After watching Tom Brady guide his New England Patriots to the biggest comeback victory in Super Bowl history during last week’s cross-conference showdown with the Atlanta Falcons, football fans from every corner of the country were quick to call him the greatest starting quarterback to ever play the game.
Brady’s latest performance may have made him exactly that. But it’s easy to go overboard when debating a player’s place in history less than two weeks after that player does what Brady just did to win his fifth Super Bowl ring. Understandably, Mr. Bundchen’s many supporters now consider him to be the greatest human to ever breathe, but talk of Brady as the best athlete to ever play team sports is just plain ridiculous.
Ideally, athletes playing in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL possess more than enough individual skills to do their job, enough knowledge to execute some sort of game plan, and the talent to make their teammates better. The best of these athletes are innovators who consistently excel in all three areas while advancing the game itself, and although Brady has solidified his place at the peak of the quarterback pyramid with a fist full of rings and a pair of M.V.P. awards, he’s nowhere near the best we’ve ever seen.
Since becoming New England’s starting quarterback as a second-year pro in 2001, Brady has only led the NFL in passing yards [2005 and 2007], and passer rating twice [2007 and 2010]. However, he has topped the NFL in passing touchdowns on four occasions [2002, ’07, ’10, ’15], earned Super Bowl M.V.P. honors three times, and helped to set this generation’s standard of divisional dominance thanks to an endlessly-dismal AFC East.
While the heartbroken folks in Atlanta—and several other NFL cities, don’t want to hear it, at the very least, Brady is the greatest quarterback of his generation. But Brady hasn’t dominated like two of the greatest athletes to ever play team sports—Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, and surpassing that duo is the only way for Boston’s boy to become the hands-down, absolute best.
Entering the NHL as a teenage phenom in 1979, Gretzky totaled 137 points as a rookie and won the first of ten Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer in 1980-81. More importantly, Gretzky led the league in scoring for seven straight seasons beginning that year, and not even the immortal Tom Brady has ever dominated like the man who won four Stanley Cups and still stands as hockey’s all-time leader in points, goals, and assists.
Along with equaling Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA-best career scoring average of 30.1 points per game, Jordan redefined the term “dominate”, matching Gretzky’s ten career scoring titles and earning seven straight beginning in 1986. The six NBA titles that Jordan won with the Chicago Bulls also bests Brady, and the nine times that “His Airness” was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team serves as a reminder that Jordan was also one of basketball’s toughest defenders.
Does any of that sound like what Brady has done during his time in Beantown? Of course not. Brady’s numbers aren’t even close to what both Gretzky and Jordan accomplished statistically. When the NBA was desperate for a superstar to attract the masses, it was Jordan’s high-flying antics that answered the call with a style of play that changed basketball forever. And Gretzky was constantly changing the game with a skill-set that hasn’t been seen since.
But Brady just isn’t the type of innovative quarterback who’s capable of changing the game. There’s something to be said for the fact that he began his career as virtually unknown, sixth-round draft pick before developing into the player he is today, and to some extent, that makes him more relatable to your average football fan. Does Brady belong among the game’s greatest quarterbacks? Without question, but he’s nowhere near the best to ever play professional team sports, and no amount of heroic Super Bowl victories will ever change that.