Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Tom Brady is in the Super Bowl. It’s a story as old as time, and now it’s playing out in a new chapter. Brady continues to pioneer new historic feats in his illustrious career, and now he looks to stand alone as the only QB ever to win a Super Bowl in two different conferences. He could also accomplish that feat as the first QB to win it in his home stadium.
But as we sit here in early 2021, it’s easy to look back at previous seasons and feel like some of them blend together as someone who’s watched football for over two decades now. I also start to compare this one to some of those, and it’s fun to start making parallels as if it will somehow guide me to a more accurate prediction of this year’s big game.
So, let’s take a look at how some past seasons bring a sense of deja vu to this one with the Super Bowl less than two weeks away:
One of two seasons in my football-watching life that featured a repeat Super Bowl champion, the Broncos followed a 12-4, title-winning season with a dominant, 14-2 campaign that saw them return to the promised land. John Elway got his coveted ring(s) at the end of his career, while Patrick Mahomes is on the verge of two very early on. Both teams had lethal offenses, and both teams’ AFC Championship Game wins were over plucky, upstart AFC East teams after falling behind early. In fact, both teams fell behind 3-0 before special teams’ gaffes at the 1-yard line led to touchdowns. The Jets turned a blocked punt into a 10-0 lead before Denver rattled off 23 straight points. The Bills recovered a muffed punt and got a TD to make it 9-0 before the Chiefs stormed back and outscored them 38-15 the rest of the way.
1998 might have felt like a stretch, but there are definitely some “full-circle” vibes coming from that 2001 campaign. Of course, that was Brady’s first year on the scene, as he, like Mahomes, barely saw the field as a rookie. The 2001 Patriots are one of the great underdog stories of all time, even though it didn’t take long for Brady to establish elite status and prove that year was anything but a fluke. That year, New England middled to a 5-5 start and didn’t look like much of a threat in the AFC. Similarly, this year’s Bucs dropped three straight home games and sat 7-5 after 12 games. Instead, both Brady-led squads won out to reach the Super Bowl, but the interesting nugget here sits in both teams’ final regular-season losses. That Patriots team’s final loss of 2001 was at home against the Rams, a 14-2 team that was 8-0 on the road and although wasn’t the defending champs, had won the Super Bowl two years prior. This year’s Bucs squad’s last loss was at home against the Chiefs, a 14-2 team that was 8-0 on the road and is the defending champ. I can tell you that until now, that first Super Bowl was the only one I ever rooted for Brady in, and it’s also the only other Super Bowl that a Brady team was an underdog in. Perhaps Super Bowl LV will end with a Ryan Succop field goal at the gun. One can dream, right?
Well, there’s only one big similarity here: the Bucs made the Super Bowl against an AFC West team. Gruden Bowl I was a Bucs rout, 48-21 over the league’s top offense of the Raiders. No, the Bucs won’t win this one by 27 points (probably not, anyway), but the Bucs are looking to join the Ravens as the only franchises to be undefeated on the big stage over multiple appearances. The Bucs won their NFC title game on the road that year, 27-10, over the Eagles. The Eagles were coached by — who else? — Andy Reid.
This is where the similarities continue to build. Brady over Reid in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won back-to-back, a legacy Brady is still defending to this day thanks to his win in 2014 (more on that in a bit). To date this is also Tom Brady’s only Super Bowl appearance in the state of Florida as the Pats held off the Eagles in Jacksonville, 24-21.
This is where Brady really got introduced to current Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The Giants’ legendary upset of the Pats kept Brady from being the only 19-0 quarterback in history, thanks in large part to Coach Spags’ ferocious defense. But that Giants team had some similarities to this year’s Bucs. For one thing, they are the only No. 5 seed since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990 to reach the Super Bowl. The G-Men actually beat the Bucs in their most recent playoff appearance prior to this year before knocking off the top two seeds on the road to reach the Super Bowl. Tampa’s script wasn’t too far off; they sort of did the inverse as they beat an NFC East team in the first round, then just as the Giants did they knocked off a division rival in the divisional round before beating — who else? — the Packers at Lambeau Field in the NFC title game. The Giants shut down the league’s most potent offense in the Super Bowl, just as the Bucs are looking to do.
Jason Pierre-Paul and his Giants did it to Brady, his current teammate, again. The Giants again took the long road to the Super Bowl, and that again included a win at Lambeau Field, this time over Aaron Rodgers.
Want to repeat as Super Bowl champions? Tom Brady would prefer to be the last QB to do it. Russell Wilson was oh-so-close, but threw a hideous interception at the 1-yard line, and the Seahawks were denied. Now, Brady looks to keep Mahomes from doing the same thing.
Well, this was the first playoff iteration of Brady vs. Mahomes. That AFC championship game also happened to be the game where the Patriots’ dynasty basically apexed, and only after New England stepped aside did Kansas City finally step to the forefront of the conference. Brady improved to 3-0 in his postseason career against Andy Reid, and showed the Chiefs who was still boss in the AFC. Brady went on to beat the Rams in the Super Bowl, improving to a perfect 5-0 in even-numbered-year Super Bowls.