A quarterback for the ages brushed aside his heir-apparent on Sunday night as Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 triumph over Kansas City at the 55th Super Bowl.
Playing in a record 10th NFL championship game, Brady hooked up with his old Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski for two touchdowns and with Antonio Brown for another as Tampa Bay built a 21-6 halftime lead. It was also a record seventh Super Bowl victory for Brady, who played for New England for 20 years before he signed a two-year, US$50-million contract in the offseason with the Buccaneers.
It was only the second time Tampa Bay had reached the Super Bowl, its first appearance since 2003 and the first time the game was played on the home field of one of the participants. The stands at 75,000-seat Raymond James Stadium in Tampa where one-third were full. There were 30,000 cardboard cut-outs and 25,000 fans in attendance, 17,500 of whom paid astronomical sums for the privilege. The rest were vaccinated frontline workers who received tickets for free.
On a day when 6,624 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Florida hours before the kickoff, everyone who entered the venue was given hand sanitizer and a mask and was seated a safe distance apart. The game itself concluded an odd season that was conducted within a pandemic and largely without crowds, and for the first time, with games played on every day of the week.
It was a matchup between a bionic old GOAT and an unorthodox young gunslinger in Patrick Mahomes that is 18 years his junior. A battle between a 43-year-old, who operates with surgical precision and a helter-skelter 25-year-old who pitches sidearm, underarm and off-balance.
Brady won it hands down. He finished with 21 completions in 29 attempts for 201 yards while being selected the Super Bowl’s most valuable player for the fifth time. That’s another record for pro football’s reigning Fountain of Youth. Gronkowski had six catches for 67 yards.
Kansas City was attempting to become the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since Brady’s Patriots accomplished the feat in 2004-5. KC finished the season with a 16-3 record. Tampa Bay ended up 15-5 and did not suffer a loss in its last eight games, including three playoff games on the road.
The game is America’s most lavish and outrageous sporting spectacle and, even during a global health emergency, it managed to overflow with largesse.
Before the kickoff, U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden appeared in a video message that preceded a silent pause for lives lost because of COVID-19. Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old African-American poet who raised goosebumps at Biden’s inauguration, read verses to honour community heroes. Country singer Eric Church and pop artist Jazmine Sullivan performed a duet of the The Star-Spangled Banner. Suzie Dorner, a nurse in an intensive care unit in Tampa, conducted the pregame coin toss.
Later, The Weeknd, the eccentric R&B singer from Toronto, headlined the Super Bowl halftime show. He was said to have invested US$7 million to make sure the extravaganza, for which he went unpaid, was properly audacious. It was.
On the biggest day for gamblers everywhere, billions were wagered not on issues of marginal importance such as who would win, but on side bets that included the number of commercials that would feature a dog, which head coach’s nostrils would be the first to be seen, and what colour jacket The Weeknd would wear (it was red).
Dolly Parton and Bruce Springsteen both appeared in commercials during the telecast. So did Winona Ryder and Edward Scissorhands’ son. If that sounds odd, recall that Bob Dylan starred in a Victoria’s Secret ad shown during the 2004 event.
Kansas City was first to get on the board when Harrison Butker kicked a 49-yard field goal with 5:14 remaining in the first quarter. The Buccaneers responded with a 75-yard drive that concluded with an eight-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Brady to Gronkowski with 37 seconds left. Before that, Leonard Fournette rushed three times for 23, Brady completed throws to Brown for 16 and 5 yards, and hooked up with tight end Cameron Brate for 15.
The period ended 7-3, with Mahomes limited to nine yards passing.
Tampa Bay appeared poised to go up 14-3 early in the second but turned the ball over on downs at Kansas City’s 1-yard-line. KC’s defence stopped Ronald Jones on back-to-back runs. Before that, offensive lineman Joe Haeg dropped a softly thrown pass by Brady in the back of the end zone. The biggest play on the drive was a 31-yard completion to Michael Evans at the KC 6-yard-line.
The Buccaneers pulled further ahead on throws from Brady to Gronkowski for 17 yards and to Brown for five. Kansas City got another field goal from Butker, this one for 34 yards, and then a third to finish a drive early in the second half. But Tampa Bay answered again, this time on a 27-yard run by Fournette. Ryan Succop added a 52-yard-field goal with 2:50 remaining to seal the victory.
It was the first Super Bowl where cash was not accepted, and the first where all interviews were done remotely. In Sarah Thomas, the game featured its first female referee. In Tampa Bay’s Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar, it featured its first two women’s assistant coaches.
Between the regular season and playoffs, Mahomes had thrown for 44 touchdowns passes and had only seven intercepted. He spent most of Sunday night running for his life and was held to 26 completions in 49 attempts and 270 yards, a fair portion in garbage time. His teammates weren’t much help. They were flagged for 10 penalties and 110 yards.
‘I didn’t play the way I wanted to play,” Mahomes said. “All you can do is leave your heart on the field and I did that”
Tampa mayor Jane Castor made a joke Wednesday about renaming the city to “Tompa Bay” if Brady led the Buccaneers to a win in Super Bowl 55. We’ll see.
For now, Brady will retire for a few months to the $29-million mansion he rents from Derek Jeter on an island off downtown Tampa with his supermodel wife Giselle Bundchen. To end the season, the Greatest of All Time earned US$11-million in four playoff games. Better luck next year.
“It is an organisation that was ready to win,” Brady said. “When you get this far, you want to get the job done.”