Tonight at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the LA Rams and the New England Patriots will collide in a cauldron of light and sound in the hope of lifting the Lombardi trophy.
The teams have made it to Super Bowl LIII through a gruelling season where the youngest coach in the NFL will test his wits against the most decorated.
Rams head coach Sean McVay turned 33 last week and would have been celebrating his first birthday the same week Patriot counterpart Bill Belichick collected his first Super Bowl with the New York Giants.
Belichick, 66, has since collected six more Super Bowl rings and is hoping to add an eighth today.
Belichick won his first as a head coach against the then St Louis Rams in 2002 with a young Tom Brady leading his offence on the field.
That duo has won five Super Bowls – appearing in three more since – in what has proven to be one of sport’s most dominant dynasties ever.
Standing on the opposite sideline to Brady and Belichick, alongside his young coach, will be 24-year-old quarterback Jared Goff. Drafted by the Rams three seasons ago as the number one pick, and after a dismal first year, Goff found his feet in the new upbeat offence of McVay.
Asked on Monday night if he had any advice for Goff – who was sitting next to him – an age-defying Brady, 41, quickly fired back “I’m not giving him any advice” with a wry smile. The two players are separated by 17 years, the largest gap ever between starting quarterbacks in a Super Bowl.
The pair grew up in the Bay Area of California in similar towns separated by just 60 miles, but they have very different dispositions, with Brady telling one interviewer: “I don’t like when people say I’m great. I prefer when they say I’m terrible. That fuels me.”
Goff is the epitome of California cool, seemingly unruffled by anything happening around him, leaving a bad play on the field and simply moving on with the note stored away to avoid the same mistake again.
A key for the Rams come tonight could be the fitness of another offensive weapon, running back Todd Gurley, a stand-out player all season in both the run and pass game. Gurley missed the last two games of the regular season and has had fleeting appearances in the two play-off games since, with the team denying any lingering problems.
The offence McVay installed when he took over two years ago has revolutionised the Rams, and the wunderkind coach has other teams hiring coaches who have passed McVay in a hallway hoping his success has rubbed off on them.
McVay will really be tested this weekend when he faces the toughest game of his young career, matching up against defensive mastermind Belichick, known for his ability to neutralise offences – he often talks about taking away “the thing the other team do best”.
With all the focus on the quarterbacks and coaches, the real defining battle will be on the Patriots’ offensive line, a line that has protected Brady allowing no sacks – or tackles of the quarterback – in the last two games and delivered a play success rate of 90.5 per cent.
Seventy-year-old Dante Scarnecchia – the man behind this success – retired in 2013 but was coaxed back to the game by Belichick in 2016. Since returning, he has turned the Patriots’ offensive line into a wall that forces back crashing waves of defenders.
Facing them, the LA Rams have one of the most dominant defensive ends in the game, Aaron Donald. The former first-round draft pick has recorded 20.5 sacks this season while playing alongside Ndamukong Suh, and this duo will genuinely test the Patriots.
The winner of the game could well be decided in theses trenches where the elite offensive line will have to stand and deliver, allowing Brady to effectively move the ball and the Patriots running backs to dictate the pace of the game.
In Super Bowl XXXVI a high-flying Rams offence came up against a stout Patriots defence, and tonight these two teams will meet again. That night a last-second field goal gave the New England Patriots and Tom Brady their very first Super Bowl. Today, can the Rams get their revenge or will the Belichick/Brady empire continue marching on?