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Green: Quarterbacks remain as Super Bowl's ultimate showstoppers

Jerry Green
Special to The Detroit News

Miami — This is a quarterback:

The clock ticks down toward a row of zeroes.

Click . . . Precious moments remain.

The guy huddles his 10 teammates and barks out some words in an indecipherable code. The athletes line up, receivers spaced precisely, muscles tightening, ready to spring forward.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes

Snap . . .

The quarterback grabs the football, retreats, aims. The receivers dart ahead, turn in angles, speeding in a danger zone.

Whoosh . . .

The quarterback unleashes the football just as four rushing linemen and a blitzing linebacker take aim for his body.

The pass spirals forward, low, a liner, dead on target.

First down . . . Inches beyond the marker . . . the drive continues . . .

Quarterbacks change through the eras of the NFL’s documented history.

They roll more now and many run, whippets pursued by mountainous gasping defensive linemen. They are bigger, stronger, too.

Perhaps more intelligent, also in football savviness.

They are guided by schematics on iPads, or some such devices, on the sidelines. And lest they forget, they wear booklets listing all their play-calls on their wrists.

Absolutely, they are different. Younger. More responsive. Poised despite their freshness. Some yet to be glamorized despite their glamour position.

And absolutely, over 100 years, they are similar. They lead. They cajole. They are students of their offensives. They must read opposing defenses on single glances. They must play with snap-decision reflexes. They are the focus of every play on which the footballs are not kicked.

Timeless leaders

Through the generations . . .

“Jess let ole Bobby take the ball and he’ll get ya this ole championship,” Bobby Layne was alleged to command his teammates when backed up and seemingly defeated in one of the Lions’ championship victories back in the 1950s.

“Let’s do something special,” Patrick Mahomes exhorted his teammates with the Chiefs down, 24-0, to the Texans in the playoffs before the upcoming Super Bowl LIV, according to NFL Films’ sideline tapes. “They’ve already counted us bleeping out. One play at a time, do something special.”

One play at a time, Mahomes rallied the Chiefs to a 51-31 victory over the Texans. A week later, he rallied the Chiefs from behind the Titans and into Sunday’s Super Bowl vs. the 49ers.

Here in 2020, Mahomes’ and Jimmy Garoppolo’s performances are startlingly alike as Tom Brady’s and Drew Brees’ and Mathew Stafford’s and Eli and Peyton Manning’s.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo and Mahomes function with the same requirements as Aaron Rodgers. And checking through the decades the same as Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Roger Staubach, Brett Favre, Steve Young and Joe Namath; and before, Bobby Layne, Otto Graham, the wondrous Bart Starr, Norm Van Brocklin and the eternal Johnny Unitas; and even before, back into the 1940s, Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh; and into the 1930s and 1920, Benny Friedman, Cecil Isbell and Harry Newman.

Yet, there is a chapter in the quarterback mystique, for the one season — or one-game — wonders. Jeff Hostetler, Trent Dilfer, Doug Williams and Joe Flacco won Super Bowls.

Jim Kelly and Francis Tarkenton — two quarterbacks voted into the Hall of Fame — were losers in multiple Super Bowls. Kelly in four, Tarkenton in three.

New era

Halt the nostalgia . . .

Pro football, in the climax to its 100th season, has entered epochal No. 1 at this Super Bowl.

Tom Brady, still ambitious for more at a craggy 42, is not playing Sunday in Super Bowl LIV.

His onetime presumed successor with the Patriots, Garoppolo, is at age 28 for the 49ers,

Brady’s new rival — and friend — Mahomes plays in a Super Bowl for the Chiefs at age 24 in his third pro season.

It has never been proven that Garoppolo forced the Patriots’ trade to the 49ers because he viewed Brady as a block to his future. But my view is obvious. A few years ago, Brady was considered forever in New England. Might still be.

Garoppolo’s route to the Super Bowl was different from Mahomes’ — just as their styles are different at the start of this new NFL era.

For San Francisco, Garoppolo is able to throw on the run but prefers the pocket. That is when he does pass. In beating the Packers, Garoppolo threw eight passes. He completed six.

The 49ers, thus, reached the Super Bowl in the NFL’s 100th season using a 100-year-old offense.

Then there is Patrick Mahomes, who might be unlike any of our quarterbacks.

He is an impresario. He improvises.

Vivid in my memory from the scene on TV is Mahomes spinning around, trapped, trying to throw a pass normally with his right arm, launching his pass left-handed. The ball spiraled nicely and was caught, enabling the Chiefs to escape from a jam.

And even more vivid, is Mahomes trapped on a fourth down and plenty vs. the Lions last September, finding a gap and running for a 16-yard gain. And onto victory, a victory that was a turning point in the Chiefs’ season. And a defeat, looking back, that was a turning point in the Lions’ forlorn season.

It is well known that Mahomes’ father, Pat, pitched in the Major Leagues. And that Patrick chose pro football over baseball out of Texas Tech. Patrick was a draft choice over the stuck-in-a-ditch Detroit Tigers.

Leave it to my granddaughter Gretchen to give me the perfect ending for this column.

“The Tigers have drafted more Super Bowl quarterbacks than the Lions.”

Jerry Green, a retired sports writer, has covered every Super Bowl for The Detroit News.