After 21 movies over more than 10 years, Marvel’s unprecedented cinematic universe is coming to a culmination with this week’s “Avengers: Endgame,” a blockbuster that’s not only set to smash global box-office records but tie up the interwoven stories of dozens of beloved comic-book characters.
Does this have anything to do with sports, you ask?
Of course it does!*
First, Marvel Studios had to perform some serious gymnastics to connect more than 40 combined hours of superhero movies into one grand story. Second, one of the first times we got an “Endgame” teaser was during the Super Bowl. Third, the finale’s three-hour runtime is going to require literal bladder exercise. And fourth, aren’t we essentially just watching athletes in these movies anyway? You can’t tell me Captain America isn’t out here flexing 4.3 speed.
In any event, with “Endgame” upon us at the exact same time as the 2019 NFL Draft, we decided to expand the cinematic universe even further and truly bridge the gap between movies and sports. And we’ve done so by comparing all 32 current NFL quarterbacks to characters from “Endgame” and its cliff-hanging predecessor, “Infinity War.” From Tom Brady to Patrick Mahomes, every QB gets a superhero — some better than others.
* = To be honest, I just really wanted to find a way to write about “The Avengers” on CBSSports.com.
All the comparisons are below. Whether you love them like Tony Stark loves Peter Parker or despise them like Peter Quill despises Thanos, feel free to fire your feedback via Twitter @CodyJBenjamin. And remember: We’re in the endgame now.
Tom Brady is Thanos
Is there a pairing that works better than this? Both Brady and Thanos could easily be considered their world’s biggest, baddest villain — or a misunderstood legend who’s merely obsessed with ruling as he sees fit. They want to win at all costs, whether that means appearing in half of the last 18 Super Bowls or wiping out half of all life in the universe. Their prized possession is jewelry — championship rings for Brady, Infinity Stones on a gauntlet for Thanos. And they both reign supreme until further notice.
Russell Wilson is Captain America
In the not-so-distant past, Russell Wilson and Steve Rogers were both undersized recruits — Wilson for the NFL Draft and Rogers for World War II. Neither allowed odds to define them, however, with Wilson taking his 5-foot-11 frame all the way to Super Bowl stardom and Rogers braving his way into the super-soldier program and, later, into a starring role with the Avengers. Like Cap, Wilson is a wholesome hero, a selfless leader and an all-around talent. You know you can count on him, and you want to.
Aaron Rodgers is Iron Man
Rodgers’ story began out of the shadow of his powerful predecessor (Brett Favre), much like Tony Stark with his father, Howard. Now, Rodgers is as good as anyone in his profession, and he’s confident (cocky?) enough to act like it. Like Iron Man, he’s been around for a long time, and when he’s on the job, he’s always known for robotic precision. He also happens to be the richest player at his position, not so unlike Stark in the business world. He hasn’t won as much as he should, but his tools and reputation are elite.
Cam Newton is Hulk
He may not be a physicist a la Bruce Banner, but Newton is about as hulking as NFL QBs come — a physical specimen at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds who moves a lot better than you’d think. He’s also a very emotional player, for better or worse, giving him the same Jekyll and Hyde trait of Dr. Banner and his angry alter ego. If you’re looking for an imposing talent, you shouldn’t look much further than the Hulk — er, Newton’s frame, arm and athleticism. With that power, however, comes lots of unpredictable frustration.
Matthew Stafford is Thor
Much like the first two solo “Thor” flicks, Stafford isn’t universally loved by the people. He is, however, synonymous with the title character, hailing from a fallen world — Stafford from Detroit; Thor from Asgard — and wielding a weapon (his hammer of an arm) that’s rivaled by few. He’s also scruffy and otherworldly durable as of late, missing zero games over the last eight seasons after an iffy start. He might never be the ultimate face of a franchise, but he’s not without grit and some electrifying moments.
Matt Ryan is Black Widow
Ryan isn’t the biggest QB. In fact, he’s pretty slender by NFL standards. He’s also worked for a lot of different people, changing offensive coordinators five times in 10 seasons. And while he’s not consistently ranked among the game’s best, he’s proven to be deadly when surrounded by the right weapons, like Julio Jones. In the same vein, Natasha Romanoff certainly isn’t the scariest when it comes to size, but she’s endured career fluctuation as a former spy and is incredibly opportunistic in combat.
