It seems that most football fans decided several years ago that Bill Belichick was the GOAT (“Greatest of All Time”) when it comes to coaches, yet there are still plenty of fans who have not wanted to call Tom Brady the GOAT among quarterbacks. To those individuals, I say it is time to give it up.
Seriously, on what grounds can one claim that Tom Brady is not the GOAT? Let me now rebut any argument in favor of a non-Brady being the GOAT:
- If you think the GOAT is anyone who played before 1980, you are picking a quarterback who played in an era when a) QBs threw somewhat rarely, b) the running back was the focal point of the offensive backfield, c) teams did much less elaborate scheming than you see now, and thus d) quarterbacks spent much less time perfecting their craft. Sure, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Terry Bradshaw played when there was a different bar for “greatness” for a quarterback. It is just that said bar was 75% lower than the current bar. Nobody in his/her right mind would say that a Night at the Roxbury cell phone is the GOAT of the cell-phone world, simply because that phone was considered amazing in 1998. The same premise goes for calling an old-time QB the GOAT. Brady is an iPhone, so please do not tell me you would rather have a Cingular
- It is not John Elway, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, or Dan Marino. Remember that Tom Brady has a 196-55 regular-season record and a 28-9 playoff record. He has 488 touchdowns and 160 interceptions in the regular season and 71:31 numbers in the postseason. Oh, he also has been to a record 8 Super Bowls and won a record 5 of them as a starting QB. The four guys I have mentioned cannot come near a resume like that.
- It is not Aaron Rodgers. Yes, when Rodgers is healthy, he is the best quarterback in the league right now. However, Brett Favre and injuries have kept his career performance down a bit. Plus, consecutive seasons of legendarily devastating playoff defeats in Seattle and Arizona quite possibly kept him from having three championships, instead of 1. I cannot say that a guy with one Super Bowl appearance is the GOAT. Rodgers still has much of his career ahead of him. Therefore, I cannot count him out in terms of taking over as GOAT. However, he has a long way to go.
- It is not Peyton Manning. Yes, there were times when we thought that Peyton was better. However, Brady ultimately surpassed Peyton everywhere that matters. Manning’s regular-season record of 186-79 falls short of Brady’s. His 9-10 playoff record falls light years short of Brady’s. While it is fair to say that Peyton’s playoff record is hurt by having several byes (and thus avoiding easy Wild-Card-Round wins), Brady’s is hurt by the same factor, and his record is doing just fine. Both Brady and Peyton put up gaudy numbers on some very talented teams, while both dragged a few untalented teams to 10-win seasons. Yes, Peyton threw for nearly 72,000 yards, while Brady threw for a little more than 66,000, but that is a negligible difference in the grand scheme of their careers. Plus, Peyton was not good in Super Bowls. He was average while winning Super Bowl MVP against the Bears (I thought Dominic Rhodes should have won the honor), was decent in the loss to the Saints, put up an epically horrendous performance against the Seahawks, and was dragged to a championship by Von Miller and the Broncos’ defense to finish his career. Meanwhile, Tom Brady has played well to incredibly well in all eight of his Super Bowls. In big game after big game, Brady has fought back through adversity. However in big game after big game, Peyton performed worse as things got worse. (Save for the 21-3 comeback against the Pats in the 2006 season). Seriously, when the Broncos were down 8-0 in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton already had a look on his face of “I don’t want to be here anymore.” Having watched Peyton and Brady for their entire careers, I can say that Peyton Manning is incredible. However, Brady is clearly better.
- It is not Joe Montana. Montana has the best non-Brady case for being the GOAT, outside of Brady. However, it is still not Montana. A 117-47 regular-season record and a 16-7 playoff record are impressive, but Brady’s are better. Plus, Montana threw for 40,551 yards, which is a far cry from Brady’s numbers. I know that Montana played in an era when defensive players tried to murder any receiver cutting across the middle of the field, but a 26,000-yard difference is too sizable to attribute solely to that fact. (Keep in mind that it was not until the second half of Brady’s career that the rules changed as mentioned here to receivers’ and QBs’ benefits.) Therefore, I do attribute much of the yardage difference to the difference in eras (see the cell-phone analogy).
That said, I know the #1 argument that people make in favor of Montana being the GOAT. These people say, “The guy never lost in the Super Bowl. Brady has lost three times.” OK, that argument would have merit if quarterbacks were randomly assigned Super Bowl trips. However, it does not actually work that way. Because a QB must earn a trip to the Super Bowl, a Super Bowl loss is a positive for a quarterback’s resume. Of course, it is nowhere near as big a positive as a Super Bowl win, but it is positive nonetheless. Furthermore, if Brady were 3-3 in Super Bowls, Montana sympathizers would have a leg on which to stand. However, Brady is not 3-3. He is 5-3. He has won more Super Bowls than Montana, and he has been in twice as many.
Also, some people talk about how Montana “dominated” his Super Bowls, while Brady “has not”. Yes, Montana dominated 3 of his 4 Super Bowls, his first being the only one in which he had pedestrian numbers. People remember that two of his Super Bowls ended 38-16 and 55-10. Yes, that is incredibly impressive. However, Brady put up great numbers in all except his first Super Bowl, in which he led a game-winning drive in the last minute. It is also worth noting that the Niners allowed 21, 16, 16, and 10 points in Montana’s four Super Bowl wins. Meanwhile, the Patriots have allowed 17, 29, 21, 17, 21, 24, 28, and 41 points in Brady’s eight Super Bowls. While I am not going to list all of Brady’s Super Bowl game stats, I can tell you that they are quite impressive (especially Sunday’s 505 yards with zero interceptions!) and rival Montana’s on a per-game basis. I can also tell you that Brady’s lack of a dominant Super Bowl win is more of a function of the Pats’ and Niners’ defenses than it is of Montana’s and Brady’s play. That said, Montana does get a point over Brady for having two lopsided Super Bowl wins. I have to acknowledge that, so that Point #6 does not later turn me into a hypocrite. (Montana should also lose a point for having a 49-3 playoff loss to the 1986 Giants. Brady has no playoff losses that were so lopsided.)
All that said, I feel strongly that 8 total Super Bowls, 5 Super Bowl wins, and 4 late-game Super Bowl-winning drives more than offset Montana’s two blowout wins and 4 total SB wins/appearances.
- Sure, Brady’s career has been helped immensely by Bill Belichick, but that does not keep Brady from being the GOAT. All great players in team sports are functions of their teammates, coaches, and other external factors. If Drew Bledsoe never got hurt or if Tom Brady were drafted by the Cleveland Browns, Tom Brady might not have become anything special at all. However, you could say play the “What if?” game with anyone. What if Bill Walsh were not in San Francisco with Montana? What if the Colts picked Ryan Leaf and Peyton ended up on the Chargers? Heck, what would Michael Jordan be if either Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, or both had never shown up in Chicago? We do not know. Nobody knows. Therefore, we can judge greatness only by what we do know.
Yes, being the GOAT often requires some luck, but many people get good luck. To be the GOAT, a player has to make the most out of every single morsel of luck that he receives. Tom Brady was forced into action on an 0-2 Pats team that was following up a 5-11 season. Let us not act like he was gifted a Hall-of-Fame career on a platter. For every Tom Brady, there are countless John Skeltons, Brian Hoyers, Greg McElroys, Tim Rattays, Charlie Whitehursts, Trent Edwardses, and so on who make very little out of their good fortune.
Simply put, Tom Brady was given an opportunity in September of 2001; he grabbed that opportunity; and he has spent 17 years becoming the GOAT of NFL quarterbacks.