Super Bowls determine legacies. Imagine how we’d think about Dan Marino had he won his lone Super Bowl appearance, or how we’d view Drew Brees if he lost his.
Fair or not, the results of one game will shape how players are seen from a historical perspective and in many cases whether they get to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s what’s on the line for many participants in Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
History will be written on Sunday, and here are the 10 players or coaches in the game with the most on the line:
10. Tom Brady
We have heard so much this week about Brady’s legacy, so why is he this low on the list?
The fact is, Brady’s legacy is written. Anyone who goes out of their way to discredit everything Brady does — and there are many who do — are never going to change their minds, not even if he wins 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 an unfathomable for any player, but just making it to the Super Bowl at age 43 with a new team is an amazing page in his history. To some, anyway.
9/8 (tie). Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh
Their stories can change Sunday. Both have been very good NFL linemen for more than a decade. Pierre-Paul has bounced back from that fireworks accident and a car accident that fractured his neck to make a Pro Bowl this season. Nobody thinks of him as a Hall of Famer now, but he is 11 sacks shy of 100, a mark only 35 players have reached. That distinction and two Super Bowl rings would be impressive.
Suh has been a force in the middle for a long time and made the 2010s All-Decade team, but his play has been overshadowed by his reputation for being dirty, the huge Miami Dolphins contract that didn’t pan out great or switching teams often near the end of his career. A Super Bowl ring would help shape his career in a more positive light.
7. Tyrann Mathieu
It’s possible Mathieu is already a Hall of Famer. He’s a three-time All-Pro and a member of the 2010s all-decade team, which is usually a big step toward Canton.
But a second straight title can’t hurt. Mathieu’s greatness has been a big topic during Super Bowl week. It can be hard for safeties to make the Hall no matter how great they are, but a second ring will be a big checkmark in his favor.
6/5 (tie). Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown
The former Pittsburgh Steelers stars are on this list for different reasons. Each have non-football stories that are big parts of their legacies, though it’s unfair to compare the two.
For Bell, his year-long holdout from the Steelers will always be brought up when a player sits out for a season. It was a rare case, and Bell never again reached the elite heights that were part of his Pittsburgh career. A Super Bowl ring, even in a lesser role with the Chiefs, would give him a last laugh with critics.
Brown’s legacy has been tarnished by his own doing. There are too many negative headlines to list (though some are here), and the allegations of sexual misconduct against him are disturbing. He’ll have an interesting Hall of Fame debate, to say the least. Joining the Buccaneers and helping them to win a Super Bowl — he isn’t sure to play Sunday due to an injury, but was a key contributor late in the season — would at least be one positive in a late-career fall from grace that he doesn’t deserve much sympathy for.
4/3 (tie). Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski
We’ll put these two together, because they’ll be involved in the same conversation.
To some, Gronkowski is the greatest tight end ever. His peak was unlike any other. He was unstoppable in the passing game and a devastating blocker. But Kelce is putting up numbers that will put him in the debate.
Super Bowls don’t come up often for non-quarterbacks, but Gronkowski’s legacy would grow even bigger if he came out of retirement and helped the Buccaneers to a title. Kelce being the arguably the top skill-position player on a back-to-back championship team would give him a bump. What happens in this game will come up in the all-time tight end conversation at some point.
2. Andy Reid
Reid had the most to gain last year. He forever put to rest the knock that he couldn’t win it all.
Now that he has passed that benchmark, he’s moving up the all-time rankings. If Reid gets 30 more wins before he retires, he’ll be fourth in all-time wins (he’s 59 behind No. 3 Bill Belichick, who is still active, 97 behind No. 2 George Halas and 107 behind all-time leader Don Shula). Reid needs four playoff wins to move to second on that list behind Belichick. Those marks are attainable 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 some other greats, but another championship puts him in that class.
1. Patrick Mahomes
There are still people out there who will argue that Joe Montana going 4-0 in Super Bowls is better than Tom Brady going 6-3. It’s weird and illogical, but call it the Michael Jordan Effect. Not losing in the final round or game has been overvalued. (Losing in previous rounds is worse, no?)
We’re already in the odd situation of wondering if Mahomes can be the greatest ever even though he’s started for just three seasons. He has been that good. Every Super Bowl will be immense for that conversation. If he wins Sunday, he’d still be four behind Brady but would have time to make a run at his record of six. If Brady gets No. 7 on Sunday, that seems like an impossible hill for Mahomes to climb. And for those who ridiculously overvalue perfection in Super Bowls or NBA Finals or other championship matches, 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 will happen — nobody figured Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees would be stuck on one Super Bowl win forever when they won it all — but it seems reasonable to think that by the mid 2030s we’ll be examining Mahomes’ career and the first thing that will be brought up is how many Super Bowl rings he has. Every opportunity will matter for that debate, whenever Mahomes is finished.
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