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Expect a good game Sunday when the greatest ever and the greatest square off in Super Bowl LV. Photoillustration by Ryan Burger

It’s a fun thought experiment and a source for many a “friendly” debate among sports fans to ponder what it would be like if cross-generational greats could go head to head. What would happen if Jordan went up against LeBron with an NBA title on the line? Who would come out on top if Gretzky faced off against Sidney Crosby for the chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup? It’s the type of unknowable hypothetical that gins excessive pride in one’s favorites and leads to inexorable arguments. In other words, it’s just the type of blowhard controversy that is the very lifeblood of sports fandom. It is also, for maybe the first time ever, exactly what football fans are in store for this Sunday when the frustratingly ageless Tom Brady leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against superstar Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. (That’s 55 for those who prefer Arabic numerals.)

As much as it pains me (and the 95% of the country not located in the Northeast where they drop their Rs or currently residing in the center of the Floridian peninsula) to admit, Tom Brady is the single greatest football player of all time. This isn’t intended as an intro to our own sports debate, inviting rebuttals extolling the achievements of the Peyton Mannings and Jerry Rices of the world. Believe me, being put in a position to defend TB12 leaves a sour feeling in my stomach. From his sideline crybaby antics, insufferable magazine ads, remarkable Peter Pan-like immortality, the supermodel wife, and the hundreds of millions in the bank account (not to mention his Trumpian political leanings), he’s the classic some-guys-have-it-all-and-love-to-flaunt-it scenario. And we mere average mortals absolutely hate it. It also pains me personally that he’s the only current player in the entire NFL who is still older than me. He still basically looks exactly like he did when he first took a snap back in 2001, while I have basically turned into a sad caricature of my father. Yet, despite all the well-deserved shade, it’s still a simple fact that he is the GOAT.

This will be Brady’s 10th Super Bowl. If you’re keeping count, that’s at least twice as many as 27 NFL teams have competed in in their entire histories. Brady has taken a trip to the Big Game™ in nearly half of the seasons he’s played in the league! He has even largely put to bed the debate about who deserves the credit for the Patriots dynasty, him or Belichick. By basically throwing a dart at a poster of NFL helmets, hitting the Bucs, and saying, “Well, I hope those guys want to go to the Super Bowl,” Tommy Boy has proven he was at least partially responsible for those six rings. The way he went off this year over the last month of the regular season with a 4-0 record, 12 TDs and only one pick, and with an average QBR of 126.9, he is showing he doesn’t just look like he did two decades ago. He can still play like it, too.

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The only solace the Brady haters can take is that he’s lost three of those Super Bowls, which puts him tied for second all-time behind the had-to-be-cursed Jim Kelly, who lost four.

Across from Big Bad Brady on Sunday, heading into his second straight championship game, is the potential heir to the TB legacy in Patrick Mahomes. While No. 12 has dominated the league for the last 15-plus years, Mahomes looks like he’ll be the one to dominate it for the next 15. Accuracy, mobility, improvisation, a canon for an arm — Mahomes has it all. He’s incredibly fun to watch. While Brady is the stoic Master Splinter of efficiency, Mahomes is the Michelangelo of just letting it fly and having fun along the way. Added to that, he has a generally humble demeanor (likely the result of growing up with a Kermit the Frog voice), and he’s easy to root for. Even when he’s not going against the league’s Darth Vader.

Some see this game as a passing of the torch, and it very well may be. Mahomes is only 25 years old. If there’s any quarterback who could conceivably challenge Brady’s accomplishments when his career is over, Mahomes is the only potential candidate. With the Chiefs loaded as they are on offense and with a much-improved defense, I’m not sure there’s any team that can beat them. Of course, you can never really count out Tommy Ugg Boots. Even still, give me Kansas City to cover the three-point line. Mahomes wins his second Super Bowl MVP as the Chiefs top the Bucs 34-30. Either way, it should be a good game.

So this Sunday, enjoy the best ever going against the best. It’s not something we’re likely to see again. That is, until next year, when both these guys are back for Super Bowl LVI.

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