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Brock Purdy and the Nuance of Labels

By Matt Spaulding

When Brock Purdy was selected with 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, he was deemed “Mr. Irrelevant.” Just seven months later, he faced Tom Brady on America’s Game of the Week. Quite the rise, right? He can’t possibly defeat the GOAT in front of millions, can he? Convincingly? Yes, he can. As the crowd chanted ‘Purdy, Purdy, Purdy!’, a label bestowed upon him by pure chance turned into a rallying cry for what’s possible.

“Mr. Irrelevant” is a time-honored tradition in the NFL. Originated by retired NFL receiver Paul Salata in 1975, it has been a staple of the yearly NFL Draft ever since. Mr. Irrelevant receives a number of things for his troubles, including a trip to Newport Beach, California, coupled with a visit to Disneyland, a golf tournament, and the award for the Lowsman Trophy (a mock of the Heisman trophy, but with the player fumbling the football). When the choice fell to the San Francisco 49ers this past April, it wasn’t a surprise that they selected Purdy, a multiple-year starting quarterback at Iowa State University, to be their 3rd string quarterback.

Not much would be expected of him, at least not so soon. Ahead of him on the depth chart was 2021’s 3rd overall pick, Trey Lance, a talented, hyper-athletic QB from North Dakota State, and Jimmy Garoppolo, who possessed a contract worth tens of millions. But not everything goes to plan, especially in the world of sports, and the 49ers would have to rely on an irrelevant far sooner than they would have liked.

The issues started in San Francisco in week 3, when Lance ran a play up the middle, went down, and didn’t get back up. He had suffered a season-ending fractured ankle, a brutal blow so early on in the season. The contingency plan was Jimmy Garoppolo. Through the dog days of the NFL season, Garoppolo guided the 49ers to a 7-4 record. That was until the crisis struck again in the San Fran Quarterback room. During December 4th’s game vs the Dolphins,

Garoppolo suffered a broken foot, likely ending his season. Two quarterbacks lost to season-ending injury would be a death knell to most teams, but in the second half against Miami, Brock Purdy rose to the occasion. Throwing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns in his first extended regular season action, he made easy work of the Dolphins. His strong performance gave Head Coach Kyle Shanahan the confidence to start him against The GOAT, Tom Brady, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When Brock Purdy took the field on Sunday, December 11th, 2022, in San Francisco, he became the first person selected with the last pick in the draft to make a start at quarterback. The odds were stacked against him from the beginning. If Purdy had come in and performed absolutely pitifully, it would generate no buzz. That’s what’s expected of Mr. Irrelevant, the doubters would say. But Brock Purdy isn’t Irrelevant, and he showed 70,000 Bay Area faithful that he’s the real deal.

By the end of the first half, the score was absolutely shocking; San Francisco 28, Tampa Bay 0. The highlight of his day was a beautiful throw to Christian McCaffery, placed perfectly in his bread basket along the sideline for a touchdown. The Fox cameras cut to his father, in the crowd, crying, as tens of thousands chanted his son's name. The final score ended 35-7. Purdy finished with a stellar stat line: 16/21 passes completed, for 185 yards, two passing touchdowns, and one rushing touchdown.

Despite the defense’s impressive effort in shutting down Tom Brady, making him look plenty human, all everyone wanted to talk about was one man: Brock Purdy. With four weeks remaining in the regular season, Purdy will now look to lead the 49ers to the playoffs, and eventually, to their 6th Super Bowl title. Not many could have predicted it, but Brock Purdy, the last person picked in the game of kickball, can rewrite NFL history, and sports history, as we know it. Not so irrelevant after all, right?

Matt Spaulding is a sportswriter for the Voice.

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