February 24, 2024

49ers’ Brock Purdy in a ‘special place’ ahead of 2024 Super Bowl vs. Chiefs: Inside the QB’s improbable rise


LAS VEGAS — It’s almost midnight in the lobby of the Paris Hotel. The sky is black, but only outside. In here, the ceilings are baby blue and dotted by wispy clouds, painted to resemble a spring day. The air is thick with the flash and whistle of casino games, the clank of glasses and the glow of drawn cigarettes. It may as well be noon as the sizzle of the Strip collides with the anticipation of Vegas’ first Super Bowl.

Thirty minutes away, under the still and silent watch of the Mojave Desert mountains, nestled inside the Hilton Lake resort, the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers is probably asleep. And one thing is for sure: He’s said his prayers.

Brock Purdy is already a big name with a big story. In less than two years, he’s gone from literally the last pick of the NFL draft to the third-youngest QB set to ever start a Super Bowl. At 22, he was a third-stringer out of Iowa State, collectively written off as training camp fodder. Barely 24, he’s an MVP finalist for the franchise with the second-most Lombardi Trophies of all time, up against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs — this era’s model QB and aspiring dynasty — on football’s biggest stage.

The wildest part of all? Hardly anyone’s batting an eye.

From zero to 100

It’s a testament to how rapidly and seamlessly Purdy has positioned himself atop the unceasing discourse over the game’s best signal-callers. Two hundred and sixty-one players were drafted before him in 2022. Two other QBs sat ahead of him to start his rookie year. Eight of his first 11 NFL games saw him take zero snaps. But his draft-day nickname, Mr. Irrelevant, now registers as purely ironic. Twenty-six starts in, Purdy is 21-5, including playoffs, and has been historically efficient as esteemed coach Kyle Shanahan’s point guard: 53 total touchdowns, just 16 interceptions, and a passer rating clear above 100.

Mahomes, who may already be a lock for the Hall of Fame while seeking his third ring in five years, said this week that Purdy is part of the “evolution” of young QBs headlining the league, joking that he may need to play until he’s “old,” like the legend Tom Brady, if he wants to fend off next-gen stars like No. 13 for the 49ers. It’s not hard to see why Purdy’s own coaches and teammates now insist (wish?) they foresaw such stardom from their 6-foot gunslinger.

One man did foresee something. Alex Smith, the former No. 1 overall draft pick who played QB for both the 49ers and Chiefs from 2005-2017, told CBS Sports prior to this season that Purdy was “not a fluke” after his unlikely rookie debut, in which he replaced not one but two injured teammates to help guide San Francisco to the NFC title game.

“He’s built (for this),” Smith said at the time. “You know, at the (scouting) combine, we love the measurables. We love to measure height, weight, 40 times. But in the end, if you can’t process information and you’re not accurate, you’re not gonna make it in the NFL. Brock has both those things.”

Purdy’s teammates echo as much.

“I have a lot of favorite parts of his game,” says All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. “Just his anticipation, throwing routes on time, and just the way he sees the game.”

Purdy’s also got something else. Something extra. Not just quick feet, which he uses to extend plays far more than predecessor Jimmy Garoppolo. Not just an underrated big-play mentality, which resurfaces every time he cocks his arm back for a downfield shot. No, what really sets this 24-year-old apart is his resistance — not just to celebrity, not just to the pressures that come with it, but also to the credit he wholeheartedly deserves.

Immune to the noise

Just over three years ago, Purdy would’ve been legally barred from entering a single one of the dozens of casinos on the Strip, from ordering a single celebratory glass of champagne at the Hilton Lake bar. This week, he’s one of the biggest stories in America next to Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Taylor Swift, the whole shebang. More than 65,000 will watch him touch the ball on every 49ers snap of Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium, and hundreds of millions more will do so from home. Shouldn’t he be seizing this moment? Gloating over the naysayers? Strutting into endless marketing deals? If anyone could justify doing so, it’d be him.

“Man, I don’t think people understand,” says Pro Bowl wide receiver Deebo Samuel. “Brock Purdy don’t listen to none of the stuff that goes on in the media. Like, he don’t pay that no mind.”

It’s one thing, of course, to ignore critics. But Purdy also deflects praise from his biggest fans — many of which reside in the 49ers locker room. Postgame footage of Purdy and star pass rusher Nick Bosa went viral after San Francisco advanced to the Super Bowl, not because of brash bravado from the QB but a jarring absence of it.

“The fact that you are doing this blows my mind,” Bosa can be heard telling Purdy.

“All of us, bro,” the QB responds, passing off the acclaim like a Shotgun snap to a sweeping wideout.

“Did you think you’d be this good?” Bosa retorts, desperate to see his QB wear the crown he’s earned.

“Honestly, bro,” Purdy says, “I could be better.”

