Andy Reid chuckled softly this week when a reporter told him the winning coach of Super Bowl LV will be Tampa Bay's 68-year-old Bruce Arians or Kansas City's "65-year-old" Reid.
"Well, I'm not quite 65 yet," the 62-year-old Reid said, "but I do appreciate you advancing me just a little bit. I am still part of the Geritol crew, though."
Sounds like a great idea for a Super Bowl commercial, eh, Geritol?
The Super Bowl's oldest coaching matchup — combined age: 131 years, 86 days — features Arians trying to become the oldest to win a Super Bowl and Reid trying to top then-54-year-old Vince Lombardi in Super Bowl II as the oldest to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
"Sometimes, [teams] are looking for the youngest and 'greatest'," said Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, who first coached with Arians at Temple in the early 1980s. "But there's no shortcut to this experience thing."
On the playing field, ageless 43-year-old Tom Brady will set, for a third time, the Super Bowl record for oldest starting quarterback. The 21-year veteran went 6-3 in Super Bowls with the Patriots — going 1-1 in his 40s — before leaving New England after last season for the talent-rich Buccaneers, who will become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
"I knew what we were missing," said Arians, who went 7-9 with Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions a year ago. "[Brady] was the missing piece."
The only guy ruining the Geritol Crew narrative is 25-year-old Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. With a win Sunday, the reigning Super Bowl MVP would become the youngest quarterback to win two Super Bowls. He'd also be taking down Brady while building a convincing case that Kansas City has become the dynasty that follows Brady's two-decade reign in New England.
Asked what surprises him about Mahomes, Arians laughed and said: "What doesn't surprise you? He can do anything. He can do everything."
Weathering a different season
Much has changed from 360 days ago, when Mahomes rallied the Chiefs from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 31-20 victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
For starters, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami was jam-packed with 62,417 fans, none of them wearing a mask because, well, the public had no idea what was coming. COVID-19's official entry onto American soil had been only 12 days earlier.
Somehow, in the middle of a global pandemic, the NFL went on to play the 2020 season — 256 regular-season games and 12 playoff games — without a cancellation. With only the biggest game left, COVID-19 rules will allow only 25,000 fans inside Raymond James Stadium.
"The whole season has been different," Arians said. "So it's been huge for us to be home and staying in our normal routines for the Super Bowl. I give all the credit in the world to our players for their commitment to each other, staying healthy, and their accountability to the cause, and that cause is to put rings on our fingers."
Much credit goes to Arians and Reid as well. At a time when baseball was prohibiting its older coaches from risking their health by coaching in a pandemic, these Geritol Crewmates plowed on despite their ages, and Arians is a cancer survivor who cited health concerns when he retired as Cardinals head coach in 2018.
He returned a year later with the Bucs because, like Reid, he's still a cutthroat competitor on the inside. Don't let their grandfatherly exteriors fool you.
Both men are old-school yet open-minded and up to date as cutting-edge offensive minds. They're in control but not controlling. Patient, yet aggressive. Teachers, not screamers. Leaders who are comfortable in their own wrinkled skin.
Arians was 60 years old with three trips to the Super Bowl as a Steelers assistant when his first head coaching opportunity presented itself. And even that chance came only because Chuck Pagano was forced to step away as Colts head coach to battle cancer in 2012. Arians went 9-3 as interim head coach before getting the Arizona job the next season.
"I don't give speeches," Arians said of his coaching start. "It was, 'Hey, man, everybody do your job. I'll just decide if we're going to go for it on fourth down.'"
Ignoring public opinion
Reid spent 14 years as Eagles coach and the first six of his eight years in Kansas City as the guy who won a lot in the regular season but always fell short in the big playoff game. Now he's trying to become just the seventh coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls and the first to do so since Bill Belichick beat Reid in Super Bowl XXXIX 16 years ago.
Through it all, Reid's personality has never changed. Players say they don't play "for" Reid but rather "with" him.
"I try to treat people the way I would want to be treated," Reid said. "You don't have to yell and scream at me to get me to do something better. I know I just would turn that person off and probably not listen to anything that they said. I look at myself as a teacher of men."
Neither coach worries about public opinion. Reid didn't care in 2017 when some questioned trading up to draft Mahomes. And Arians didn't care this year when the Bucs lost to the Chiefs, fell to 7-5 and were roasted for not letting Brady run his own offense the way Denver did with Peyton Manning.
Former Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich even called on the Bucs to fire Arians. He hasn't lost since, coming out of Tampa Bay's bye week and going 7-0 to reach the Super Bowl as a wild-card team.
Brady has adjusted to Arians' "no risk it, no biscuit" deep-throwing attack after some bye week tweaks that gave him quicker check-down options.
"His preparation reminds me so much of Peyton Manning," said Arians, who was Colts quarterbacks coach in Manning's first three seasons. "The continual growth every month is absolutely remarkable, especially when you consider we had no offseason [practice].
"He and Peyton set the bar as far as preparation for the guys that I've coached. Ben [Roethlisberger] didn't like that stuff. He just wanted to go play. … Andrew Luck was the same way. But all these guys have a grit about them that they can will themselves on other people and make them win."
Adapting to stay ahead
Coming from New England's dink-and-dunk attack, Brady has turned around his early struggles and is thriving under the "no risk it, no biscuit" mentality.
"That [philosophy] started when I was young," Arians said. "One of my coaches put the poem 'If' by [Rudyard] Kipling in our playbook. It just talks about not being afraid to throw your hat in the ring. Fail, win, bounce back and keep going.
"I apply that to everyday life. You're not guaranteed the next day. I hit a lot of [golf] balls in the water going for it in two knowing I can't get there. … If you're not looking for new things every year, you're falling behind. You have to adapt to stay ahead."
Arians has gotten ahead with the NFL's most diverse coaching staff at a time when the league faces criticism for its hiring practices for coaches of color. He has three Black coordinators (Byron Leftwich, Todd Bowles and Keith Armstrong) and two female assistants (Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust).
Reid has been an avid supporter of getting a head coaching job for his offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, who is Black. He isn't the primary play-caller but has helped produce the league's most creative and dangerous offense the past three years. Reid makes a habit of listening to new voices.
"I've got some really good assistant coaches," he said. "We have fun with it. I've also had players that have chipped in on [designing] plays and they have a blast with it. I've always encouraged that throughout my career, and I don't want to stop because I'm old."
Asked if he'd ever hire a woman to coach for him, Reid said, "Yeah, I keep an open mind on all that."
Then he explained why.
"I had a mother that was a physician at the time when that was not very common," Reid said. "I saw her accomplishments, lived them, and I think it's an open forum. We have women in our training room that do a phenomenal job. I'm always open to anything that makes you better."
Are you listening, Geritol? There's got to be a Super Bowl commercial in there somewhere.