The Chiefs, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are favored by three points, but in a survey of 18 players and coaches from across the NHL, 11 believe the Buccaneers will win and most cited quarterback Tom Brady as the difference-maker in a game they almost universally believe will be close.
“That’s a tough one,” Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. “It’s hard to bet against Tom Brady for the amount of times he’s been there.”
Regardless of whom the players are rooting for, they almost universally appreciate the appearance of Brady, who will play in his 10th Super Bowl. This is the 43-year-old’s first season with the Buccaneers after signing as a free agent. Brady was 6-3 in nine Super Bowl appearances during a 20-season career with the New England Patriots.
“We’re looking forward to watching the Super Bowl, it’s a great sporting event,” Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares said. “We’ve got our fantasy pool, and it’s a pretty amazing matchup this year, so there’s been a lot of talk the last couple weeks.
“With Tom, he’s pretty impressive. Certainly an athlete a lot of people can look up to with his longevity, commitment and passion for the game and how successful he’s been. He’s been able to find what makes him great and fine-tune that to the highest level, while being a father and having a family and being able to balance his life while playing such a physically demanding sport. It’s impressive to watch.”
Vegas Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch was born in Syracuse, N.Y., but was indoctrinated into the Patriots way when he went to Boston College from 2014-16. He was fed a steady diet of Brady heroics and he hasn’t forgotten.
“It really is tough,” Tuch said. “When you go to Boston College, it’s really tough to not pick Tom Brady, so I’m going to go Buccaneers. I think it’s going to be a tight game. I’m going to say the over too, for all the bettors out there; definitely the over.”
Las Vegas oddsmakers have set the over/under line at 56 points.
“I’m picking Tom because the Bucs have only gotten better as the season has gone on, and when push comes to shove, those clutch players always seem to come through, and Tom Brady is the epitome of a clutch player,” Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele said.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome said the Bucs would win 36-30, arguing the differences in the game are the experience of Brady and the play of the Bucs’ secondary.
Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane predicted a score of 35-35 at the end of regulation before Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans scores the winning touchdown in overtime.
“I like Tampa … and I’m kind of a Brady fan as well,” New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy said. “I think it’ll be a good overall game and they definitely have a high-powered offense.”
Not all the vibes about Brady are positive.
“Tom Brady [will win] because he’s got the refs on his side,” Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said.
Some players, like Shaw, are anti-Buccaneers more than pro-Chiefs. Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson is rooting against the Buccaneers just to get a rise out of a teammate.
“[Defenseman] Johnny Carlson is a big Tom Brady fan, so playing the instigator that I am, I think I’ll go against him,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be tough beating Tampa with all the experience on that team, but hopefully I’ll be able to give it to Johnny that Mahomes did his thing.”
Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk cautioned against such an approach by Wilson and others like him.
“I like Kansas City’s chances but I’m pulling for [Brady],” Tkachuk said. “I always have before. Never bet against Tom. Never. [It] backfires to bet against him.”
He was supported by teammate Milan Lucic.
“A lot of people get burned betting against Tom, so choose wisely,” the forward said.
There are believers in the Chiefs, who defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl last season for their second championship in three appearances. The Patriots are the last team to win back-to back titles, in 2003 and 2004.
“It’s hard to go against Tom, obviously, but I’m going to go with K.C.,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. “I just like the way they play. Their offense is fun to watch. Either way, I hope it comes down to the last play.”
Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy predicted a 30-21 victory for the Chiefs.
“Patrick Mahomes is a game-changer and they’re an experienced playmaking team,” Murphy said.
Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore also sees the Chiefs prevailing in a shootout, as history would suggest. Brady and Mahomes played head-to-head four times when Brady was with New England, each winning twice. The cumulative score of those four games is Chiefs 121, Patriots 120.
“It’s definitely hard to bet against Brady, but I think the Chiefs, they march down the field pretty good,” Theodore said. “So I think I’m probably going to have to go Chiefs on this one.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was born in Massachusetts and is well-versed in Brady’s heroics, but he believes the Chiefs have the answers.
“Haven’t thought that much about it,” Sullivan said. “I know that Brady fans out there won’t like me for that, but I just think [the Chiefs are] the better team.”
Max Pacioretty, who grew up in Connecticut, thinks Mahomes can get the better of Brady in this matchup and is basing it on history, pointing out that two of Brady’s three Super Bowl losses were to the New York Giants and quarterback Eli Manning.
“I saw Eli Manning beat up Tom Brady a couple of times, so I think Mahomes can do the same,” Pacioretty said.