The exchange is straight out of a QB-cliche handbook, a bit reminiscent of the even-keeled, almost-passive approach deployed by the Philadelphia EaglesJalen Hurts, who like Purdy was 24 when he earned a Super Bowl matchup with Mahomes and the Chiefs in 2022. With Purdy, it’s less cool stoicism and more Midwestern restraint, ala Minnesota Vikings fan favorite Kirk Cousins. But the foundation is the same for each of these privileged but professional men: This is simply who they are. It’s not an act. It’s not an effort. It’s who they were raised — and called — to be.

“He’s a very humble guy,” 49ers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave says of Purdy, one year after playing with Hurts and the Eagles in the Super Bowl. “I don’t think he really lets these moments get too big for him.”

Purdy once revealed, when reflecting on the start of his NFL career, that a lack of interest from teams during the draft convinced him his “identity’s got to be in something other than football.” Coming up in a strong Christian household, the QB returned to his spiritual roots when confronted by thousands of media at Super Bowl Opening Night, providing a window into the transcendent poise he carries on the field.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” Purdy said, quoting Psalm 23. “I have what I need. ‘He lets me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.’ Just sinking into that, knowing that I’m loved and taken care of. And (that) I don’t need to win this game to feel loved, to be loved. Because I already am in Jesus.”

The faith-propelled underdog story has been written before. Take Nick Foles, the Eagles icon who toppled the pre-Chiefs dynasty that was the New England Patriots. Go back further, and you can draw a line from Purdy to Kurt Warner — another overlooked QB out of Iowa who suddenly guided an NFC West powerhouse to the big game.

Warner, by the way, has heard the comparison and endorses it. The former Rams Hall of Famer regularly encourages his son E.J., a QB for Rice University, by pointing to the smaller but successful Purdy as inspiration: “I love the fact that I can text my son,” he says, “and go, ‘Hey, there’s a guy just like you that’s playing in the Super Bowl.'” But it’s mostly Purdy’s character that convinces Warner the 49ers QB has championship-caliber tools.

“I don’t think he gets swayed by the wind like you could, if you were listening to what everybody said about you and you wanted to prove something to everybody,” Warner says. “He’s very comfortable in his own skin. ‘Let everybody call me Mr. Irrelevant. I’m going to enjoy my moment.’ … When people get to these places, the easy thing to do is to get caught up and be defined by these places — what I do in this game, how many Super Bowls I win. I think the blessing is when you get to a place of, ‘None of that stuff defines me.’ It’s a special place to be.”

The next chapter

The cold reality of the NFL, where no team or player success tends to last for too long, is that Purdy’s performance in Super Bowl LVIII will, in fact, define his trajectory. His standing in the Bay Area, his perception among so-called experts, his potential career legacy will all be affected by what happens on the carefully manicured grass of shiny Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada. Even Warner, in all his effusive support for the young man, admits Purdy’s “gotta show us something” against the Chiefs — the game’s most inevitable trophy-hunters — to warrant classification among the scarce crop of truly elite QBs.

In the meantime, as fans, analysts and peers are busy debating whether he’s good, great or something else entirely; whether he’s the long-awaited title-contending successor to 49ers legends like Joe Montana and Steve Young, or merely the flashy new product of Kyle Shanahan’s all-star system; no one internally believes anything but this going into the game: Brock Purdy is wired for the moment.

If Vegas is the epitome of American indulgence — glitz, excess, literally miles of supersized hotels doubling as “adult” playgrounds, whose charm partly lies in their mimicry of real cities — then Purdy, even as the center of attention for one of the most historic franchises in a billion-dollar industry, is somehow the polar opposite. Trim. Articulate. Unassuming. And perfectly pleased with casting the limelight elsewhere.

This is not a robot; rewatch one of his crunch-time touchdowns, or the clock hitting double zeroes in the NFC Championship, and you will find a man who can hardly keep his feet on Earth as he hollers in triumph. When Purdy flexed his downturned arms to welcome the trip to the Super Bowl, it was as if he’d finally released a breath, proving in back-to-back comebacks over the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions that he wasn’t just capable of playing with a lead, but rather seizing one for himself. That maybe, just maybe, the kid who went 262nd overall might still be writing his story.

“Brock’s the man,” says Shanahan.

Odds are, that’ll stay true regardless of Sunday’s result. Purdy is doing everything in his power to prepare for Kansas City. He wants this one as bad as anyone. But when he bows his head this week, clearing visions of a Chris Jones pass rush or a Patrick Mahomes possession to make room for another prayer, he isn’t naive enough to ask God for everything to go his way. He looks instead for “peace and steadfastness in all the chaos.”

And if a Lombardi Trophy follows, then so be it.

It’s well past midnight in Vegas. The bass is bumping on the Strip. Super Bowl Weekend is underway. And Brock Purdy is just settling in.





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