts into an inferno on game day.

Giants cornerback Logan Ryan spent the first four years of his career, from 2013-16, as Brady’s teammate with the Patriots. He references his pick-six in practice as a rookie when the receiver slipped at the top of his route and Brady smashed his helmet on the ground. “And it was like … April,” Ryan said.

Mahomes’ rare gifts, his youthful exuberance, his selflessness and his drive to be great make it easy for teammates to follow him.

Brady’s pelts on the wall, his wealth of knowledge and experience and his work ethic were big factors that enabled him to infuse belief into a franchise that last appeared in the playoffs in the 2007 season. But it’s more than that.

“But I think the best thing about him,” Ryan said, “is he’s so much humbler than any superstar you could imagine, and he really does want to elevate everyone around him. He cares to get to know everyone around him, work with all his guys, say words of encouragement … so he seems like he really cares about his team, and it makes you at least play extremely hard for him.

“You know that he cares about you, and you know that he’s gonna do everything he can to be prepared that game and give the team the best opportunity. So his ability to make his teammates better, to truly be a force multiplier I like to call it, just make everyone around him play at a higher level. I think that’s what separates a lot of elite quarterbacks in this league, and I think that’s how your ability to go to a different organization and have the talent play better.”

Mahomes and Brady are fourth-quarter assassins. Brady, obviously, has displayed a killer instinct for far longer.

“He’s not afraid of those moments, obviously,” Ryan said, “but he practices like that, and he takes every single rep like that in practice. I literally remember being a Patriot, and practices be more competitive than some games.”

Ryan was a Patriot when Brady prevailed 37-31 over Mahomes in the 2018 AFC Championship game.

“It’s an extremely talented quarterback who’s very, very good with extremely fast and good weapons around him with an extremely smart, creative head coach,” Ryan said.

Mahomes tries to get Reid a second ring. Brady tries to get Bruce Arians his first ring as head coach. Neither one will blink. Neither will we. Neither should we. We’ll be talking about Brady versus Mahomes long after this pandemic ends.

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