Watching Brady in person makes for memorable game
As I sat in my car last Sunday at 5 p.m. in a restaurant parking lot a mile from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, it appeared that my last second quixotic decision to drive across Florida from West Palm to Tampa in the hope of securing a Super Bowl ticket, was going to end in failure.
Only 22,000 fans were permitted in the game — with tickets being grouped in pods of 2, 4, and 6, and no one was selling “single” tickets. Suddenly my phone dinged with the text from a friend, “Ira, if you are in Tampa, I have an extra ticket.” I have been to thousands of pro and college sporting events, but only five Super Bowls, and I literally flew to the stadium on a wave of excitement, for a game that would determine the “GOAT.” Jordan never faced Lebron in the NBA Finals; Tiger never played the Masters against Jack; but in Super Bowl LV, the GOAT, Tom Brady, faced the future GOAT — Patrick Mahomes.
Surprisingly the atmosphere seemed normal as the fans were extremely loud and the cardboard cutouts in the empty seats were lifelike — I caught myself apologizing twice to the cutout next to me for bumping him!
I had attended the game on back on Nov. 29, 2020 between Tampa Bay and Kansas City, which KC won, 27-24. In the first quarter of that game, KC easily jumped out to a 17-0 lead with the Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill gaining over 200 yards in the first quarter! From my seat behind the Bucs bench, I saw Brady implore his team to stay positive and not give up, and I had witnessed the coaches and players scramble to make defensive adjustments to slow down the Chiefs’ onslaught. Since the horrendous first quarter of that game, the Bucs woundup out-scoring the Chiefs, 55-19, in the next seven quarters they played.
My Super Bowl seat was also right behind the Bucs bench, and from my seat I quickly saw the remarkable transformation — from the November game — of the team. The players to a man had a scary look of confidence — they believed in their game plan, they believed in themselves, and they believed in their leader, Brady. On the other hand, the Chiefs fought with the refs, their teammates, and their coaches — to a point where Tampa started plays while the Chiefs were busy yelling with their backs to the ball.
Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea — who had missed the November game with an injury — is the largest football player I have ever seen, and he teamed up with tackle Ndamukong Suh to form a brick wall on the line, limiting Mahomes’ ability to scramble up the middle and allowing the Bucs edge rushers a wide path to pressure Mahomes. And just like Tampa Bay had done in the NFC Championship against Green Bay, the defense held a high-powered offense to field goals instead of touchdowns.
Watching from just a few rows from the field, I realized that Tampa Bay was simply beating up KC. Its offensive lineman were getting run over by the Bucs’ defenders; KC ‘s receivers were getting frustrated after each failed play and did not hustle back to the huddle; and Mahomes was abandoning the offense by running out of the pocket the second he got the ball. On defense, KC’s line gave up trying to pressure Brady and had no interest in tackling Bucs running back Leonard Fournette. I kept waiting for the Chiefs to mount a comeback, but the Bucs defense refused to give the Chiefs the big plays which had propelled the Chiefs to last year’s title and this years 14-2 record.
But of course, the Bucs driving force was Brady. When the Bucs defense was on the field, TB12 was constantly throwing on the sideline. It seemed like his throws meant so much more than keeping his arm warm — each warmup throw was a silent drum beat to the team to stay focused and locked in on the goal — to be champions. After the game Brady wouldn’t answer a question about where this championship ranked with the other six; but I was one of the last fans to leave the stadium, and as Brady walked off the field past me with his wife and children through the sea of confetti — I believe the beaming smile on his face gave away the answer.
He taught the perennial losing Bucs team how to win — and in doing so he showed the world he was not finished at 43, didn’t need Bill Belichick to win, and made it virtually impossible for Mahomes to ever claim the title of GOAT.
Ira Kaufman, an Altoona native and Mountain Lion graduate, hosts IRA on Sports on trueoldiesfla.com on Monday night from 7-8 p.m. It is also available on Soundcloud & iTUNES, search Ira On Sports. His column appears occasionally in Voice of the Fan.