By Matt Vozar
Before Sunday, February 5, there was debate. If you were to ask the common sports fan who they think is the greatest football player ever, you would get a range of answers. The depth and specificity of the answers will obviously depend on people’s knowledge of the sport and its history, but among the undeniable answers are Joe Montana, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, and, of course, Tom Brady. Watching sports talk shows and listening to analysts’ discussions regarding “The GOAT” (the now-common acronym for “greatest of all time”) will warrant any number of arguments. But, at the end of the day, most people would agree that being great at a sport involves, at any level of competition, winning. Not just winning, though, because anyone can win and subsequently have their names praised for a week or so before everyone’s mind shifts to the next major sporting event. No, not just winning, but winning consistently.
You want to get your name in someone’s head and make it the automatic response in “The GOAT” conversation? Allow me to pull from majorly successful General Manager of the Raiders dynasty back in the 1970s, Al Davis, in saying, “Just win, baby.” Win, win consistently, and win when everybody’s watching. But you also have to win when it counts, meaning that you are not only winning against the inferiors of the league, but also beating the best. In the case of football, this means winning the Super Bowl. The five men mentioned above were excellent winners consistently at all levels throughout their careers. Of the five, only Montana, Bradshaw and Brady have been to more than two Super Bowls; before Sunday, all three quarterbacks had won four of them. Brady has now won more Super Bowls than any other quarterback has even played in, not to mention that Brady lost two Super Bowls (2007 and 2011), both to the Giants and both could have been victories for Brady.
For those who do not know, the Patriots have essentially been the dynasty team in the NFL over the last fifteen years. The team has had consistently winning records and has gone to the playoffs each year since 2008. Their record in 2008 was 11-5, making them the first team in NFL history to miss the playoffs after winning 11 or more games. So even when the Patriots are not playing for a Super Bowl, they are still making history because of how much they win. Much of the success the Patriots have had over the years is due to excellent leadership. Bill Belichick is the head coach of the Patriots, and has been for 17 years. He and Tom Brady have been the dynamic duo over these years, as the coach-to-quarterback relationship is vital to maintaining a successful team. Belichick and Brady continue to march their way through each season, not caring about who their opponent is because they know they’re going to win, and not giving up any information to the media during press conferences. The two of them just know what they’re doing, and they’ve been doing it long enough for multiple generations to realize it.
The sheer numbers are staggering. Tom Brady has played in the NFL for 17 years, but has only played in 15. He was a backup in his first season, and tore his ACL in 2008 (ironically the only year the Patriots have not made the playoffs in his career). So of the 15 full seasons he has played for the Patriots, Tom Brady has at least made the Super Bowl in seven of them, meaning he has essentially played in a Super Bowl every other year of his career. Belichick, on the other hand, attended two Super Bowls as an assistant coach for other teams before even becoming the head coach of the dynastic Patriots. So back to the numbers; Brady has played in 14% of all Super Bowls which have taken place, and Belichick has coached in 19.5% of all Super Bowls. I mean, just think about that. We’re talking about the biggest football game ever, one which only occurs once per year and one which only 2.5% of NFL players will even make. It’s every football player’s ambition, every player’s dream, to have the ability to play in the biggest game of their lives while everyone in the world is watching, hoping to be named world champions. It’s why everyone plays the game, to have that one chance at being great and reaching the top of football supremacy.
And Brady and Belichick do it seemingly every year. Because when they don’t necessarily play in the Super Bowl, they’re darn close, usually losing in the AFC Championship (the game right before the Super Bowl).
Now, going back to the discussion regarding other quarterbacks being considered the greatest of all time, Brady has endured scrutiny over the years. In the week prior to his first Super Bowl against the Rams in 2002, Tom Brady came under fire for a scandal titled “Spygate.” Essentially what happened was that the Patriots were said to have filmed practices that the Rams had undergone in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Filming another team’s practice is considered cheating in the NFL, and begins discussions regarding integrity of the game. The Patriots ended up winning that Super Bowl, and many people say that Brady should not have won that game and therefore should only have four Super Bowl wins, like the other greats on the list.
Another instance of possible cheating with Tom Brady and the Patriots occurred in 2015. In their divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, Tom Brady threw an interception near the end of the first half to D’Qwell Jackson. Jackson felt the ball and thought it felt a little bit underweight, a little deflated. Jackson took the ball to the referee, who inspected it and later found that 11 of the 12 footballs which the Patriots were using in the game were two pounds per square inch under the minimum requirement. This scandal was aptly named “Deflategate,” and two years of investigation by the NFL followed, only to come to no real conclusion that Brady had in fact deflated the balls. Regardless, the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, suspended Brady for the first four games of this season (two years after Deflategate occurred), and many people say that the suspension was the main reason why Brady was so angrily taking out every other team in the league this year.
So there are two distinct points in history which point to Brady’s legacy being tarnished in some way. And both, according to many, were instances of cheating. Cheating is a big deal, too. It’s not like Brady’s legacy is going to be tarnished because he threw three interceptions in a game, or because he let his teammates down by not completing a game-winning drive. He cheated, which for some people is enough to completely write him off as violating the integrity of the game and therefore cannot be considered as a great player.
Others, however, look at his entire body of work and conclude that he is still the greatest. Let’s just be honest here, the amount of winning Brady has done over the years and the amount of consistent winning he has produced completely outweighs the minor instances of blemishes. Spygate was not even Brady’s fault; if anyone is to blame., it is his coach, Bill Belichick. Belichick essentially supervised the filming of the practices and is responsible for any actions carried out by the team. Deflategate was actually Brady’s doing, because he purposefully deflated the balls. But the thing is, the Patriots won that divisional playoff game against the Colts 45-7. That is a divisional playoff game; they were among the six best teams in the NFL, and the Patriots won by 38 points. The score was 17-7 at halftime, with the Patriots having used the deflated balls. After halftime, with footballs at regulation pressure, they scored 28 unanswered points and the Colts did not score a point.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion regarding Brady. The negative opinions surrounding him are either associated with two instances of cheating, and others think negatively about Brady simply because he wins too much. In either case, Brady’s greatness is undeniable and this Super Bowl win has ultimately cemented it. Great players win. Brady looked at the scoreboard Sunday night and saw himself down by 25 points, an insurmountable deficit. He did not care; he knew that his abilities warranted a comeback from any amount of points behind, and that is exactly what he did. He now has five Super Bowl wins, the most of any quarterback ever. And he’s not done; we’re going to be seeing Brady continue to win for years to come, proving more and more that he is, without doubt, the greatest of all time.