O’Brien: Super Bowl 58 is the worst-case scenario

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Super Bowl graphic. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

I am deeply invested in the narrative aspect of sports. Not necessarily the players’ life stories, as those often end up being the same, with few exceptions; they either grew up poor or as the child of a pro athlete, hit a growth spurt early (or late), worked hard, and got drafted. 

No, I’m far more interested in the stories that unfold in the arena. I’m not heavily invested in the NBA “goat” debate, but I am a firm LeBron supporter, as his career was narratively more interesting than Michael Jordan’s. A similar narrative debate is unfolding in the NFL right now, with recent events serving as a referendum on it, a new rhetorical wrinkle. 

Keeping this in mind, Super Bowl 58 is the worst-case scenario. Particularly for Eagles fans. 

The San Francisco 49ers beating the Kansas City Chiefs would be a complete disaster for the Eagles’ fanbase. It would validate everything that Niners proponents have been preaching for the past year – that they’re better, and they would have beaten Philly in the NFC Championship Game if Brock Purdy didn’t get injured. Obviously, we will never know the true answer to this, but facts don’t matter in the world of takes. Or, at least, they’re not paramount. If this happens – especially in the wake of the Eagles’ late-season collapse – Niners fans get to say these things. That is their right, something their team earned for them, something that approaches the importance of the trophy itself. 

If you are at all plugged into mainstream sports media, then you have heard some ridiculous things said about Brock Purdy. The Tom Brady comparisons are a bit trigger-happy but understandable; they were both drafted as “Mr. Irrelevant” and had exceptional seasons in their first years as starters. But this guy was being compared to Joe Montana. This collective understanding of Purdy is not just due to circumstances, these are earnest assessments of him as a player. 

What compounds this dismay is the fact that we now have to root for the Chiefs, who, of course, beat the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl, potentially spoiling one of the greatest seasons of all time, and certainly the greatest season in Eagles history. 

Watching the Chiefs right now is like watching the popular friend group in a high school movie. They have Patrick Mahomes, who we’ll get to. They have Travis Kelce, arguably the greatest player in the history of his position, who has become a bona fide celebrity in recent months. His brother, Jason Kelce, is one of the coolest people on planet Earth, and seeing him wearing Chiefs gear and rooting for them in the luxury box makes me sick. And, of course, Kelce is dating the biggest star on planet Earth right now Taylor Swift. They are the cool kids, and we are the nerdy protagonists who desperately wish they could be like them. 

I have resigned myself to the inevitability of Patrick Mahomes. I have seen the light. I’m not happy about it, but I’ve accepted it. I’ve accepted that nobody will stop him. Jalen Hurts outperformed him in the Super Bowl last year, and is the only currently rostered quarterback to do so. Look where that got us. At this point, I don’t think anyone can outgun him when it matters. This means that for the foreseeable future, Patrick Mahomes will be the best player in every game he plays, by a notable margin. In a different sport, this wouldn’t be the whole story, but in the NFL, with a short regular season, a single elimination playoff format, and where the quarterback might as well be the only position on the field, it lays out a freshly paved road to ascension. It is very easy to see him becoming the greatest of all time before he hangs it up. 

I have come to realize our place in his story. A friend of mine described last season as “everything breaking perfectly for the Eagles until they ran into the goat.” The easiest possible path was laid out for Philly to meet Kansas City in the ultimate game because it simply had to be us. In retrospect, it was perfect, an ingenious twist of fate. Travis Kelce vs. his brother, Andy Reid vs. his former team. It was a referendum on the nature of the game itself. Hurts, with a play style reminiscent of an old-school rushing quarterback, vs. Mahomes, who leads a futuristic offense that sees the ball whipped around the field like a cannon. It’s a philosophical debate we narrowly lost. They had to beat us.

After their loss to the Niners in the 2024 NFC Championship Game, Lions’ coach Dan Campbell delivered one of the most gutting quotes I’ve ever heard: “This may have been our only shot.” There’s always next year, sure, but in the NFL, title windows are nasty, brutish, and short, sometimes lasting only one year. 

And, narratively, there’s a million things more interesting to talk about than “who’s the best.” Ranking these men can be a fun, simple thought exercise that fills some air on a radio show. But it’s all ephemeral. “Who’s the greatest of all time” is something with no real conclusion, it’s something we can bicker about endlessly. 

But as you watch this game on Sunday, I want you to keep both of these things in the back of your mind. I want you to think about what consistent greatness means in such a short career, and what a dynasty entails in a game of fleeting success. I want you to think about what being the best at something really means, why we put so much stock in it, and why we desperately search for successors to the throne. This whole thing is an exercise in myth-making. I want you to understand that, unlike the myths of old, ours are real.

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