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Super Bowl gets a super quarterback matchup. Could it be the best ever?

When Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes take the field Sunday in Tampa, two great QBs — one in the twilight of his career, the other just getting going — will square off in what should be an epic showdown

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) congratulates Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) after their game in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 29, 2020. The Super Bowl matchup features the most accomplished quarterback ever to play the game who is still thriving at age 43 in Brady against the young gun who is rewriting record books at age 25.

Jason Behnken, Associated Press

The 55 iterations of the Super Bowl have rarely been able to feature a matchup at the sport’s marquee position like the one we will see on Sunday. Super Bowl LV will star the GOAT vs. The Kid — Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes.

Brady has reigned supreme for two decades, winning a half-dozen Super Bowls, but now he’s looking over his shoulder at Mahomes, who is off to the fastest start in the history of the game. Brady is near the end of his career (isn’t he?), Mahomes is just beginning. Brady is 43, Mahomes 25. When Brady won his first Super Bowl, Mahomes was 5 years old and attending kindergarten.

Brady has thrown for 79,284 yards and 584 touchdowns. He owns the career record for touchdown passes (584) and ranks No. 2 in passing yardage behind Drew Brees, whom he will probably overtake next season. Brady’s win-loss record is 230-69 as a starting quarterback — a .769 winning percentage, which is astounding, especially when you consider he has played in 299 games spread out over 21 seasons. He has advanced to a record 10 Super Bowls. On Sunday he will be hunting for his seventh Super Bowl win.

Mahomes, who has played just three complete seasons (plus one game as a rookie), has already thrown for 14,152 yards and 114 touchdowns (against just 24 interceptions). No quarterback has reached those numbers as fast as Mahomes. Seven of every 100 passes he throws are touchdowns; he averages 8.4 yards per attempt. As noted here previously, at his current pace, if he plays 20 years, he will finish with 760 TD passes (179 more than Brady’s career record) and 92,453 passing yards (12,095 yards more than Brees’ career record).

His win-loss record is 38-8 as a starting quarterback — a preposterous winning percentage of .826. During his three years as the starter, he has played a huge role in taking the Chiefs to the Super Bowl twice, and he came within one narrow loss of making it three (the Chiefs lost to Brady’s Patriots 37-31 in overtime in the 2018 conference championship). On Sunday, Mahomes will be hunting for his second ring. 

So it’s Brady vs. Mahomes, giving the Super Bowl one of its greatest quarterback matchups ever. How does it stack up against the best Super Bowl showdowns between future Hall of Famers? Here are a few to consider: 

Roger Staubach vs. Terry Bradshaw, 1976, 1979. These quarterbacks played in a combined total of seven Super Bowls, twice against each other. Bradshaw and the Steelers won both games by four points. Neither Staubach nor Bradshaw played particularly well in the first meeting; both played well in the second meeting (Bradshaw was the MVP).  

Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino, 1985. Montana was seeking the second of his four rings; Marino, playing in just his second year in the NFL, was the reigning MVP that season and was all the rage. Montana’s 49ers beat Marino and the Dolphins, 38-16. Montana was the MVP. Marino, who threw two interceptions, would go on to become one of the all-time great quarterbacks, but he would never return to the Super Bowl.

Joe Montana vs. John Elway, 1989. Montana and the 49ers prevailed in a rout, 55-10. It goes without saying that Montana played well (he won his third Super Bowl MVP award) and Elway did not. Elway would play in five Super Bowls, but he played poorly in all of them. His cumulative Super Bowl stats: five games, 152 attempts, 76 completions (a mere 50% completion rate), 1,128 yards, three touchdowns, eight interceptions. 

Troy Aikman vs. Jim Kelly, 1992, 1993. Aikman and the Cowboys beat Kelly and the Bills both times. The first game was a 52-17 rout in which Aikman was voted the MVP; the second was decided 30-13. It was Kelly and the Bills’ fourth straight Super Bowl appearance and they famously lost all of them. 

John Elway vs. Brett Favre, 1997. Favre, who had just won the second of his three MVP awards, had already won a Super Bowl; Elway had lost all three of his Super Bowl appearances. Elway turned in another bad Super Bowl performance (123 passing yards, no TDs, one interception) and was clearly outplayed by Favre, but the Broncos prevailed 31-24 behind the running of Terrell Davis. 

Kurt Warner vs. Ben Roethlisberger, 2008. Warner, the 1999 season MVP, started in two Super Bowls for the Rams years earlier and now was starting in his third, this one for the Cardinals; Roethlisberger was trying to win his second Super Bowl at the age of 25. Warner outperformed Roethlisberger, throwing for 377 yards, three TDs, one interception, but Roethlisberger’s one and only TD pass won the game with 35 seconds left. 

Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning, 2009. Maybe the best Super Bowl quarterback matchup ever, this game pitted two of the top three most prolific passers in history against one another. Brees threw for 288 yards and two TDs and he won the game (31-17) and the MVP trophy. Manning threw for 333 yards on 45 attempts, one TD, one interception. Like Elway, Manning did not perform well on the Super Bowl stage. In four Super Bowls, his cumulative passing stats were 1,001 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions, but his team won two of them.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Ben Roethlisberger, 2010. Rodgers, throwing for 304 yards and three TDs, won the game (31-25) and the MVP award, denying Roethlisberger his third Super Bowl win. 

Russell Wilson vs. Peyton Manning, 2013. It seemed to have the makings of a great showdown. It was not. Wilson and the Seahawks won 43-8. Neither quarterback played well.  

Russell Wilson vs. Tom Brady, 2014. Brady earned one of his half-dozen rings here, but only because the Seahawks coaches made the single worst play call in the history of football, choosing to throw a pass from the 1-yard line instead of giving the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch. The pass was intercepted with 26 seconds left. Score: 28-24. Brady, the game’s MVP, threw for 328 yards and four TDs, including what proved to be the game winner, with 2:02 left in the game.

Next: Brady vs. Mahomes in another showdown of future Hall of Famers.