Super Bowls determine legacies. Imagine how we would think of Dan Marino if he had won his only Super Bowl appearance, or how we would see Drew Brees if he lost his.
Fair or not, the results of a game will shape how players are viewed historically and, in many cases, whether they make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s what’s at stake for many Super Bowl LV attendees between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which can be streamed live on the Yahoo Sports app.
History will be made on Sunday, and here are the 10 players or coaches in play who have the most at stake:
10. Tom Brady
We’ve heard so much about Brady’s legacy this week, so why is he so low on the list?
The point is, Brady’s legacy is written. Anyone who goes out of their way to discredit everything Brady does – and there are plenty who do – will never change their minds, even if they win a seventh title. Those who have already figured out that Brady has the greatest resume of any player in NFL history weren’t waiting to see if he could add a seventh ring. A seventh ring would be unfathomable for any player, but just reaching the Super Bowl at 43 with a new team is an incredible page in his history. For some, anyway.
9/8 (tie). Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh
One is known for a fireworks accident and the other is known for a series of dirty plays while with the Detroit Lions.
Their stories may change on Sunday. Both were very good linemen in the NFL for more than a decade. Pierre-Paul has recovered from that fireworks accident and a car accident that fractured his neck to make a Pro Bowl this season. No one considers him a Hall of Famer now, but he’s 11 sacks shy of 100, a mark only 35 players have reached. That accolade and two Super Bowl rings would be impressive.
Suh has long been a force in the middle and made the All-Decade team of the 2010s, but his game has been overshadowed by his reputation for being dirty, the huge Miami Dolphins contract that hasn’t worked well or who changed teams often. towards the end of his career. A Super Bowl ring would help shape his career in a more positive light.
It is possible that Mathieu is already a member of the Hall of Fame. He’s a three-time All-Pro and a member of the 2010 Decade Team, which is usually a big step towards Canton.
But a second straight title can’t hurt. Mathieu’s greatness was a big topic during Super Bowl week. It can be difficult for safeties to make the Hall, no matter how good they are, but a second ring will be a big tick in his favor.
6/5 (tie). Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown
Former Pittsburgh Steelers stars are on this list for different reasons. Each has non-footballing stories that are a big part of their legacy, although it’s unfair to compare the two.
For Bell, his year-long endurance at the Steelers will always be brought up when a player is out for a season. It was a rare case, and Bell never again reached the elite heights that were part of his career in Pittsburgh. A Super Bowl ring, even in a lesser role with the Chiefs, would give him one last laugh with the critics.
Brown’s legacy has been tarnished by his own actions. There are too many negative headlines to list (although some are here), and the sexual misconduct allegations against him are troubling. He will have an interesting Hall of Fame debate, to say the least. Joining the Buccaneers and helping them win a Super Bowl – he’s not sure to play Sunday due to injury, but was a key contributor late in the season – would at least be a silver lining in a fall from grace at the end of his career which he does not deserve much sympathy.
We’ll put these two together, because they’ll be involved in the same conversation.
For some, Gronkowski is the best tight end of all time. Its heyday was unlike any other. He was unstoppable in the passing game and a devastating blocker. But Kelce presents numbers that will place him in the debate.
The Super Bowls don’t come around often for non-districts, but Gronkowski’s legacy would grow even bigger if he came out of retirement and helped the Buccaneers win a title. With Kelce being arguably the best player in a skill position on a back-to-back championship team, that would give him a bump. What happens in this game will come up at some point in the all-time tight conversation.
Reid had the most to gain last year. He ended forever the blow that he couldn’t win it all.
Now that he’s passed that threshold, he’s moving up the all-time rankings. If Reid gets another 30 wins before retiring, he’ll be fourth all-time (he’s 59 behind still-active No. 3 Bill Belichick, 97 behind No. 2 George Halas and 107 behind the leader of all time Don Shula). Reid needs four playoff wins to move up to second on this list behind Belichick. These ratings are achievable and would be hard to ignore.
With a second Super Bowl ring, those all-time rankings will resonate even more. It seems weird to put Reid in a class with Shula, Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi and a few other greats, but another championship puts him in that class.
1. Patrick Mahomes
There are still people who will say that Joe Montana is 4-0 in the Super Bowl is better than Tom Brady is 6-3. It’s weird and illogical, but call it the Michael Jordan effect. Not losing in the final round or match was overrated. (Losing in earlier rounds is worse, right?)
We’re already in the weird position of wondering if Mahomes can be the greatest of all time even though he only started for three seasons. He’s been so good. Every Super Bowl will be huge for this conversation. If he won on Sunday, he would still be four behind Brady but would have time to make a run at his record six. If Brady gets No. 7 on Sunday, that seems like an impossible hill for Mahomes to climb. And for those who ridiculously overrate perfection in the Super Bowls or the NBA Finals or other championship games, not having the zero next to his Super Bowl record would be a mark against him.
The stakes already seem high for Mahomes. We can never know what’s going to happen – no one thought Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees would be locked in on a Super Bowl win forever when they’ve won it all – but it seems reasonable to think that by the time mid-2030s, we’ll be looking at Mahomes’ career and the first thing that will come up is how many Super Bowl rings he has. Every opportunity will count for this debate, every time Mahomes finishes.
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