Youth will be served — but not this year. With a 43-year-old quarterback, a 68-year-old coach, and a tight end who came out of retirement, Super Bowl 55 could have been brought to you by AARP. And that’s the winning team.
You read that right. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who missed the playoffs the last 12 years, rode the signing of the greatest quarterback of all time, the ageless Tom Brady, to one of the greatest turnarounds of all time, culminating in an upset win of the defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs in a defensive squash, 31-9.
Whether it’s a young buck pummeling another young buck or a little old lady stomping a bug with her umbrella, a beat down is a beat down. And this was a beat down. The Tampa Bay defense turned Patrick Mahomes mortal, then cast a spell over him that left him late in the game trying to convert a third-and-33. (He didn’t.)
The Bucs stop here. With a Super Bowl trophy. Take heart, Lions fans. All you need is to get a great older quarterback — oh, wait. We just traded ours.
Oh, well. Maybe it only works with Brady. And all accolades will go to him, as he was clearly the difference, the experience, the leader, the statistical standout. He won his seventh Super Bowl with with a sterling game report, three touchdowns, no interceptions. And not surprisingly, the MVP award, the fifth of his career.
But this win belongs to the Tampa defense, who didn’t just shut down the mighty Chiefs offense, it opened the hood, yanked out the engine and stomped all over the chassis. The Tampa linebacking corps, led by Shaq Barrett, who terrorized Mahomes all night, and Lavonte David, who broke up the kind of passes that Mahomes completes on everyone else, really should have earned the MVP honors collectively. The defensive line, often just rushing four, chased Mahomes halfway to Orlando.
Nine points? No touchdowns? Against K.C.? How does that not warrant a trophy?
Because this is a league of stars, and the biggest star of all is Brady, who looked like, well, like a guy who has gone to a Super Bowl, on average, every other year of his career. He barely seemed to sweat. He hardly showed emotion. He read the defense, changed plays, made the timely throws. And did what he almost always does.
The Bucs stop here. Or maybe at Disney World.
Didn’t see this coming
Which is just down across the state. Remember, this was the first time a home team was in a Super Bowl. The stadium wasn’t full, thanks to COVID-19, and our households weren’t stuffed, for the same reason. But it still happened. The Super Bowl kicked off on time. Christmas and Thanksgiving bring families together in their houses, but the Super Bowl brings a nation together under one television roof.
And so we gathered for what, on paper, should have been a classic. The defending champs, led by Mahomes, the most dynamic young star in the game, against Tampa and the man whose name is now synonymous with Super Bowls.
Yet the first quarter saw neither team rely on its famous strengths. Tampa Bay, despite Brady, ran the ball a lot. Kansas City saw Mahomes miss on seven of his first eight passes.
There were four punts.
But a groundwork was being laid. Tampa Bay was controlling the vaunted K.C. offensive threat by doubling the two biggest receiving threats and daring the rest of the Chiefs to beat them. It worked. Travis Kelce was a non-factor. Tyreek Hill didn’t touch the ball the entire first quarter. The last time these two teams played, just after Thanksgiving, Hill had over 200 yards by that point. Clearly Tampa Bay learned a few things since then.
Near the final moments of the first frame, Brady found Rob Gronkowski on a play-action pass and Gronk trotted into the end zone untouched. That was the first time New England fans threw their beers at the screen.
It wouldn’t be the last. Aided by one K.C. penalty after another, Tampa Bay kept second-quarter drives alive on third down yellow flags, and eventually saw Brady find Gronkowski again on a 17-yard strike for a 14-3 lead.
And then, just before the half ended, in classic Brady form, the old Patriot found another onetime Patriot, Antonio Brown, curling in the end zone for the third touchdown of the half.
I’m pretty sure Bill Belichick threw up at that point.
For 30 minutes, the Bucs looked like the team that was returning to the Super Bowl, instead of their first visit in 18 years. Brady hit 80% of his passes and had three touchdowns. Meanwhile the Chiefs looked like the bumbling first-timers. Mahomes was chased. He threw low. His line couldn’t hold off the Tampa pass rush. The defending champs went angrily into the tunnel at halftime trailing, 21-6, and knowing they were an inch away — on a failed Tampa Bay fourth down run — from it being 28-6.
The Chiefs gave up 95 yards in penalties in the first half, which was nearly 30 more yards than they had passing. Mahomes had 67 total throwing the ball. That’s normally an opening drive for him. He also ran for 33 yards, which, sadly, was more than all the other K.C. rushers combined.
All that remained was to see if Kansas City could be the comeback team everyone believed it to be.
From classic to rout
It didn’t take long to find the answer. After an opening drive finished in a long field goal, the Chiefs watched Brady lead the Bucs 74 yards in less than 4 minutes for a touchdown, this time on a 27 yard burst by running back Leonard Fournette.
That was followed by a third-down interception on a desperation heave by Mahomes that was knocked away from Hill and into the arms of safety Antoine Winfield.
Suddenly it was looking like Super Bowls of the past, where once the game tilted one direction, it devolved into a blowout.
And that’s the way it ended. The fourth quarter was largely garbage time. The Chiefs, who specialized in comebacks and close wins, would never score a touchdown. Mahomes? Well. He was overwhelmed from the beginning. Clearly fighting his turf toe injury, he suffered the absence of his usual weapons, Hill and Kelce, who were simply shut down by the superior Tampa Bay defense. Third downs were a disaster. And Mahomes didn’t even reach 100 yards passing until the end of the third quarter.
He was chased, harassed, and even his magical escapes never ended up in points. The team with the highest-powered offense never saw the end zone. Mahomes’ last pass was picked off in the end zone, a fitting end to the most forgettable night of his career.
Ah, well, it’s hard to repeat as champions The last team to do it was the Patriots in 2003-04. And now Brady will try and do it again next year. There are simply no more words for this guy. He’s now won more Super Bowls than the Patriots or Steelers. He finished 21-for-29 for 201 yards, three touchdowns, another MVP award and all kinds of milestones for a guy his age jumping teams, jumping conferences, jumping decades and still winning.
“He brought a winning mentality to a team that didn’t know how to win,” Tampa coach Bruce Arians said.
And speaking of older guys, how about Arians, who had already retired from the game before coming back to join Tampa Bay? Gronkowski did the same. Hey. Next thing you know, Barry Sanders will be lining up in Tampa.
But under Arians, this team, a wild card in the playoffs, knocked off New Orleans, Green Bay and Kansas City, which means Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes, three straight MVP quarterbacks.
“They beat us pretty good,” Mahomes later admitted to the media.
But no one should be shocked by their upset win. Defense still wins championships. And big games these days often go the opposite way the majority thinks. And why not? It’s the official end of the 2020 season. Why would anyone expect THAT to be normal?
Played in the long shadow of the pandemic, this Super Bowl was instantly historic simply for existing. The NFL this year had plenty of doubt. Games were postponed, shifted, plagued with absent players and missing coaching staffs. Heck, we even had a Wednesday afternoon game.
But through it all, the Super Bowl remained the holy grail on the NFL’s radar. And if nothing else, the tradition remained intact. That deserves a pat on the back.
It’s far from the most important tradition in America, but it’s one that’s associated with a good time, and America was certainly in need of a good time. It might not have been a great game. But it was a great achievement. Especially if your last name is Brady.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.