GILBERT – After Super Bowl LVII in Glendale grabbed much of the Valley’s attention last February, football fans were not expecting there to be many Arizona connections when this year’s circus descended on Las Vegas.
With the Arizona Cardinals struggling out of the gate this season, the dream of supporting someone locally in Super Bowl LVIII quickly disappeared.
That is until the San Francisco 49ers clinched their ticket to the big game this year.
The 49ers, led by MVP candidate Brock Purdy, have sparked intense interest from fans in the Valley, even from those who typically sneer at opponents from the NFC West, the conference San Francisco often dominates while the Cardinals rake the bottom.
Purdy, a native of Queen Creek, still has many hometown supporters following his NFL journey, one that began with him being selected with the very last pick in the 2022 draft and leading to this Sunday, when he will be the 49ers’ starting quarterback in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Never mind Taylor-mania. The 49ers’ thrilling run throughout the NFL playoffs has sent the southeast Valley into a state of Purdy-pandemonium.
“Growing up in Arizona you really want to pull through for everyone that has supported you,” Purdy said Monday at the Super Bowl’s Opening Night in Las Vegas. “I love the state of Arizona and everyone that’s been a part of my life and I’m trying to represent them as best as I can.”
No one has been more supportive during Purdy and the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl than the faculty at Perry High School, Purdy’s alma mater.
As a senior at Perry in 2017, Purdy led the state in passing yards (4,405) and took the Pumas to the 6A state semifinal game where they ultimately lost to Chandler High School.
For his sensational senior season, Purdy was awarded the Ed Doherty Award, which is the equivalent of the Heisman trophy for Arizona high school football. He was also named Gatorade’s Arizona High School football Player of the Year.
Walking around the campus of Perry, Purdy’s name is omnipresent throughout the school.
Both the Doherty and the Gatorade Player of the Year awards are proudly displayed in the school’s front office.
When the 49ers clinched the NFC Championship this season, the message on Perry’s marquee wished the 24-year-old good luck in the Super Bowl.
The school is giving away free shirts Friday to the entire student body with “Brock Nation” on the front with the Perry logo.
“The student body is excited, but not as quite excited because they didn’t know him,” said former Perry football coach Preston Jones, who now teaches at the school. “Everyone that was here when Brock was here is ecstatic.
“Everyone is constantly talking about it and sharing stories with their students. There definitely is a buzz.”
The giddiness surrounding Purdy is not only contained to Perry High School. During the 14-day break between the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, people have been finding creative ways to show their support.
Local Valley lawyers Lerner & Rowe caused controversy after putting up billboards on the Loop 202 freeway reading “Let’s go Brock Purdy” before the 49ers beat the Detroit Lions 34-31 in the NFC Championship game. The billboards upset some displeased Cardinals fans and were taken down within a couple days.
Purdy, however, felt deeply honored.
“Seeing your name on billboards that say, ‘Let’s go Brock,’ it doesn’t get any better than that,” Purdy said.
Sightings of Purdy 49ers’ jerseys are common throughout grocery stores and restaurants around the Gilbert area.
While attending a dance competition for his daughter on Championship Sunday at Higley High School, Jones mentioned that one of the participating dance teams wore Purdy jerseys during their choreography.
The East Valley is home to a throng of professional athletes who have made it to the highest levels of their sport. Similar to Purdy, Hamilton High School’s Cody Bellinger has won an MLB MVP and a World Series. But Purdy’s popularity stems from more than just his birth ties to the community. Though he went from Perry High to a three-time All-Big 12 quarterback at Iowa State, his NFL stock fell until the final round and then the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. When the 49ers selected him with the 262nd pick, an honor deeming him ‘Mr. Irrelevant,’ Purdy’s hurdles merely looked huge.
Playing in the Bay Area shadows of quarterback greats like Joe Montana and Steve Young, Purdy worked his way from third-stringer to a leader who has captured hearts in San Francisco, just as he has in Arizona.
“You don’t see that with people from here that have made it big,” Jones said of Purdy’s popularity in the Valley. “You don’t see that type of rallying, and it’s because of the kind of person he is.”
The support for Purdy is not only limited to Gilbert-area residents. Coaches who have been a part of Purdy’s development have been finding ways to support him throughout the season.
En route to a Super Bowl appearance, Purdy has put himself in the MVP conversation as he finished fifth in the league in passing yards (4,280) and third in passing touchdowns (31).
One of the people he can thank for his football development is Dan Manucci.
Manucci has worked with Purdy for the past decade as his personal quarterback coach. A former NFL quarterback, Manucci has been coaching amateur Arizona quarterbacks for over 30 years.
With names such as former Rams backup quarterback Bryce Perkins and former Texas Tech quarterback Tyler Shough as clients, Manucci said Purdy has been his most successful protege.
“To see one of my prized pupils playing in the Super Bowl is like wow,” Manucci said. “It is absolutely surreal. I’m so very proud of what this young man has endured.”
During his time in college and now in the NFL, Purdy meets with Manucci in the offseason to get some outside help on whatever he needs to improve. While the NFL is in season, Manucci will send text messages to Purdy to give him some advice on things he can do better.
“He’s very good at answering texts in reference to any questions I have for him,” Manucci said. “I try not to throw too much at him because he has (49ers coach) Kyle Shanahan and (49ers quarterback coach) Brian Griese training him in the building.”
Leading up to the Super Bowl, the tone of Manucci’s texts are geared toward the mental side of Purdy’s game.
“I told him, ‘Relax, have fun, learn that playbook and learn the game plan inside and out. And then after it’s all said and done, just keep your eyes up, trust your eyes, let it rip, take a couple of deep breaths before the opening kickoff and have fun,’” Manucci said.
Purdy-mania in Arizona will take center stage Sunday when he enters the field to take on opposing quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Watch parties across the Valley are expected to bring out thousands of fans and Purdy jerseys will be inescapable. The 49ers, longtime foes of the Arizona Cardinals, for one day might be the state’s favorite team. And that’s because Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant, long ago proved his significance to a community that idolizes him.
“We were so lucky to be a part of his life for four years,” Jones said. “It wasn’t what we did for him but what he’s done for us and our school and our community.”