Patrick Mahomes is Captain Marvel
Patrick Mahomes was born in the 1990s, the same time Carol Danvers was “born” as Nick Fury’s inspiration for the Avengers and discovered her identity as a test pilot-turned-space warrior. Both Mahomes and Captain Marvel are very new entries to their “leagues,” but they also might be the most powerful — Mahomes with his freakish bullets and MVP-level production; Danvers with her bursting energy and resolve. Both heroes wear red, and more importantly, both possess nearly unlimited power and potential.
Drew Brees is Hawkeye
There might not be a more undersold hero than Brees, who makes up for pedestrian size with historic accuracy and durability, yet often finds himself overlooked or missing from the brightest spotlight. No one’s hit targets like him for as long as he has, but he’s also been to just one Super Bowl in 18 years. Sound familiar? Like Brees, Hawkeye has big-game experience, and he’s got killer aim, but more often than not, he’s been relegated to the sidelines — by hypnotism, family life, what have you. Still, he fights on.
Baker Mayfield is Spider-Man
If you’re looking for the NFL’s most fun-loving future face of the franchise, look no further than Mayfield, who mirrors Spider-Man in all the right ways. He’s young and undersized, like Peter Parker, but he’s mobile, he’s spunky, he’s just reckless enough and he’s got the gunslinging mentality of a kid with webs to shoot. Just as Spidey’s “Endgame” fate is up in the air, it’s unclear what Mayfield’s ceiling is among the big boys, but he’s at least proven he’s just as capable as his many predecessors in Cleveland.
Deshaun Watson is Black Panther
T’Challa hails from the hidden world of Wakanda just as Watson’s football home, Houston, is largely hidden in comparison to Texas’ trademark NFL city of Dallas. Like Black Panther, Watson also has big-cat lineage as a former Clemson Tiger. Most of all, he’s like the African king in that he’s a cultural icon, a hero for the next generation (complete with acrobatic abilities) and a stabilizing leader. Much like Wakanda went to war during Killmonger’s takeover, the Texans crumbled in 2017 during an injured Watson’s absence.
Dak Prescott is War Machine
James “Rhodey” Rhodes carries clout as a Stark Industries associate and ex-Air Force colonel. It’s reminiscent of Prescott, who, simply by nature of being a Dallas Cowboys QB, can claim the industry that is “America’s Team” — a team War Machine would’ve once repped in real life as the red, white and blue Iron Patriot. Both guys can fly around and act as big-play artillery, but they mostly play second fiddle — Dak to the armor of Jerry Jones and Ezekiel Elliott; Rhodes to Tony Stark and the armored suits he provides.
Carson Wentz is Winter Soldier
Wentz emerged from wintry North Dakota like “Bucky” Barnes did from the wintry Russian base where he was reprogrammed. The Eagles QB touts the old-fashioned heart that Barnes modeled before his apparent WWII-era death, but it’s tragedy that defines both heroes’ journeys — Barnes missing during his good friend Captain America’s stardom and Wentz missing during his good friend Nick Foles’ stardom. Both are surgically enhanced with super-soldier makeups, assassins’ mindsets and huge mantles to take up.
Nick Foles is Doctor Strange
Foles doesn’t share the arrogant aura that once defined Stephen Strange, but like the Sorcerer Supreme, he went from acclaimed to broken to acclaimed again. Injuries prompted Foles’ move to the outskirts of the NFL after a fall from fame in Philly, just as injuries prompted Strange’s journey to the outskirts of the world after his loss of a career in neurosurgery. Now, both men are heroes for their magic — Foles for his playoff and Super Bowl wizardry, and Strange for his mastery of the mystic arts.
Andrew Luck is Groot
Luck earned the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year Award, but Groot may have deserved it as well. Both the Colts QB and the extraterrestrial tree are famous for sacrificing limbs for the greater good — Luck missing more than a year (and rehabbing for a lot more) after throwing his shoulder out for Indianapolis; Groot giving up his body for his friends, then later his arm for Thor’s fight against Thanos. When healthy, both are sneakily dangerous, with sturdy frames and enough smarts to make best use of their arms.
