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Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady: A clash of eras in the Super Bowl

For the second time in his career, Mahomes will face Brady in the postseason. And this time, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback plans to shut one door while grabbing the torch for good.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Superstar athletes absolutely abhor talk of their “passing the torch.” Eventually, though, every reign ends.

Which brings us to Super Bowl LV.

In two weeks at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will finally get what he has craved for more than two years: another opportunity to face Tom Brady in the postseason and potentially add the only missing piece to the historic start of his nascent career.

It will occur on the NFL’s biggest stage, Mahomes again doing his part to lead the defending Super Bowl champions there with a typically sensational performance Sunday night during a 38-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game.

Mahomes completed 29 of 38 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns while decisively outdueling Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who shared second-team All-Pro honors this season with Mahomes and is often mentioned as being one of the few signal-callers equipped to challenge Mahomes for league supremacy moving forward (more on that interesting narrative later). On the other side of the bracket, Brady, in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, held up his end, directing the team to a road victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shakes hands with Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs after a regular-season matchup on Nov. 29, 2020, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So now we have it: Mahomes-Brady II in the playoffs to cap the NFL season.

The current GOAT vs. the potential future GOAT in a downright delicious Super Bowl matchup. If it can get better than this, we surely don’t know how.

On one sideline will stand Brady, whose six titles are the most by one quarterback in the Super Bowl era, and who definitely isn’t interested in fading into the background so Mahomes or anyone else can command the spotlight. Mahomes will be on the opposite side of the field, trying to repeat, or “run it back,” as the Chiefs are fond of saying. For Mahomes to potentially avenge his only playoff loss, which Brady helped engineer in an AFC title game while working for his previous employer, well, that would be sweet.

“To go out there and have a chance to repeat, and do it against the best, it’s something special and I’m excited for the opportunity,” said Mahomes, who shined after suffering a toe injury in the Chiefs’ divisional-round win against the Cleveland Browns and being in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

In only his third season as a starter, Mahomes is 6-1 in the postseason. The only blemish on his sparkling record? A 37-31 loss in overtime in the 2019 AFC title game to the Brady-led New England Patriots.

Mahomes holds the distinction of being the youngest passer to have a Super Bowl title, a Super Bowl MVP award – having accomplished both of those feats at 24 – and a league MVP award. He was selected the 2018 winner by the Associated Press.

Now 25, Mahomes is the youngest signal-caller to start in three consecutive conference title games. Barring the unforeseen, he will become the youngest to start in multiple Super Bowls. Mahomes’ list of accomplishments is as impressive as his deep balls. And for him, it’s not enough. Not even close.

The way Mahomes is wired, his lone playoff loss still irks him. He’ll never acknowledge it publicly, though. But no need. His actions reveal his true feelings writ large. No matter that the Chiefs were narrowly defeated by the most successful franchise of this generation, which was directed on the field by Brady – the winningest quarterback by far in NFL history – Mahomes can’t stand that the Chiefs went out that way.

That’s because Mahomes is absurdly petty. He holds a grudge as if he’s being paid to do it. But don’t get it twisted. For a superstar athlete, there’s no bigger compliment.

Mahomes is petty in the same manner in which NBA superstar LeBron James is petty. Mahomes, James and the rest of their spectacularly accomplished ilk – Brady is near the front of that short line, too – view the world through the same skewed lens, which makes watching them work so much fun for the rest of us.

After word emerged that James had finished second to Giannis Antetokounmpo in last season’s NBA MVP voting, James did anything but hide his anger. He made it clear: He took finishing second personally. James acknowledged that the perceived snub helped fuel him in guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to last season’s NBA Finals championship. The fact that Antetokounmpo deserved the award was beside the point. James uses all manners of slights, real and imagined, and disappointment to help propel him higher.

As skilled as James is at it, he has nothing on Michael Jordan. In ESPN Films’ The Last Dance, Jordan explained repeatedly, he “took it personal.” The aggrieved Jordan climbed so many mountains with the help of so many (and mostly imagined, apparently) attacks, it was hard to keep track of them all.

Now, back to Mahomes.

For some time, he has been on a revenge tour of sorts. It began last season during a victory over the Chicago Bears.

Mahomes was shown counting to 10 on his fingers while celebrating a touchdown pass. For the casual NFL fans among us, a brief history lesson: The Bears, objectively, made a horrific decision in bypassing Mahomes in the 2017 draft and selecting quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick (Mahomes went 10th to Kansas City). The Bears actually made another dunderhead move in that draft, bypassing quarterback Deshaun Watson (he went 12th to the Houston Texans) as well, but that’s a recount for another day.

During a Chiefs win earlier this season over the Baltimore Ravens, Mahomes again was shown counting, that time to four. Before this season, Mahomes was ranked fourth on the NFL’s annual NFL Top 100 list. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was selected No. 1. On Sunday, Mahomes added another notch on his belt by dispatching Allen, metaphorically speaking.

If you don’t understand Mahomes “took it personal” that All-Pro voters put Allen on the same line with him, well, perhaps you’d be interested in purchasing some prime beachfront property across the street from Arrowhead Stadium. It’s not that Mahomes lacks respect for Jackson, Allen or even Trubisky, for that matter.

It’s just that Mahomes is perpetually in search of an edge. Just enough of a boost to help him be better than the other guy. And with Brady being the last guy standing between him and a second straight Super Bowl championship, Mahomes needs every advantage he can devise.

After burnishing his Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials during a long, storybook run with the Patriots, Brady broke free from New England head coach Bill Belichick and headed south. At 43, Brady has enjoyed another sensational season in helping the Buccaneers become the first franchise to play a Super Bowl on its home field.

Brady is headed to his 10th Super Bowl. To put that astonishing number in perspective, one must understand that Brady, assuming nothing unforeseen occurs on Feb. 7, will have started in 18% of all Super Bowls.

Not surprisingly, Mahomes’ respect for Brady is off the charts. Mahomes pushes himself, largely, to get to where Brady has already been many, many times. And that only makes the competitive fire within Mahomes burn even brighter.

“The Super Bowl’s the Super Bowl. Being able to go up against one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterback of all time, in his 150th Super Bowl, I mean, it’s going to be a great experience for me,” Mahomes said. “The job’s not finished. When we went into the season, we weren’t talking about going to the Super Bowl. We were talking about winning it again. We’re trying to run it back. And we mean that.”

We’ve stated it before, but it bears repeating: His name is Patrick Lavon Mahomes II. Right now, he’s the best. And soon, in another playoff showdown against the greatest of all time, he’ll have a chance to likely shut the door for good on one era and add to another: his.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.