I don’t know who is going to win the Super Bowl this evening. Both teams are very good, highly talented with some future Hall-of Famers. You could make a strong case for either team. There are several side stories of interest. Patrick Mahomes is on pace to eclipse Tom Brady’s career success. Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift have dominated the news surrounding the Super Bowl to the dismay of football purists. But I am fascinated by the quarterback of the 49ers, Brock Purdy. He came into the league last season as “Mr. Irrelevant”. That’s the name that they give to the last player selected in the draft. Brock Purdy was the 262nd player picked in the 2022 NFL Draft. 261 players were selected in front of him, and since he got his opportunity to play in week 13 last season, you could make an argument that he actually is the most relevant player from that year’s draft. He has gone 17-4 as a starter in the regular season and 4-1 in the playoffs. His only loss in the playoffs happened when he was knocked out of the game in the 1st quarter with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. And this season, in only his second year in the NFL, he has led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Some people don’t think that he is all that good. As he has admitted many times himself, he is not overly talented. He is not the biggest, strongest, faster, nor has strongest arm – far from it. He is not the prototypical NFL quarterback. He does not look like Josh Allen; he doesn’t have the arm talent of Patrick Mahomes; he does not have the speed and athleticism of Lamar Jackson. In fact, physically, he looks overwhelmingly average. And it all makes sense that he would be selected 262nd in the draft. There were probably 261 players who had more pure physical ability than he has.
So, his detractors make the argument that the only reason why he has been successful is because he is surrounded by a great supporting cast – Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Trent Williams – and all Purdy has to do is manage the game. Don’t screw it up from the quarterback position and the 49ers have an excellent chance of winning. They claim he’s “Charlie Checkdown”, afraid to throw the ball down the field, preferring to throw checkdowns to the running backs, or screens and underneath passes to the wide receivers. But they are wrong. In 2023, Brock Purdy led the league in yards per attempt, yards per completion and air yards per attempt. All that means is that he is throwing the ball down the field. He is not afraid. He shows a unique calmness playing the quarterback position in the NFL at such a young age.
That calmness is his defining characteristic. It is the trait that makes him successful. The game does not move too fast for him. He plays in rhythm. He plays on time. It is the same trait that defined two other quarterbacks who came into the NFL unheralded with underwhelming physical ability and led their teams to the Super Bowl by the age 25 – Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Montana’s nickname was “Joe Cool” while Brady was often called, “California Cool.” Purdy has the same demeanor on the field as those two Hall-of-Famers. Where does Purdy’s coolness come from? Is it innate? Did he develop it over time? Does he have mental a conditioning coach who has created such a poised player?
We get a glimpse of where that trait emanates from in interviews when he talks about his faith. He said, “our identity isn’t in the sport of football. It’s in who God calls us to be and what he wants us to do in life and what he says in the bible.” Purdy has a true sense of who he is and what is actually important in life, he believes, “life isn’t about you… [it’s] being a part of something bigger than yourself… You get wrapped up in getting all the glory and the fame and status. I feel like that’s a shallow life, and that can fade away pretty quickly.”
He understands the temptations of fame and success and has a built-in defense mechanism against those dangers. He explains, “you’re going win games and people are going to love you; you’re going to lose games and people are going to hate you. I already have what I need in the Good Sheperd, Jesus.” He has admitted that he prays during games, not to win the game, but “to have that peace, that steadfastness in all the chaos… Holy Spirit take over and lead me here in this moment.”
The bible verse he read every day this season was Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” And when he steps on the field, there is no fear – no fear of failure, no fear of injury, no fear because he knows who is with him. He is surrounded by the greatest supporting cast of all, a cast of one.
His beliefs help create the exact right mindset that every elite athlete needs for success. And that mindset is revealed when he quotes Jesus, “If you try to hold onto your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will save it.” Elite athletes know that if they are consumed by the fear of failure, failure will most assuredly come. But when they willingly embrace failure as part of their athletic journey, that is when they become the most successful. If you are clinging onto success or the trappings of success, you will fail. But if you are willing to let it all go, you will succeed beyond measure. But to Brock Purdy, this is not a mental trick that he is playing on himself to help him succeed on the field. It is who he is with or without football. His beliefs are grounded in something much higher than just trying to win a football game. Everything he does, is about one thing, he says that “we glorify God, win or lose.”
Regardless of who wins or loses tonight, Brock Purdy has already won. He has won at the most important game there is – life. He is able to have so much in his life at such a young age – success, fame, status, money – yet he sees those things for the imposters that they truly are. He knows how foolish it would be to make them his God, his masters, to chase them, to define himself by those artificial measures of humanity. He has such a strong grounding in his beliefs because he chose to base his life around a man who came into this world as a “Mr. Irrelevant” – born in a manger 2,000 years ago, rejected by the world – and yet became the most influential and relevant person the world has ever seen.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.