Brock Purdy, who will quarterback the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, wasn’t a top recruit when coming out of Perry High School in Gilbert, Arizona.
But when he started his journey at Iowa State as a freshman in 2018, head coach Matt Campbell knew there was something special. He even knew the exact practice that opened his eyes to what Purdy could be for his Cyclones.
“Practice 13, fall camp, his freshman year,” Campbell told reporters during a media session on Monday.
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Campbell explained how Purdy, running with the third-string offense, drove right down the field on the first-team defense for a touchdown. The play that got them in the end zone: Purdy fakes a shovel pass to his running back, senior defensive end JaQuan Bailey, and runs over the goal line.
“I turned around and said, ‘Uh oh, this guy is going to make a lot of people nervous.’ He sure did. Four weeks later, he took over Iowa State football for a long time. It’s going to be ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life.”
Campbell has seen Purdy make more plays like this over his four seasons at Iowa State, and most recently, leading the 49ers to back-to-back NFC Championship Games and now the Super Bowl.
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It’s why the “game-manager” title many are giving Purdy heading into his matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs is one Campbell can’t help but smirk at.
“I was smirking in the [Green Bay] Packers game when he scrambled and won the game for them on the last drive. Then, I was smirking on the scramble on 3rd-and-2 on the play against the [Detroit] Lions, and he throws it back across the middle and makes the play. And on 3rd-and-4, when he scrambled and ran away from everybody and had the big scramble.
“So I smirk every time because it’s such a narrative that, it’s great talking points and great for the rest of the world to comment on. But at the end of the day, he keeps winning. He’s the reason why, and continues to be, the guy with the ball in his hands consistently that puts the team in a great position to win. Brock’s on a great team, and he’s the first guy to tell you. He’s the most humble human that I’ve ever been around, and boy, they got great players.
“But at the end of the day, Brock has to do his job at a really high rate to be at this position and be in this situation to be where they’re at today. He’s done an incredible job.”
The reason Purdy is getting the title is due to having players like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk to work with on offense. Yet, to Campbell’s point, the quarterback still needs to make plays to win games, especially in the fourth quarter.
Sure, it certainly helps to have elite offensive weapons at your disposal. But Purdy has shown in the Packers and Lions contests that he can come from behind and do what needs to be done to win games.
The same can be said when he took over midway through last season, his rookie year, when head coach Kyle Shanahan trusted him to continue the 49ers’ run to the NFC Championship Game. Campbell thinks it’s not talked about enough how Purdy was able to get back to this point today after suffering a UCL tear against the Philadelphia Eagles last year, go through major surgery, and be ready to lead San Fran Week 1.
Purdy is 24-6 as a starter in the NFL, including four playoff wins.
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“You either win or you don’t,” Campbell said. “You either win in big moments or you don’t.…When it’s mattered most, and it’s the fourth quarter, and you needed to make plays to win the game, he’s won the game. That’s what he did here for four years, that’s what he did in high school. Honestly, it’s what he’s doing in the National Football League.
“I feel like when it’s all said and done, that great players of that league, that’s what they do. They win.”
Campbell will be at Allegiant Stadium to watch his former quarterback in the Super Bowl. He was famously emotional during Purdy’s Senior Day in 2021, with tears falling down his face as Purdy walked on the field with his parents.
The emotions will be high in the Super Bowl, too.
“It’s emotional watching Brock because you care so deeply about him,” Campbell said. “Our relationship is deeper than winning football games.
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“To me, the greatest joy is it’s been fun to watch his success, but even greater joy to watch what his teammates, the coaches, the GM, the owners say about who he is. Because it’s the same things they said about him in Ames, [Iowa] and the same things they said about him in Perry High School in Arizona.”