Miami — This is the super duel inside Super Bowl LIV:
Nick Bosa, brushing off the blocker and rushing at the fleeting figure in bright red, dashing helter-skelter.
Richard Sherman, the eminent cornerback, protecting against the dashing receiver while also taking precautions against the fleeting figure.
The fleeting figure is the Phantom. Or is he Superman?
But this Phantom/Superman is the key, to the Super Bowl LIV battle Sunday between the Chiefs and 49ers.
“It almost looks like they got their roster from the Olympic relay team and threw them all on the football field,” Robert Saleh, Michigan-bred 49ers defensive coordinator, told the Super Bowl media this week.
Tom Brady never was awarded the accolades Mahomes is receiving before his first Super Bowl. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw did not receive such praise and acclaim before their bravura performances in their first Super Bowls.
I must go back to the fabled Joe Namath 51 years ago to name a quarterback arriving at a first Super Bowl with as much notoriety and as much mystique as young Mahomes.
What will he do? Pass? Run? Dash to the left and trapped by Bosa, throw a pass? Right-handed, his normal style, or maybe left-handed? On break free up the middle?
While kicking the butts of his teammates in the huddle?
And figuring all this out and the plans and schemes to thwart the whirling Mahomes is the responsibility of Saleh.
Saleh is the hottest assistant coaching aspirant in the NFL.
“Solid man, he’s been a coordinator for three years, he’s ready to be a head coach now,” Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers’ young head coach told me after one of the Super Bowl press conferences. “We’d be lucky to have him next year.
“But I don’t think we’ll have him much longer. “
Those are powerful words, considering the speaker.
The 'it' candidate
Three years ago, Shanahan was the hottest coaching candidate in all of pro football. He then was offensive coordinator of the Falcons, at Super Bowl LI. They scored sufficient points to win over the Patriots, but collapsed defensively to lose a classic game, 31-28, in overtime.
Right after, Shanahan was hired to coach the 49ers, who had rotted away following successful seasons under Jimmy Harbaugh. Shanahan then hired Saleh as his defensive coordinator.
It took a few seasons, the GM wizardry of John Lynch and the new coaching regime for the turnaround.
But the 49er jumped to 13-3 after a 4-12 season into the postseason. And then on to two dominant playoff victories and to Super Bowl LVI against Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Much of the 49ers’ success comes from the defensive side — with Bosa and the venerable Sherman and the inside play of Arik Armstead. And much of the improvement of the 49ers rapid progress stems from the defensive brilliance of Saleh.
Saleh is from Dearborn. He played football at Dearborn Fordson and Northern Michigan. He started off manning a desk at Comerica Bank before the lure of pro football carried him into coaching.
Coaching — a risky job with long hours, multiple moves, and no security.
Yet, his success as an assistant — already with one Super Bowl ring as an assistant under Pete Carroll with the Seahawks — kept him moving upward.
He might already be an NFL head coach with the Browns — if he had not been so successful with the 49ers. The Browns, now in the dregs of the NFL, interviewed Saleh. They liked him. But they chose Kevin Stefanski as their new head coach a few weeks ago.
Stefanski was ready to start work without any delay.
In my view, Saleh had good fortune being passed over. It’s a doomsday job to be a head coach with the Browns.
Head coaching vacancies with more progressive franchises will be available after the next NFL season. But first there is the task of neutralizing Mahomes — if it is possible.
‘Going to be tough’
Saleh’s defensive players and plans stopped two prominent QBs in the Super Bowl playoffs.
Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) was limited to short passes for a TD and a field goal in the first playoff victory over the Vikings.
The 49ers repulsed Aaron Rodgers, one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks in the NFC championship game. Rodgers has some mobility, but not with the flair and explosive danger of Mahomes.
“His mobility is unique,” Saleh told the Super Bowl media in discussing Mahomes. “His arm strength is unique. He is very, very accurate.
“But what I don’t think people give him enough credit for is that he actually plays quarterback. ... He hits a lot of throws in rhythm. And when he needs to take his shot, he knows how to buy time in the pocket. He’s a superstar in any way you can possibly imagine and he’s going to be tough to deal with.”
It seems every year there is a hot, young, assistant coach already groomed to be elevated to some team’s head coach. Rumor quackery abounds.
Two years ago, we observed Matt Patricia on the sideline of the Patriots. It was known he was head coach-designate of the Lions. That has not worked out — yet.
A couple of decades ago, as the Giants were preparing for a Super Bowl victory, their defensive coordinator was being rumored strongly as an expectant head coach.
After a rocky start and one firing in Cleveland, this aspirant re-emerged with a second head coaching job.
His name is Bill Belichick!
Jerry Green, a retired Detroit News sports writer, has covered every Super Bowl for The Detroit News.
Super Bowl LIV
San Francisco vs. Kansas City
Kickoff: 6:30 Sunday, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami
Line: Kansas City by 1½