Even before the kickoff at Super Bowl LV on Sunday night — a showdown between defending champs the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the biggest event in U.S. sports is already swirling with unprecedented firsts, and not just because it’s happening amid a pandemic.
That the game is being played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, is itself notable, as it’ll be the first time a modern title game will ever be played on the home field of one of the two finalists. But that’s not the end of the historic storylines.
If Kansas City were to triumph again, it would mark pro football's first successful title defense since Feb. 6, 2005, when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. The Patriots’ quarterback during those consecutive championships? A 27-year-old Tom Brady, now the 43-year-old signal caller for Tampa Bay.
Other members of the exclusive club of repeat winners are Green Bay (1967-68), Miami (1973-74), Pittsburgh (1975-76), the Steelers again (1979-80), San Francisco (1989-90), Dallas (1993-94) and Denver (1998-99).
At just 25 years, 4 months and 21 days old, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes would be the youngest back-to-back Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Mahomes has already won league MVP and Super Bowl MVP in his short career. Another Lombardi Trophy and more honorifics will cement Mahomes and the Chiefs as a bona fide sports dynasty.
While Brady is widely considered pro football's greatest quarterback, with six Super Bowl wins on his résumé, he's also been on the losing end of the NFL title game three times — 2018, 2012, 2008.
If he were to lose Sunday, Brady would be tied with Jim Kelly for the most losses as a Super Bowl quarterback, one more than fellow greats John Elway and Fran Tarkenton.
By leaving New England for Tampa Bay, Brady ditched a franchise that he and coach Bill Belichick elevated from mediocrity to greatness in favor of a club that's rarely been associated with winning.
The Bucs won the 2003 Super Bowl in their only previous appearance in pro football's ultimate game. But Tampa Bay is better known for entering play as an expansion team in 1976 and losing 26 consecutive games, the longest run of ineptitude since the NFL-AFL merger.
From the time Brady, husband of supermodel Gisele Bündchen, set foot in Florida, he made winning fashionable again in Tampa. He completed passes for 4,633 yards, third most in the NFL, during an 11-5 regular season.
It was just the Bucs' 14th winning season out of 45 campaigns in franchise history.
Sunday night's title game in Tampa will end the weirdest campaign in pro football history, with numerous games having to be postponed and barely any fans — if any — in attendance at stadiums because of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Covid-19 cancellations were particularly hard-felt on Thanksgiving, an annual pro football gorge of three nationally televised games. But this season’s prime-time nightcap between high-profile rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens had to be moved due to an outbreak within the Ravens organization.
The game was first rescheduled for three days later and then moved again to Dec. 2.
Despite outbreaks and postponements, the NFL somehow managed to get in 16 regular season games for all 32 clubs — though actual eyewitnesses to those games were few and far between.
Nearly half the league played their eight regular season dates without one paying customer in the stands.
And of clubs that did allow fans inside, it was at radically reduced capacity. For example, Dallas led the NFL in tickets sold this season with 219,021 turnstile clicks, compared to the Cowboys 2019 total of 727,432.