More than the Lombardi Trophy will be handed out on Sunday night at Super Bowl LV in Tampa: legacies, dynasties and places among the all-time greats will there for the taking.
For the winners, the prizes go beyond money and rings, while the losers are dealt blemishes that could haunt them for years, if not ultimately prevent them from securing their places in history.
In Field Level Media’s two-part series of players and coaches with the most to gain and most to lose, let’s start with who has the most to earn.
Players with the most to gain in Super Bowl LV
Tom Brady, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With a win, he becomes his own dynasty
Look at all the elite players across all American major team sports who have played for at least two teams in the past 40 years.
Michael Jordan never led two franchises to championships. Neither did Wayne Gretzky, Randy Johnson, Emmitt Smith or Brett Favre. That leaves us, for argument purposes, with four players: LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Peyton Manning and Brady.
Despite missing 21 games due to injury, O’Neal was integral to the Heat during their championship season, but Dwyane Wade was the team’s on-court leader and Finals MVP. Manning has won four fewer Super Bowls than Brady and is 2-2 in the big game; Brady is 6-3 with three MVP trophies.
James won two titles with a “super team,” the Miami Heat and one in Cleveland and claimed one last year by teaming with another top-10 player, Anthony Davis with the Los Angeles Lakers, one of professional sports most successful franchises ever.
Brady, a three-time NFL MVP didn’t take his “talents to South Beach” like James; he took it to western Florida and one of the least successful franchise in all of professional sports in the past 40 years: Tampa Bay.
He has taken a Buccaneers franchise that had gone 267-424-1 for a .387 winning percentage — the worst among North American pro sports teams — in the 44 seasons before he arrived to just their second Super Bowl and first since winning it 2003. Since then, the Buccaneers didn’t win a playoff game — until their savior arrived.
If Brady wins a seventh title in his first year leading a franchise that averaged 5.4 wins in the nine seasons before he got there, it may be his most impressive accomplishment.
Tyreek Hill, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
The 26-year-old receiver already is in an elite class as he joins Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce and Odell Beckham Jr. as the only players since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to post at least 1,450 receiving yards and at least 12 touchdowns in a season before turning 25.
A victory in Super Bowl LV would give Hill a second ring – one fewer than Rice and more than Bruce (1) and Beckham (0) combined.
He’s also looking to become just the ninth receiver in league history to be named to The Associated Press’ All-Pro First Team and win the Super Bowl in the same season.
It’s a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison in 2006. Of the eight players who have done it, five — Rice (1988, 1989, 1994), John Stallworth (1979), Lynn Swann (1978), Paul Warfield (1973) and Harrison — are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Gary Clark (1987), Drew Pearson (1977) and Cliff Branch (1976) had very, very good careers.
Tampa Bay gave up 346 passing yards to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in its win in the NFC Championship Game.
Hill torched Tampa Bay for 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns on 15 targets in the teams’ regular-season meeting less than two months ago.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gronkowski can go from being the greatest tight end in NFL history to arguably being best postseason pass-catcher in league history with a strong performance in Super Bowl LV.
With a victory, he will be one of just 35 players with at least four Super Bowl rings, with Brady earning his seventh, two more than Charles Haley and at least three more than everyone else including the 33 players who would own four rings.
Currently, only Pittsburgh’s Marv Fleming and Randy Grossman are the exclusive tight ends on the list, and neither was ever named All-Pro in their combined 22 seasons. Gronkowski is a four-time AP All-Pro.
Gronkowski’s 12 postseason receiving touchdowns are tied with Pittsburgh Hall of Famer John Stallworth and 10 behind the all-time leader Rice, who has 22. Gronkowski has caught all 12 of his scoring passes from Tom Brady. The other quarterback-receiver duo with a dozen? Joe Montana and Rice.
The chances of Gronkowski finding the end zone against the Chiefs on Super Sunday? It’s pretty good considering the Chiefs have played 18 games this season – including the postseason – and allowed 10 scores to opposing tight ends.
In the teams’ last meeting, Gronkowski had six catches for 106 yards, the only time he amassed more than 80 yards in any game this season, including the postseason.
Every catch Gronkowski makes on Sunday will add to his record of 1,206 postseason receiving yards for a tight end, which is well ahead of Dallas Clark (847), Keith Jackson (834) and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe (814).
Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What’s the one thing missing in Brown’s otherwise stellar on-field career? A Super Bowl ring.
He and Rice are the only receivers in NFL history to be named AP All-Pro first-team four straight years. But Rice has won three Super Bowls.
Brown has scored 79 touchdowns in his career, which are more than 24 pass-catchers who are in the Hall of Fame. Still, regardless of fairness, having never won a Super Bowl would be a dent in his place atop the all-time receiver hierarchy.
Brown could make that a moot point on Sunday.
This also may be Brown’s final chance to put a ring on his resume.
The seven-time Pro Bowler has been held to 70 yards or fewer in eight of his 10 games this season. He only has one game in which he amassed more than 100 yards receiving, when he went for 138 against the Falcons.
Let’s not mistake the Chiefs’ defense with the Falcons’.
Now, whether a Super Bowl ring trumps his off-field transgressions, only time will tell.
Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs
Another Super Bowl ring has to change the league’s perception of him, especially if the Chiefs put up a lot of points against the Buccaneers, right?
Maybe he should look across the sideline at Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians.
Arians went to three Super Bowls – winning two — as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator before he became a head coach.
In Arians last season in Pittsburgh, the Steelers lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. The next season, he took the same position in Indianapolis. He was promoted to interim head coach when Pagano was diagnosed with cancer and Arians was named NFL Coach of the Year.
The next season, he was hired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
Meantime, Bieniemy, in his third year coordinating Kansas City’s juggernaut offense, interviewed for all six head-coaching vacancies this offseason and was turned down for all of them after interviewing with several teams the two previous seasons.
Bieniemy, 51, was most recently passed over by the Texas, who went with David Culley, a 65-year-old longtime NFL assistant who most recently served as the Ravens assistant head coach/pass coordinator/wide receivers coach.
Baltimore finished dead-last in passing this season; the Chiefs ranked first.
–By Jon Gallo, Field Level Media