One has played 331 regular season games and is widely regarded as the NFL’s greatest ever player. The other is making his first start in the league, having been the last player selected in the 2022 draft, earning himself the moniker, “Mr. Irrelevant.”
But, as they shake hands and exchange some words of encouragement, it is the rookie getting congratulated by the 45-year-old NFL great as “Mr. Irrelevant” revels in the win, having just made himself very relevant to the business of winning football games.
Brock Purdy, the seventh-round rookie from the 2022 NFL Draft, has just led his San Francisco 49ers to a dominant 35-7 victory over Tom Brady – childhood 49ers fan and California native – and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Although Brady has seven Super Bowl titles, countless accolades and an ever-growing list of records to his name, he was the one doling out compliments as the pair embraced.
“Good play, my man. You played great. Keep it up. Keep going,” said Brady, who was 22 years old when Purdy was born.
Whatever happens with the rest of Purdy’s NFL career, he’s already made a name for himself in the eyes of his high school coach Preston Jones – and in more ways than one.
“(My daughter) wanted to name the little bull calf, Cisco or Francisco,” Jones, Purdy’s coach at Perry High School in Arizona, told CNN Sport.
“And I said: ‘Hey, he may get cut, he may get traded. He may this, that or the other. Let’s come up with a different name.’
“And then we decided to turn him from a bull to a steer. And once you go from a bull to a steer, you become irrelevant.
“And so I said: ‘Hey, guys, ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ will forever be Brock’s name. And this bull is now a steer, so he’s irrelevant. So how about Mr. Irrelevant?’ And they thought that was pretty fitting. So we have a Mr. Irrelevant Texas Longhorn.”
‘He looked like he had some dog in him’
Purdy and Brady have more in common than you might think.
Both were unfancied by many NFL teams coming out of college. Leaving Iowa State, NFL scouts said Purdy had “field blinders occasionally robbing him of seeing the big play,” while “confidence and consistency have been issues” and his “delivery is labored.”
Those doubts about his game ensured Purdy slipped down the draft process before he was eventually selected as the 262nd overall – and final – pick by the 49ers.
In 2000, Brady was critiqued by scouts for having a “poor build,” lacking “great physical stature and strength” or a “really strong arm” and for being a “system-type player who can get exposed if he must ad-lib and do things on his own.”
Brady was chosen by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 Draft and was the 199th pick.
The rest is history – he might have entered the 2000 season as the Patriots’ backup, but almost a quarter of a century later, Brady is an NFL great.
When Purdy was selected by the 49ers – and that famous red and white jersey was brought out with “Mr. Irrelevant” and No. 262 daubed on the back – he found himself as the team’s third choice quarterback.
Despite being Iowa State’s all-time leader in wins – he set school career passing records with 81 passing touchdowns and 12,170 passing yards and earned second-team Academic All-American honors – Purdy fell behind Trey Lance, the No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft, and Jimmy Garoppolo, an experienced veteran traded from the Patriots in 2017, in the depth chart.
However, by a quirk of fate, Lance and Garoppolo both succumbed to injury.
Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2. Then, in Week 13, Garoppolo injured his foot playing against the Miami Dolphins, ruling him out for approximately two months and effectively ending his season.
For a team which holds Super Bowl aspirations, the injuries looked to have the potential to end the 49ers’ season early.
Step forward Purdy. He took to the field in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins, showing no signs of nerves, leading the team to a 33-17 win, throwing for 210 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Purdy’s unflappability without much preparation time with the starters earned him praise from his teammates, including from defensive end Nick Bosa.
“He looked like he had some dog in him. I love his mindset, he’s super tough,” the two-time Pro Bowler told reporters. “He’s not afraid to make mistakes. He gets playmakers the ball. He’s our guy now, we’ve got to roll.”
Jones remembers seeing Purdy’s competitiveness during his freshman year at Perry High School, calling him “crazy over-the-top competitive.”
“His competitiveness was No. 1. And No. 2, just his natural leadership and how he could get kids in his age group, he could be friends with them, but at the same time, he also was able to lead them unlike any other teenage boy that I’ve seen,” explained Jones, who called Purdy a “dream to coach.”
“To draw that line with friendship, most time those guys have a hard time getting friends to really buy in and especially in the athletic field, to do certain things that – maybe – that is not comfortable, that they may not want to do, but it’s for the best of the team, but he can get them to do that.”
The 49ers’ starting quarterback gig was Purdy’s for the rest of the season.