Philip Rivers is Nick Fury
Few guys have been at the top of their game for as long as Rivers and Fury. The former leads all active QBs with 208 straight starts since 2006, and the latter leads all Marvel characters with nine movie appearances since 2008. Yet both veterans also manage to fly under the radar, with Fury often working behind the scenes and Rivers never taking the Super Bowl spotlight. They’re both gritty, and they’re both efficient despite aging bodies. And just like Fury is responsible for tons of heroes, Rivers has a boatload of kids.
Kirk Cousins is Star-Lord
Cousins is kind of a goofy guy, what with his old-school van and quirky dance moves, so there’s no better match than Peter Quill, whose trademark is silliness as much as it is being a galactic mercenary. Speaking of mercenaries, that’s exactly what Cousins was en route to his big-money deal with the Vikings. Like Star-Lord, he’s also got decent tools — an ability to read opponents, a rallying personality, a solid shot. But is he good in the clutch? The same can be asked of Quill after his emotional fallout in “Infinity War.”
Ben Roethlisberger is Drax
If you’re looking for a big-bodied warrior who speaks his mind, Roethlisberger and Drax the Destroyer both fit the bill. Big Ben has a large frame just like the Guardians of the Galaxy muscle, making him durable both in the pocket and over the course of a long career, but he’s also prone to throwing people under the bus by way of his commentary. Just as Drax seeks to avenge the loss of his two closest family members to Thanos, Roethlisberger is fresh off the departure of his two best Steelers teammates.
Derek Carr is Nebula
Like the daughter of Thanos, Carr’s got a war-torn sibling, his reputation has been scarred along with his body, and now he’s hunting for redemption under a new regime. He’s flirted with power thanks to a 2016 MVP candidacy, and has endured the Davis family, one of the most infamous in football, as well as a new leader in Jon Gruden. Kind of like Nebula’s reluctant service to her dad before helping the Avengers, no? Still, it’s fair to wonder what both heroes have left. They’re gritty, but are they spare parts?
Jameis Winston is M’Baku
He’s big. He’s strong. He’s animated. Sometimes he’s both quirky and brutish. He’s also on a hopeful road to redemption after joining a new alliance (Tampa’s new coach), much like M’Baku united with T’Challa for the sake of Wakanda. As far as “franchise” heroes go, Winston has yet to tap into his full potential. For now, like the Jabari Tribe’s headliner, he’s at least physically intriguing.
Mitchell Trubisky is Valkyrie
Both Trubisky and Valkyrie are relatively new to the scene after making their debuts in 2017, and both are rather polarizing. The latter had to overcome the bumbling side effects of too much drinking to realize her potential as a warrior, and Trubisky has been equally as clumsy while playing hero on the field. Yet both are tantalizing because of their upside, their aggression and their elusiveness — Trubisky has some wheels, and Valkyrie has a history of flying on mythological horses. They’re prime antiheroes.
Lamar Jackson is Falcon
All he does is fly. Seriously, what else do you need to know? Sam Wilson made a name for himself with his winged jet pack, and that just about sums up Lamar Jackson’s rise as the Ravens’ new signal-caller — he’s best known for his elite mobility. There are hints of something greater, with Falcon sometimes speculated as a Captain America successor and Jackson the young replacement of departed Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco, but for now, they’re mostly intriguing because of the way they move.
Jared Goff is Okoye
Like the Wakandan general, Goff isn’t the most seasoned of Marvel heroes but represents the next generation with flashes of pinpoint accuracy. Both he and Okoye have a history of serving bad (or misunderstood) leadership in Jeff Fisher and Killmonger, and both have failed at some of their biggest jobs — Okoye in protecting T’Challa and Goff in performing in the Super Bowl. But they are also talented throwers and promising leaders who can thrive when surrounded with the right weapons.
Marcus Mariota is Ant-Man
Your average mid-tier QB with specific skills, Mariota isn’t so different from Scott Lang, your average petty criminal with specific skills. Like Ant-Man, he specializes in elusiveness but can also bulk up — the Titans QB has packed on weight much like Lang can in his super-sized suit. He’s also yet to command as much respect as his peers. Ant-Man has a history with robbery, and Mariota’s been robbed by injuries and supporting casts, but the upside and character are there for improvement.
