Legacies Defined By Jewelry

Super Week 2020 is just like any other pre-Super Bowl hype week. Media members roam the Convention Center, most with the serious questions, some with the wacky questions, and countless celebrities to interview. But of course, the spotlight shines the brightest on the quarterbacks. This year, Jimmy Garoppolo and Patrick Mahomes will be taking center stage, the former as a promising understudy who is not considered to have played a large role in the 49ers playoff run, and the latter as the understudy of one year who took the league by storm and is expected to take the torch as the face of football.

Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots as the heir to Tom Brady, yet another brilliant move by Bill Belichick, and played the first two games of 2016 while Tom Brady was suspended. He went 2-0, drawing attention from multiple teams. Belichick wanted to keep Garoppolo, as he represented the future of the Patriots. But he was overruled by the owner of the Patriots, Robert Kraft. So, Garoppolo was shipped to San Francisco in exchange for a second round pick. Garoppolo has since led the 49ers to a 13-3 record, past the Vikings and Packers while throwing 27 passes total, and to Super Bowl LIV.

Mahomes was drafted by the Chiefs, and sat behind Alex Smith for the 2017 season. We were given a glimpse of what could be to come when he started the final game of the Chiefs’ season against the Broncos, and going 22 for 35 and throwing for 284 yards. He was named the starter in 2018, and threw for 50 touchdowns, lighting up NFL defenses, and winning MVP. He led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game, where they were knocked off in overtime by the Patriots. This year the Chiefs were better prepared and took down the Texans and Titans with two impressive comebacks to advance to Super Bowl LIV.

In preparation for the big game, you can find analysis of almost any aspect of the game, from what the odds of winning are if you win the coin flip to how a longer halftime affects teams. But the most common question is: which quarterback will perform better? Quarterbacks have the largest impact on a game, which justifies the attention, but every once in a while you get a special case like Garoppolo.

In the 49ers two playoff games, he has gone 17 for 27, and thrown for 208 yards with a touchdown and an interception. That stat line would suggest one mediocre game. Instead, it represents two games that the 49ers won by 17 points each. Mahomes, on the other hand, has gone 46 of 70 for 615 yards, 8 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Which quarterback would you rather have? The general consensus is Mahomes. He is the future of the NFL. He has the strongest arm most of us have ever seen, can throw on the run, can scramble when he needs to, and is 24 years old.

So, if the 49ers win the Super Bowl, who is the better quarterback? You would have an infinitely stronger argument for Garoppolo, because he “out dueled” Mahomes. When it comes to Super Bowl wins, we seem to forget that football is a team sport. Elway’s career wasn’t complete until he won one. The Manning brothers won the same amount of Super Bowls. Does that mean they were equally great? Marino never got a Lombardi. Does that mean he is worse than Joe Namath, Joe Flacco, Jim McMahon, Mark Rypien, or Trent Dilfer?

Terry Bradshaw has 4 rings, but he had a great defense and was playing in a more diluted era. Would you rather have Dan Marino or Terry Bradshaw? 4 Super Bowls vs. zero. If that is all the information you are giving, it should be obvious, right? But context is important. We need to look at the big picture, take in as many details as possible. The more pixels you have, the clearer the image becomes. Most football fans would tell you that Dan Marino is a better quarterback, but if you go up to someone on the street and ask them based on Super Bowls, they will probably take Bradshaw. Context.

If the 49ers win the Super Bowl, the narrative becomes that Garoppolo is a significantly better quarterback, and Mahomes can’t win the big game. If the Chiefs win, Mahomes is in the conversation of the greatest of all time, and Garoppolo is an average quarterback who was carried to the Super Bowl by defense and a running game. Football is a team sport. It requires all of the players that set foot on the field, plus the entire coaching staff, and yet the quarterbacks are the ones who shoulder the burden. Why is this all decided by one game, let alone a game in which an old man with a chain can change the course of the game at any moment? Why not look at larger sample sizes?

Because it fuels the hot take machine that is sports talk! We can’t find a reasonable, logical compromise. Everything must be hyperbolic. So much hype and preparation goes into the week leading up to the Super Bowl, and it is the best sporting event, ratings-wise, so we need to squeeze every bit of content out of it as we can. Nobody wants to hear why Mahomes is still better than Garoppolo if the 49ers win. They want to hear how great the winning quarterback was, and why the losing team lost.

People crave mythological heros, and you can’t reach that status unless you show that there was nobody better than you, even for one game. It’s the path of least resistance. They don’t care about details like other players or coaches. They just see in black and white. Who won, who lost? Who’s the best, who’s the worst? It’s simple. There is no gray area, no middle ground, because hot takes sell. People want to hear bold statements that they can argue about. So, why do we base the legacies of world class athletes on bedazzled finger decorations? Because it’s easy.