“You would think he’s been in the league 15 years,” 49ers left tackle Trent Williams told NFL Media. “If you’re talking, he’ll say: ‘Shut your a*s up.’
“He ain’t no timid rookie feeling his way around. He will get on your a*s. You would think he’s like Peyton Manning or something. Wide receivers not running, you’ll hear him cussing a wide receiver out.”
And with a week’s preparation, Purdy and the 49ers once again tore through an opponent, as the Bucs felt the full force of the former Cyclone’s wrath.
“He’s an impressive guy. He’s fun to be around. To play quarterback in this league, you’ve got to be very intelligent,” two-time All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey of the 49ers told reporters. “That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned playing in my sixth year now.
“For a rookie to come in and process this offense and do everything by the book but then add his own flare to it is very impressive.”
For a player who was selected with the final pick of the draft, Purdy has already dramatically exceeded all expectations of him.
From irrelevancy to relevancy
The tag of ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ is a divisive one. True, it celebrates a player’s arrival in the league, but it also arguably damns them with faint praise.
The “Mr. Irrelevant” celebrations began in 1976, when former 49ers receiver Paul Salata founded “Irrelevant Week” in Newport Beach, California.
The player earns the dubious distinction of parading around town with the Lowsman Trophy, an ironic nod to the Heisman Trophy, which is given to college football’s top player annually.
Publicity surrounding “Mr. Irrelevant” peaked in 1979 when the Los Angeles Rams, who owned the second-to-last pick, tried to defer it to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were picking last.
Both teams argued over who owned the rights to “Mr. Irrelevant” until the NFL’s league office stepped in to institute a rule banning the practice of passing on a pick to go last.
Purdy is just the seventh quarterback to ever be drafted at the position and, with his touchdown against the Dolphins, became the first “Mr. Irrelevant” to ever throw a touchdown pass in a regular season game.
While others might have been weighed down with the “Mr. Irrelevant” tag, Jones said he thinks it is almost fitting for the way Purdy has been so underappreciated during his career.
“He was extremely talented, extremely good, did everything you’re supposed to do and had crazy statistics but yet was under recruited,” Jones said. “He was kind of irrelevant in the recruiting world for colleges for a while.
“He goes to Iowa State and just kills it and lets everyone see, ‘Hey, I am right.’ And then it goes back now to the NFL.
“At the draft, he becomes irrelevant and he takes it and it’s just kind of how he’s always operated.”
Jones believes Purdy’s rise to prominence also raises questions about the way talent is scouted – both by colleges and NFL teams.
“People take too much stock in height, weight, speed, arm strength and they don’t take as much stock in that stuff that you can’t measure,” said Jones.
“The only people who really know how good he is at the work ethic, the preparation, the leadership, all the things that you can’t measure … are the guys who are in his locker room, the coaches he’s had, the players he’s had.
“These college guys recruiting him out of high school, they didn’t know that stuff. And then these NFL guys, they didn’t know that stuff. And so they’ve got to go with the measurables.
“And he ends up overcoming all those people’s second guesses and proves everybody wrong.”
Since 1994, 35 seventh-round quarterbacks have appeared in a regular-season game, according to the NFL, and only 26 of them have attempted more than five passes in their respective NFL careers. Purdy has already surpassed that mark.
“This kid has been a transformational figure really every stage of his life, quite honestly,” Purdy’s head coach at Iowa State, Matt Campbell, told the NFL.
“He has always been a guy where if he had a moment come, he’s been ready to capitalize on it.”
Campbell vividly remembers the moment when Purdy’s character really became evident to him, when he led an injury-plagued Iowa State to face Oklahoma State.
“Our senior QB who got hurt early in the season came up to me and said: ‘Coach, I think you got to play the freshman,’” Campbell recalls.
“If I play this freshman, we’re gonna have to be all in. But we put Brock in and he led back-to-back incredible drives, and we end up beating Oklahoma State [48-42] on the road.
“On the second touchdown he scores in the game, he pulls the ball, fakes a bubble screen and runs like 25 yards for a touchdown, and I remember saying on the headset: ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, this kid’s going to win a ton of football games here.’ The kid is special.”
Counting out the 262nd pick of the NFL draft historically wouldn’t get you into trouble. But, as Jones has learned, never count out Purdy.
“I’ve tried to keep myself from being surprised about Brock Purdy years ago because nothing surprises me anymore with him.”