If you want to start a spirited debate, throw out the names of two greats from different eras in a sport and make the case why one is better than the other. If all-out brawls are more your style, pick athletes from two different sports and anoint the guy whose career is just starting as the earlier icon’s worthy successor.
That came into play recently with a column putting forth the premise that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will have no rival in the NFL in the same fashion that Michael Jordan was at a level of his own in the NBA.
Patrick Mahomes fills the vacuum coming in the post-Tom Brady era
With apologies to the guys playing perhaps half a dozen other positions, only quarterbacks in this pass-happy era of football are eligible for the “face of the sport” moniker.
There are superb QBs out there, but the NFL is hitting a stretch in which the old guard of Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Drew Breese is down to its final few snaps. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger may last a bit longer, but neither is going to retire with anywhere close to the number of Super Bowl rings as Brady or a reputation for Breese-like reliability.
Dak Prescott? Carson Wentz? No, they’re pretty good but they don’t make the jaw-dropping plays that Mahomes has produced in just pro two seasons after a cameo appearance as a rookie.
Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson show some potential and there’s always a flavor of the month coming into out of the college ranks. But if Russell Wilson doesn’t play the Peyton Manning-style foil to Patrick Mahomes on the field and in endorsements off of it, then the spotlight potentially becomes the exclusive domain of the 24-year-old Chiefs QB for as long as his knees hold up.
Meeting the Michael Jordan standard
Jordan was an instant star upon joining the Chicago Bulls, averaging 28.2 points, 5.9 assists and 6.5 rebounds in his rookie season and shooting better than 50 percent from the field. He only got better from there, averaging 30 points a game in eight of his 13 seasons with the Bulls.
Most significantly, he raised his team to a new level, driving the Bulls to six league championships in eight years in a town starved for success, with the Bears’ 1986 Super Bowl triumph the only hardware from the four major sports since the Blackhawks in the 1960-61 NHL season.
That becomes the hurdle that Mahomes must ultimately clear to stake a claim to the title of player and personality without peer along the lines of Jordan. Kansas City is essentially a two-sport town, and the Chiefs are in a much better position to win a Super Bowl or three before the Royals regain their footing against MLB’s large-market teams.
In a sport in which quarterbacks tend to get too much credit for victories and too much blame for losses, it’s nonetheless up to Patrick Mahomes to leverage his elusiveness and passing accuracy into championships that would give him the Jordan-esque mystique.
Still, we’re admittedly talking apples and oranges
The Mahomes vs. Jordan comparisons with respect to domination of their sports are fun already and can be expected to get better with time. But the nature of basketball and football is so different – Mahomes will never be called upon to play defense, let alone the brand of defense that Jordan played — that an argument about who was the more dynamic force can probably never be settled. Heck, we’re still debating Magic vs. Bird and Arnold Palmer vs. Jack Nicklaus – and those guys competed head-to-head.
At the end of the day, though, Patrick Mahomes honestly has a shot at owning the football spotlight the same way that M.J. did in basketball. The first step in that direction comes on Super Bowl Sunday.