Patrick Mahomes' path to catching Tom Brady in the GOAT debate is more challenging than people think

“Greatest of All Time” debates are forever ongoing. There seems to be a consensus that Tom Brady is the GOAT among quarterbacks right now, but plenty of people think Patrick Mahomes could be the GOAT one day.

Sunday’s Super Bowl between Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs has been hailed, by some, as a battle of GOATs, which, of course, makes no sense.

While the argument will continue for years, whatever quarterback has the confetti drop on their shoulders this time will add a significant argument to their case. For Brady, it might even shut the door on any Mahomes comparisons going forward.

Generally when it comes to sports, the newest phenom wins. Some of this is because of individual sports, where times are timeless.

Jesse Owens ran the 100 meters in 10.2 seconds. Carl Lewis in 9.86. Usain Bolt in 9.58. The Owens fans can argue that if their guy enjoyed modern training and technology he would have been fastest, but that’s hypothetical.

Team sports are different. Subjectivity is everything. To hold on for long is nearly impossible. Wayne Gretzky, who retired from hockey in 1999, has done it. Michael Jordan is still in the fight with LeBron James, a topic of still much debate. But a Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain is dismissed.

For the most part, recency bias is real.

Many people think Patrick Mahomes' path to GOAT status is straightforward, but that's hardly the case. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Many people think Patrick Mahomes' path to GOAT status is straightforward, but that's hardly the case. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

This is where Brady-Mahomes becomes intriguing, a head-to-head matchup between the participants. This is a generational separation, the two men are 18 years in age apart – a testament to Mahomes, 25, asserting himself early and Brady, 43, hanging around long past expectations.

For Brady, the opportunity is obvious. First off, he can best his rival, head-to-head, with everything on the line. Jordan never had that chance with LeBron (MJ’s final season was 2002-03, James’ rookie year was 2003-04).

If Brady wins Sunday, he can pair it with a victory over Mahomes and the Chiefs in the 2018 season’s AFC championship game when he was in New England.

Then there is the fact that he could notch his seventh Super Bowl title. No other quarterback has won more than four. None have even played in more than five. At some point the number just becomes overwhelming.

And a 7-1 advantage in Super Bowl victories over Mahomes is tougher for the challenger to overcome than 6-2.

Mahomes is a brilliant player, but there are so many circumstances needed to win it all. It’s the ultimate team game, after all.

Brady has won Super Bowls when leading just one touchdown drive (Super Bowl LIII over the Los Angeles Rams). He lost when throwing for 505 yards and three touchdowns (Super Bowl LII to Philadelphia). He won when Malcolm Butler made a brilliant interception against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. He lost when Asante Samuel dropped an easy one against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII ... which was then followed by the famed “helmet catch.”

Then there was the 10-year stretch in his career – during ages 28-37, what was presumed to be his prime – when he reached two Super Bowls but lost them both in close games to the Giants.

Injuries happen. Teams break up. In the case of Mahomes, his coach, Andy Reid, who is 62 years old, isn’t going to be on the sideline for two decades of his career, the way Bill Belichick was for Brady.

The Chiefs are a model team and franchise right now, but nothing lasts forever. Even New England finally sputtered, causing Brady to seek greener pastures.

“The league is built for parity, everyone going 8-8,” Brady said.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Others will rise up, as well. Mahomes plays in an AFC with young, star quarterbacks posted up everywhere: Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Deshaun Watson (for now at least) and Trevor Lawrence (coming). Can he hold them all off?

There is an assumption that because Brady was able to last so long and string together so many Super Bowl appearances that Mahomes can do the same. History says otherwise. Dynasties in the NBA may be common – there have been eight repeat champions, four three-peat champions and one eight-peat champion.

In the NFL, there have been just two repeat champions since the creation of the salary cap in 1994: the 1997-98 Denver Broncos and Brady’s Patriots in 2003-04. Other than New England, the Chiefs are just the fourth team to even return to the Super Bowl during that period.

Mahomes, however, has some advantages.

NFL rules are now focused on player safety, especially that of the quarterback. Low hits, which cost Brady one season due to a knee injury, are prohibited. So too is nearly any contact on the QB. That includes violently throwing them to the ground or having a defender land on top of the quarterback with all or most of his weight.

Who knows how many careers were cut short by one, or an accumulation, of such hits.

Brady has also demonstrated a path to how to play into his 40s. His TB12 training method is built on year-round diet and training, including seeking pliability to withstand hits and maintain flexibility, not old-school weight-room strength.

“I want to play as long as they’ll let me,” Mahomes said, noting he is watching everything Brady is doing. “If you want to play this sport, as physical as it is, you have to invest in your body.”

If Mahomes does that, then, who knows, he might have 18-20 more seasons to win Super Bowls.

That starts Sunday, though. A win then would be a big step toward one day surpassing Brady as the GOAT. Not that he wouldn't still have a lot of work to do – essentially equaling the career of Joe Montana (four Super Bowl titles) from here on out would still get him only tied at six.

If Brady can get to seven though, and in the process block Mahomes at just one (for now) while taking the head-to-head matchup, then he might just have an insurmountable lead. The arguing might continue, but the question likely would be answered.

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