Going into the 2020 NFL season, there were many questions about quarterback Tom Brady and what the future held for him. 2019 was one of Brady’s uglier seasons, ending in an early playoff exit to the Tennessee Titans and loud noises emanating from the lips of the Brady haters, clamoring that the GOAT didn’t have it in him anymore. He had just left the New England Patriots, the team that he had been the face of for nearly two decades, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since the Bush administration. While he brought one of his favorite targets, Rob Gronkowski, with him, there were still a lot of questions on whether or not a Brady-led Buccaneers team would be able to outdo the NFC’s elite.
Despite Brady’s six Super Bowl victories heading into 2020, this was still a crucial season for his legacy. Win another Lombardi, this time in the Sunshine State, and it locks up his status as the Greatest of All-Time. Struggle to a 9-7 record and an early playoff exit, and he’s a system quarterback who benefitted from Bill Belichick’s system. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know what happened.
Tom Brady turned back the clock and put together one of the best playoff runs in recent memory, with the 43 year-old quarterback defeating the powerful front seven from the Washington Football Team to open the playoffs, and then following it up with victories on the road against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. This took them to the Super Bowl, where they made easy work of Patrick Mahomes and defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9. Tom Brady threw for three touchdowns and won Super Bowl MVP. Where was Bill Belichick and his prized “system” that Brady supposedly benefitted so richly from? Sitting at home and watching on the couch after their first losing season since 2000, the season before Brady started for the Patriots.
At this point, there’s no need to live in denial anymore. Say what you want about him, but there is no denying the fact that Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. is not just the greatest NFL player of all-time, but the greatest athlete of all-time. Better than LeBron? Absolutely. Better than “The Sultan of Swat”, Babe Ruth? Correct. Even better than “His Airness”, Michael Jordan? Seven titles is more than six, right? But Bill Russell had eleven titles, what about him? You mean the Bill Russell that averaged just over 15 points per game over his entire career, and won his championships back when the NBA didn’t even have 15 teams?
Before you close out of the tab and declare Orry Phillips to be the most idiotic sports columnist on the planet, hear me out: Tom Brady has more Super Bowl wins than any other NFL franchise. He has seven wins in the big game, while the most that any franchise has is six. While you would be correct in saying that football is a team sport, it would be ridiculous to discount the impact that Tom Brady has had on every team he’s been on. Remember, the Buccaneers are the same team that finished 7-9 last season with many of the same players. They’re the same franchise that went a combined 59-101 with exactly zero playoff appearances in the ten seasons before Brady signed with them. Without a doubt, Tom Brady elevated this team. While the defense improved greatly, and the emergence of first round pick Tristan Wirfs helped the Buccaneers improve in pass protection, this team doesn’t go to the Super Bowl without TB12.
If you look at the stats, as well, it makes this an easy call. FS1’s Nick Wright noted after the Super Bowl that Brady has played the equivalent of not one, not two, but three Hall of Fame careers in the NFL. Wright stated that if you cut his 21-year career into thirds, giving three seven-year careers, you come up with three HoF careers among them, with his first third’s accomplishments largely resembling the accomplishments of Hall of Famer Troy Aikman’s entire career (five division titles to Aikman’s six, each has three Super Bowl titles, Brady has two Super Bowl MVPs to Aikman’s one).
Wright goes on to then compare Brady’s second third of his career to the full career of Hall of Famer Dan Marino, where Brady had six division titles to Marino’s five, two Super Bowl appearances to Marino’s one, two regular-season MVPs to Marino’s one, and two seasons where Brady led the league in passing touchdowns (including the 2007 season where Brady broke Marino’s single-season passing TD record), compared to Marino’s three. Lastly, Wright compares the last third of Brady’s career to this point to the full career of Joe Montana. In Brady’s last third, he had four Super Bowl titles (to Montana’s four over his entire career), three Super Bowl MVPs (to Montana’s three), and one regular-season MVP (to Montana’s two). Tom Brady also appeared in five Super Bowls over the last seven seasons, while Montana only appeared in four in his entire career.
In a sport where it is so hard to maintain consistency and durability at the quarterback position for a long period of time, Tom Brady has managed to play into his 40s and still be a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. He just defeated Patrick Mahomes. He has had the equivalent of three Hall of Fame careers in the NFL, and there’s a good chance that he’ll add to that even further next season. At this point, it’s time to accept reality: Tom Brady is the greatest athlete of all time.
Photo courtesy of Danny Karnik/AP