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Brock Purdy, the last in line in search of greatness

The quarterback — who, just two years ago, was the last pick in the NFL draft — has brought San Francisco to the verge of its first Super Bowl title in almost three decades

Brock Purdy Super Bowl 2024
Brock Purdy, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, in action during the National Conference finals, against the Detroit Lions.Ezra Shaw (Getty Images)

The history of sports is filled with stories of great dynasties — dominant teams that managed to elevate a certain discipline to excellence, marking an era. However, there’s also a special place for those individual athletes, who stand out within large structures.

The latest of them in American football is Brock Purdy, the 24-year-old quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Despite nobody having put their money on him, the Arizona-born Purdy is on the verge of helping his team win its first Super Bowl title in 29 years. If the California franchise wins today, they will equal the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers as the top winners in NFL history, with six championships apiece.

Before landing among the elite, the young quarterback had to enroll in the annual draft organized by the NFL, as all college football talents have to do if they want to make the leap to going pro. In the 2022 draft, Purdy became eligible, but he had to wait until the 262nd pick to be chosen. It was the last place of all. In this way, the then-quarterback of the University of Iowa’s team earned the title of “Mr. Irrelevant,” as the last player selected in the draft each year is called. This nickname emphasizes how little significance the career of the last-place draftee usually has.

Purdy joined the 49ers roster as the third-string quarterback. Months later, the injuries of Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo — the first-string and second-string players in his position — opened the doors to him. And he hasn’t left since then.

With little experience — but with a lot of personality — the rookie quarterback took control of the team in the last games of that season. With his help, San Francisco reached the National Football Conference (NFC), the round before the Super Bowl. In that game, Purdy had to leave the field due to an injury. He watched from the bench as his team was defeated by the Philadelphia Eagles.

This year, he’s seeking revenge for that bitter pill. The 2023-2024 season was his first full year as a starter. He has led the 49ers to be the best team in their conference (12-5), just one victory behind the Baltimore Ravens (13-4), the team with the best record in the regular season. The playoffs arrived and San Francisco continued to overcome rivals until settling in for the final game against the Kansas City Chiefs — led by the almighty quarterback Patrick Mahomes — as the final test.

Despite not being a quarterback of extraordinary qualities, Purdy is a fairly accomplished player. His detractors consider him to be a player of average talent, who has benefited from the winning system and supportive environment put together by Kyle Shanahan, one of the most outstanding coaches in the entire NFL. His supporters, on the other hand, see him as someone who knows how to get the job done.

Purdy isn’t number one in any category. He doesn’t have the passing repertoire of Patrick Mahomes, the running game of Lamar Jackson, or the strength of someone like Josh Allen, but he has proven himself to be well-rounded and consistent. He’s not the quarterback who goes off the script and wins the game. Instead, he’s the one who adopts a system and takes it to the limit.

Brock Purdy during the press conference prior to the Super Bowl.
Brock Purdy during the press conference prior to the Super Bowl.Kirby Lee (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

Playing with the number 13 on his back (due to the fanaticism that his father instilled in him towards the legendary Dan Marino), Purdy has also managed to earn the respect of a locker room filled with many stars. In a sport as hierarchical as American football — where the quarterback is at the top of the pyramid — it’s not easy to go from being Mr. Irrelevant to being the player that everyone, both veterans and rookies, listens to before each play.

After qualifying for the Super Bowl, a locker room conversation between Purdy and Nick Bosa went viral, in which the team’s star defensive back expressed his surprise at what his teammate had achieved in such a short period of time. “What you’re doing blows my mind. I was number two in the draft and [even then], I sometimes doubted myself,” he told Purdy. “That’s how it is, it’s part of the game,” number 262 responded with a shrug.

Initially expected to play a minor role, Purdy isn’t among the 30 highest-paid players on the squad. His salary — just under a million dollars — contrasts with the $20 million earned annually by, for example, receiver Deboo Samuel, whose offensive production depends entirely on the quality of the quarterback’s passes.

With a low profile and friendly face, Purdy made it clear in the pre-match press conference that he wants to stop being just a feel-good story and become champion this Sunday in Las Vegas. “They’ve always passed me by. In a way, that’s the story of my life… in school, in college and also here [in the NFL], after being the last pick. But the only thing I’ve ever needed [has been an opportunity],” Purdy noted. He’s the supporting actor who became the lead. We will now see how he performs on the biggest stage of them all.

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