Matthew Coller is an experienced football writer who covered the Vikings for 1500ESPN and Skor North for four years. Also a published author, Coller writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, and you can find more of his work at Purple Insider.
Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes has to make you think about greatness.
In one corner, the best quarterback in history. In the other, the present top dog, who happens to be an unstoppable wizard. Tampa Bay has an old guy who left one of the most accomplished coaches in the sport only to take another franchise to The Promised Land. Kansas City has a player so dynamic that he reminds 1990s basketball fans of Michael Jordan.
Brady and Mahomes are so good, they make you ponder all the things in football that we think about constantly.
Minnesota Vikings fans talk about how they’re a left guard away from being a contender, while Brady and Mahomes dominate with banged up offensive lines. Vikings fans beg for their head coach to pass more often while these two throw and throw and throw. Heck, last week there were Vikings fans debating the hiring of the new special teams coach. Not to suggest that it isn’t helpful to have a good special teams coach but does anybody know who holds that position for KC?
Vikings fans talk about how QB Wins don’t tell the whole story while Brady has won 11 or more games for 11 straight seasons -- even the time he was suspended for four games. Mahomes has won 42 times and lost nine, by the way. You won’t find Bucs fans memorizing where Brady ranked this year in QB rating or yardage total. Why would they need to? They don’t have to debate their quarterback’s merit online. They don’t have to make memes or address the “haters.”
Don’t take this the wrong way. It’s not a dig at the Vikings or at Kirk Cousins. The Vikings are just the unfortunate control subject in this experiment because they are a well-run franchise that has been competitive for their entire existence. Yet it feels so far away from what we’re going to see on Sunday.
Making the playoffs means a good season in Minnesota. Brady last missed the playoffs when someone who is now 34 years old was graduating college. That’s only because he got hurt. Mahomes has been in the AFC Championship, Super Bowl, Super Bowl in his three years as a starter. Sorry, it’s impossible not to compare them when marveling at the batbleep crazy insane bananas nature of Brady and Mahomes’ excellence.
It’s amazing though, isn’t it? We spend countless hours on schemes and systems and draft picks and free agent signings and culture and development and the salary cap and all the players the Vikings absolutely have to pay in order for them to have a fighting chance. And then these two QBs play for a ring every year.
Or guys like these two legendary quarterbacks, anyway. John Elway went to the Super Bowl five times. Joe Montana four. Peyton Manning four. Ben Roethlisberger three. Troy Aikman three. The other greats take turns. Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Steve Young etc.
With those quarterbacks, their franchises entered every year reasonably thinking about the Super Bowl.
The others have to hope their time comes around once a decade. They have to believe there’s some type of greatness around their QBs or some lucky rabbit’s foot that they happened to find that year. In that case, you get to be Brad Johnson, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Delhomme, Nick Foles, Matt Ryan or Jared Goff.
That’s the difference between good and all-time great. When you’re good, you get one shot at it in a lifetime or none at all. When you’re great, you expect it.
The Vikings are the definition of a good team that gets one shot per generation. Wade Wilson nearly took them to the Super Bowl in 1987, Randall Cunningham in 1998, Brett Favre in 2009 and Case Keenum in 2017. Every time, the next few years were spent chasing those seasons while Brady kept returning to the Super Bowl over and over.
It took magic and miracles for the Vikings to get to the doorstep. It took career years from great players. Good health. The right matchups. The right play happening at the right time. Only to still come up short for whatever reason.
Brady strolls by like the playoffs haven’t even messed up his hair. Mahomes just smiles. It’s maddening and magnificent at the same time.
Maddening because you want so desperately to believe that winning in the NFL is about all these other things and then you watch Mahomes score at will and dismantle a 13-3 team in the AFC Championship. Magnificent because it absolutely shouldn’t be that easy. How can Brady and Mahomes be that much better than everyone else in a sport that only selects from the greatest on earth? But they are.
So even though we watch every championship game through the lens of the Vikings, wondering what they could steal from the teams that go deep in the playoffs and what their coaches and GMs have done better with roster construction, this Super Bowl Sunday shouldn’t be for that.
Gawk at greatness, everyone. Be unashamed of your jealousy because 90% of football fans will be watching and wondering why they weren’t the chosen ones who Brady picked in free agency or why their team didn’t trade up for Mahomes.
Hey, at least the Vikings are in the NFC. Someday soon Brees and Rodgers and Brady will be gone and that once-a-decade shot will come again. Unless, of course, Minnesota finds the next Brady or Mahomes, in which case they’ll be the ones making the entire league envious.
Until then, maybe they should go get that left guard.