The Super Bowl is upon us. By now, only two teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, remain. I don’t know how you do it, but I prefer to root for a team. Since these teams are both powerhouses, there is no real underdog. So, I try to pick a team based on my favorite story about the players.
I was unable to find stories about lesser-known players, but there are interesting feel-good stories about the well-known participants, and I am using those to help me decide whom to cheer for.
On the San Francisco side there is Brock Purdy. For those who do not know the story, Brock Purdy, the quarterback of the 49ers, is a second-year player (could be considered a rookie depending on how rookie is defined). He was given the title, Mr. Irrelevant, because he was the 262nd and last pick in the 2022 draft. He had played college football for the Iowa State Cyclones whose record was barely over 50% in a challenging College Football division. The chance of him being the starting quarterback in the Super Bowl was almost zero.
But last year, both the starting and backup quarterbacks were injured during the season, and Purdy surprised everyone by showing an ability to make good decisions under pressure, precise passing, and managing the game like a seasoned quarterback. While the starting quarterback got his job back in the 2022-2023 season, eventually Purdy became the favorite. A last draft pick has never gone this far before. Purdy holds a number of firsts records, and some of them are in passer ratings. No team recognized his abilities, they just looked at his physical characteristics and statistics. Purdy is not only the lowest paid quarterback in the NFL (his back up’s salary is almost 5X his), but he makes so little money that he has to live with a roommate in the high rent district of San Francisco. This is a story about believing in yourself, a willingness to never give up, an impressive work ethic, and luck.
Another great story for the 49ers is the “Shanahan Coaching Tree.” The coach of the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan, and his father have been such good mentors that there are now four NFL head coaches from their previous assistant coaches.
It is hard to find underdog stories in the Kansas City Chiefs. They have been perennial Super Bowl contenders since Patrick Mahomes, a quarterback with game-changing talent, began leading this team. But an interesting feel-good story is one that features the 65-year-old coach, Andy Reed. Andy Reed with his pinkish, ruddy complexion, physical size, and mustache looks a little like a walrus and is beloved by peers and players. He was a successful coach for the Eagles for 14 years before he was fired and then hired by Kansas City. In 2017, Andy Reed and his Offensive Coordinator saw in Mahomes what the other teams did not. So, they traded up to get him #10 in the draft…a first round pick, but the previous 9 teams did not see how he would change the game of football.
In the beginning, Andy Reed recognized him as an incredible talent; but it took Reed almost a year to recognize that Mahomes, with his genius football IQ and his stratospheric talent, could revolutionize the game. Andy Reed credits Mahomes with saving his coaching career. How often does that happen? A coach crediting a young player with such a strong endorsement.
Reed recognized that instead of fitting Mahomes into the standard quarterback model, Reed could create an offense that utilized Mahomes athleticism, baseball skills, and his knack for coming up with unusual, backyard football plays. So he changed the offense, he made it more complex, he allowed the quarterback to be more than passer or runner. And Reed energized his team by allowing them to collaborate in creating offensive plays to make the game fun.
In previous Super Bowls we have seen the snow globe (where the players circle in the huddle), the corn dog, spins, and other players passing for touchdowns. I can’t wait to see the new play they will create for this Super Bowl.
Of course there are many other stories about players that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl. Lamar Jackson lost his father in a car accident and his family struggled. Throughout their challenges, his mom was the only one who understood that this MVP wanted to be a quarterback. Others wanted him to be a running back or a receiver. But Jackson and his mother persevered. He is so confident in his mother that he chose her instead of a high priced agent to negotiate his contract. Then there is the story of the Texans quarterback, C J Stroud, whose mother struggled to put food on the table while his father remains in prison under the three strikes law in California. Jordan Love, the Packers QB whose police officer father committed suicide after being prescribed a new medication.
All of these stories, including Purdy’s story, are amazing stories about persevering against the odds.
But for now, we can only choose a favored team from the stories of the players and coaches from the 49ers and the Chiefs. Maybe readers have some other stories about the players in this Super Bowl. But here’s hoping that the game is more interesting than the commercials. After all, everyone, including the Ravens, the Commanders, and my teams (the perennial losers—NY Giants and Jets) will be watching along with us.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.