Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will be chasing history as they attempt to stop the Atlanta Falcons from claiming their first Super Bowl crown Sunday.
More than 100 million homes across the United States and millions more worldwide will tune in for the American football showpiece in Houston, which sees Brady aiming to become the most decorated quarterback of all time.
The 39-year-old superstar will become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl crowns if he manages to guide the Patriots to victory over the Falcons before a crowd of around 72,000 spectators at the NRG Stadium.
Blanket security will be in place for the game, which takes place at a time of roiling political tensions across the United States following President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration order.
Pop diva Lady Gaga, an outspoken critic of Trump, will have the eyes of the nation — including US Vice President Mike Pence inside the stadium — on her during the halftime show.
A win on Sunday would come 15 years after Brady and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s first Super Bowl triumph in 2002.
It would also represent a satisfying last laugh for Brady following his long-running battle with National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell.
Brady was forced to miss the first four games of the season after losing a legal battle against the NFL over the 2015 Deflategate scandal, which saw the Patriots superstar accused of cheating by attempting to alter the pressure of balls to his advantage during a key championship game.
It has led to the prospect of Goodell having to possibly hand over the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Brady and his teammates on Sunday.
Goodell, for his part, has attempted to damp down any possibility of an awkward trophy presentation, acknowledging Brady’s glittering career during the build-up.
“Tom Brady is one of the all-time greats. He has been for several years,” Goodell said, adding it would be an “honor” to present the Lombardi Trophy to the quarterback.
Brady has done his talking on the field this season. He averaged just under 300 passing yards a game in the regular season, and was magnificent in a comprehensive 36-17 demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game two weeks ago.
But even Brady’s stats pale in comparison with those of his opposite number, Matt Ryan, who received recognition for a stellar season on Saturday after being named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for 2016.
Ryan has led the most potent offense in the league, averaging more than 365 yards a game in the post-season, and just over 300 yards during the regular season.
Ryan, 31, reached the Super Bowl after four unsuccessful previous playoff appearances.
There was not the slightest hint of nerves en route to Houston, though, when the Falcons crushed the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the Georgia Dome to clinch only the second Super Bowl appearance in the team’s history.
The emphatic nature of that win has persuaded many Falcons fans that their long wait for a maiden Super Bowl title could be about to end.
Ryan — nicknamed “Matty Ice” by his teammates — said the team is comfortable with the burden of expectation.
“I’m sure everyone will be excited and anxious going into it. But as far as nerves, I feel like we’ve prepared ourselves for this moment,” Ryan said.
Ryan also knows that he has an array of weapons at his disposal, which includes arguably the best receiver in the league, Julio Jones, ably supported by the talented Mohamed Sanu and the speedy Taylor Gabriel.
Add in the dual running back threat of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and it is easy to see why many pundits have installed the Falcons as favorites.
“As a quarterback, when you’re surrounded by really good players and guys who can make plays at any time, it makes your job a lot easier,” Ryan said.
Whether Belichick’s Patriots are able to clip the Falcons’ offensive wings may hold the key to the Super Bowl — and Brady’s hopes of a place in history.
Belichick and Brady led the Patriots for a relaxed photo session on the field with family at the NRG Stadium on Saturday.
“Now it’s the waiting game,” Belichick said. “But I think we’re ready.”
Several records could be on the line at Sunday’s Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. AFP looks at the milestones under threat at the 51st edition of the showpiece:
- RECORD APPEARANCE -
The New England Patriots have reached the Super Bowl nine times, more than any other franchise in history.
Victory on Sunday would give them five wins, putting them level with the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers in the all-time standings.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most Super Bowl championships with six.
- HOLY TRINITY -
New England could become the first team in history to win five Super Bowls with the same owner, head coach and quarterback.
The trinity of owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have enjoyed an unparalleled era of dominance since their first Super Bowl win in 2002.
- BRADY BOWL? -
Tom Brady will move one clear of his childhood idol Joe Montana, and Pittsburgh Steelers great Terry Bradshaw, if he clinches a record fifth Super Bowl on Sunday.
The 39-year-old has already reached more Super Bowls than any quarterback in history with seven appearances, two more than Denver Broncos legend John Elway.
- No. 10 FOR BELICHICK -
Bill Belichick’s 10th Super Bowl means he has had more appearances in the showpiece game as a head coach or assistant coach than any other man in history.
As well as his seven Super Bowls since taking over as head coach of the Patriots in 2000, he also appeared in the game three times as an assistant coach during stints with the New York Giants and Patriots.
- WAITING OVER? -
While New England have enjoyed an era of success since 2002 with seven Super Bowl appearances, the Atlanta Falcons are still waiting for their first championship.
Sunday’s finale is only the second time they have reached the Super Bowl, with their only other appearance coming in 1999, when they were beaten 34-19 by the Denver Broncos.