ATLANTA — Tom Brady was young once, and no one knew whether he might show up with Super Bowl stagefright the night he carried the hopes and dreams of all New England on his 24-year-old shoulders following the 2001 season.
And Bill Belichick was young once, 34 years young at his first Super Bowl as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator in 1986, and two months shy of his 50th birthday on the Super Sunday that the Patriots dynasty began against The Greatest Show on Turf St. Louis Rams.
They were young men in a hurry then, hungry to make their marks and take the first steps toward leaving a forever footprint on their sport.
And boy, have they ever.
On this Super Sunday, they confront a pair of precocious babes in the NFL woods, the youngest quarterback-head coach duo ever to dare stand between the NFL’s Killer Bs and the Lombardi Trophy.
The millennials versus the perennials.
Rams coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff are the young men in a hurry now.
Who believe they can make a mockery of Age Before Beauty.
McVay versus Belichick is a generational chess match between New Age and Old School.
“[McVay is] like Bill Belichick,” Rams Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson told The Post. “He’s gonna take what you give him. If you want to put nickel in, we’re gonna run the football. … I know Bill is a great coach. Everyone knows that. But our coach is right there.”
It is McVay’s creativity, ingenuity and fearlessness against Belichick getting two weeks to prepare a plan that will carry the banner for traditionalists who fight to cling to “defense wins championships” in a quarterback-driven era.
It is fire against ice.
It is mystery against history.
And the biggest mystery surrounds whether Goff can rise to the occasion in the biggest game of his life against the greatest coach he will ever face.
Goff is 24 years old, but unlike Brady — who was the 199th pick of the 2000 draft — Goff was the first-overall pick in 2016. So he was expected to get to this game. McVay accelerated his bust-to-boom rise and has helped take the burden off Goff with more of a commitment to a balanced attack.
“He’s a gifted athlete, gifted passer,” former Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said.
Holmgren was the offensive coordinator for the 1989 49ers — the Joe Montana team that orchestrated the biggest rout in Super Bowl history, 55-10 over the Broncos in XXIV.
“I’d just try and keep him calm,” Holmgren said. “Be prepared, know everything, go in and just play.”
Joe Theismann was 33 when he won Super Bowl XVII over the David Woodley Dolphins.
“Sometimes, when you haven’t been there, you don’t know what to be afraid of,” Theismann said.
Dan Marino was in his second season when he lost Super Bowl XIX, 38-16, to Montana’s 49ers. He was 29-of-50 for 318 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions following a record-breaking regular season (48 TDs, 5,084 yards). His advice for Goff: “Be yourself. It’s still a football game.”
Rams safety can't wait for crack at 'beatable' Tom Brady
ATLANTA — Rams safety John Johnson III wants a piece…
The moment was not too big for the young Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI (16-of-27, 145 yards, one TD, zero INTs), who was asked to be a game manager after taking the keys to the kingdom from Drew Bledsoe. Ben Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at 23 but was a jittery 9-of-23 for 123 yards and two INTs in the Steelers’ 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
“I think the thing you want to try and do is make it as real in your mind as a regular game,” Theismann said. “I think Sean’s gonna start him out with some simple stuff so that he can get the ball out of his hands. I don’t think he’s gonna want ’em getting hit right away. I think he’s gonna want to have a completion, let him settle himself in and work into it. Or he might just go play-action, take a shot down the field. That’s always a good way to get yourself into a game as well. If it’s intercepted, it’s a 60-yard punt — OK, we can deal with that. But we took the shot, we put ’em on notice.
“I think he’s just gonna have to control his emotions in this game. … I think it’s very important in this game that things go well early for the Rams.”
Brady threw a grievous end-zone interception early against the Chiefs two weeks and didn’t bat an eyelash.
Jared Goff is latest piece of this Super Bowl quarterback legacy
ATLANTA — Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who went to California,…
“New England can make a mistake and it doesn’t faze them one bit,” Theismann said. “I think the New England Patriots will be better at handling adversity than maybe the Rams will early on.”
Brady, of course, knows what to be afraid of and what not to be afraid of.
“He always elevates everybody else around him … special player, once in a lifetime,” Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said.
When you add the last five drives of Super Bowl LI against the Falcons to his Super Bowl LII performance against the Eagles, Brady has been 54-for-82 for 789 yards and five TDs.
McVay has emerged as the league’s gold standard quarterback whisperer, and Chris Ashkouti, McVay’s backup quarterback and receiver at Marist School, can promise no one will show up with a greater will to win this game.
“Any time he threw an interception, the offensive guys would always laugh because he would hunt down the kid that picked him off, and he would stick anybody who intercepted him every time,” Ashkouti said. “I mean, he just wanted to kill the person that intercepted. He just plays mad all the time. He expected so much of himself.”
Why Sean McVay isn't buying into Bill Belichick comparisons
ATLANTA — The comparison is comfortable but incomplete. It is…
McVay gets to only coach mad on Super Bowl Sunday. Against a head coach and quarterback who burn to win their sixth Super Bowl championship every bit as much as they wanted their first, every bit as McVay wants his first. Every bit as much as Los Angeles wants one. Every bit as much as Marino wanted to win his first … and last … Super Bowl.
“I wish I could have played it over again the next day,” Marino said.
The loser of Super Bowl LIII will feel the same way. Brady and Belichick know this much: This won’t be child’s play.