Jimmy Garoppolo is Mantis
Before a torn ACL wiped away his shot at stardom during a season in which other hotshot stars emerged, Garoppolo was hyped for his ability to quickly read and react to defenses. Before Thanos’ snap wiped away her emerging role alongside the Avengers, Mantis was valued for her ability to read and react to others’ feelings. Both heroes are still pretty naive, but they’ve got the mental capabilities and supporting casts to have bright futures.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is Rocket
It’s not often you find a mercenary as hairy and as bold as Fitzpatrick, and the same can be said for Rocket. Like the cybernetic raccoon, the bearded wonder is far from elite in his own right, changing teams at the same rate Rocket can escape prisons. But his fiery, gunslinging attitude continues to get him work, and he’s got enough of a cannon to keep things interesting or pull off some improbable victories.
Sam Darnold is Gamora
You can look at Darnold and Gamora, both of whom wear green, a couple different ways. They’re pretty fearless considering their circumstances — Gamora is confident despite a rocky past; Darnold is poised despite a rocky home to start his NFL career. They’ve also got the vision, timing and aggression to be top-tier warriors. But they’ve also still got lots to prove — Gamora has apparently fallen victim to her father, Thanos, and Darnold rests squarely in the AFC East shadow of his division’s Thanos, Tom Brady.
Josh Allen is Vision
Vision touts an extraordinary body fueled by an Infinity Stone and artificial intelligence. Allen isn’t much different, showcasing what amounts to a body you’d create in a lab — a 6-foot-5, 237-pound frame that can fly around. Both guys have also wielded lasers — Vision with the Stone; Allen with his unmatched arm. And yet their crazy gifts could also be their downfall. Allen’s talents have made him an athletic freak but pilfered his reliability as a passer, and Vision’s power source made him Thanos’ “Infinity War” target.
Case Keenum is Scarlet Witch
He’s never been the biggest, he’s gone from team to team, and now his outlook is rather bleak. Keenum’s story is a mirror of Wanda Maximoff, who went from HYDRA captive to Ultron servant to Avenger but now has a murky future following the loss of her partner — and her own life — from Thanos and his Snap. At their best, Keenum and Scarlet Witch are infrequent playmakers with the ability to manipulate their surroundings. Their best quality might be goodhearted sacrifice in the face of constant change.
Andy Dalton is Shuri
Pepper Potts is a solid alternative for Dalton, but Wakanda’s tech genius also shares cool hair with the Bengals veteran. Not only that, but she’s got the same tactical and technical mind that’s defined Dalton’s best days as a QB. Like Shuri, however, Andy hasn’t yet proven that he can be great on his own, and in a post-Snap and post-Marvin Lewis world, both heroes’ ceilings are unclear.
Joe Flacco is Wong
There was a time Flacco dazzled the NFL with his Super Bowl-winning magic, but since then, he’s basically gone through the motions, coasting to a middling status reminiscent of his deadpan persona. Wong is similarly humorless, and despite his reputation as a master sorcerer, completely dipped out of the “Infinity War” fight. Both vets might have a comeback in them, and they’ve got experienced arms, but it’s hard to get too excited.
Josh Rosen is Wasp
Lauded for his intelligence and technique a la Hope van Dyne in her research of the subatomic Quantum Realm, Rosen was a hotshot prospect when he hit the scene but is already all but a forgotten man after a mismanaged debut (not so unlike Hope’s introduction in the wispy “Ant-Man and the Wasp”). With Rosen set to be overshadowed by the more explosive Kyler Murray, he also fits as van Dyne’s mother, the original Wasp, who was lost in the Realm and has been replaced by a sprier successor.
Eli Manning is Loki
No one does a better, albeit frustrating, younger-brother role like Eli and his Asgardian comparison. Just as Loki was never as royal or as respected as Thor, Manning will never approach Peyton’s pedestal. And yet both big names stole moments in the spotlight by way of their trickery — Loki in his theft of the throne and eventual reunion with Thor; Eli in his improbable Super Bowl wins. Now, after their much-debated glory, it appears both guys are dead — Loki, literally; and Manning as the aging leader in New York.