“One for the thumb,” though, has a nice ring to it. It also stamped his status as the NFL’s best overall player.
But there’s much more.
For Brady, 39, who earned his fifth Super Bowl title Sunday, here’s breaking down the reasons — on one hand — why he also can claim to be the biggest winner in the history of American team sports.
Leave it to the Saints’ Drew Brees, another excellent, older quarterback, to remind us what Brady has done. Keep in mind Brees, no doubt an elite quarterback, has one ring with New Orleans. In comparison, Brady’s accomplishments seem all the more impressive.
“He’s played a long time. He’s about to wrap up his 17th season. In those 17 years, it’s 14 division championships, 11 AFC championship games, seven Super Bowls, potentially five Super Bowl wins,” Brees stated during the week leading up to Super Bowl 51. “That’s quite remarkable, that level of consistency for that period of time.”
In only three years during his career has Brady has won nothing. In one of them, 2000, he was a developmental rookie backup to Drew Bledsoe as a sixth-round draft pick. In another, following a 16-0 regular season in 2007, he suffered his lone major injury, to his knee, in Week 1 of 2008.
The longstanding argument for Joe Montana as the GOAT is the fact that he went 4-0 in Super Bowls. But in Montana’s decade-long heyday for the 49ers, he got to “only” six championship games, adding one more AFC loss while wrapping up his career in Kansas City.
With the win against the Falcons, Brady became the first player with five rings all for the same team. (Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley got his splitting time with San Francisco and Dallas.) Going way back pre-Super Bowl, the only pro football run that compares is Otto Graham’s 7-1 record in championship games in eight years for the Browns, in two leagues.
So then you go bigger, to the NBA with Michael Jordan, the modern consensus overall GOAT. In a sport more influenced by individual superstars who play both offense and defense, Jordan also had compact glory, with his six championships coming in a span of eight seasons.
The expansive window of Brady’s success in New England, with one dynasty building on another, is what slams the door vs. other players.
During interviews before the 2000 draft, Tom Brady wanted to sell to scouts the idea that, despite everything they thought they saw, the intangible of his fiery desire was off the charts.
Now, through Super Bowl 51, he still uses the same lines to describe his passion for dominating the game.
“The most important thing for me is doing the very best that I can every time,” he said during the week. “I take the field to be the best. I know that winning the game is a lot better than losing this game, because I’ve had some of the longest nights of my life after these losses. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s a win.”
Brady didn’t walk into the NFL with any kind of pedigree other than the fact that he was a Michigan product. He had to fight at first just to stick on the Patriots’ roster before he earned his shot at the starting job.
When you look across sports at potential GOATs, including Jordan, Jim Brown and Wayne Gretzky, the others were phenoms who came in as can’t-miss chosen ones. Like LeBron James now, they experienced success at every level. Pro awesomeness felt like the natural progression.
So how far Brady has come to be the awesome competitor he is now isn’t a knock — it’s another feather in his helmet.
Peyton Manning and Brett Favre put up gaudy statistics during their careers. But Brady is catching up fast even though he was not asked to light it up for the Patriots early in his career. All six of his 30-plus TD pass seasons have come after age 30.
Brady has climbed up to No. 4 on the all-time passing touchdowns list with 456. He’s third all time in career passer rating with his 97.2. He’s also fourth in career passing yards with 61,582. But what’s most amazing: He has played in more than two full seasons worth of playoff games — an NFL record 34. He reached 25-9 with the win in Super Bowl 51.
That’s where he’s most prolific — his steadiness in standing out no matter who’s in the New England offense with him.
“He understands what we wants to do and where to put his teammates. That’s what makes him so great,” Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier told SN’s Alex Marvez on Sirius XM NFL Radio last week. “They have a great understanding of their scheme and what they want to do each and every week. He’s a accurate quarterback and super efficient. He’s not going to beat himself — he’s going to make you beat yourself. You can’t beat that.”
If anyone can appreciate not losing an edge late into a career, it’s Brees. He knows that what Brady has done (and keeps doing) on the field pales in comparison his unprecedented story.
“Tom is extremely disciplined,” Brees said. “They see the end result on game day, but they don’t see all that he does in the offseason and during the season to maintain his health, his body and his mechanics — things that make him a great player. The overall preparation can be a grind throughout the season, yet each week he comes out and plays at very high level.”
Jordan walked away from the Bulls for the second time that counted at 35, before his cameo comeback with the Wizards. Montana and Gretzky were done with their playing days at 38.
So if you’re looking a tiebreaker for the crossover sport GOAT, this would be it: Brady is still doing his thing at 39, and he shows no signs of stopping. It actually seems more like he’s warming up to the best football of his career.
For Brady, a win in Super Bowl 51 is not just gravy like it was for John Elway and Manning. The Patriots quarterback still has the sizzle and steak for however long he wants it. Beating Father Time is his most impressive victory.
Talk to younger NFL players about Brady — they don’t waste much time in dropping the GOAT note. Brady has set the impossible standard every athlete in American team sports now chases, so everyone is trying to be like him.
Surviving and thriving in football is physically demanding, especially in contrast to other sports. And for Brady to also maintain mental advantages is downright unfair. It comes back to his mindset, his best natural talent.
“I love this sport. I admire all the guys who’ve played before me and I realize how hard it is,” Brady said. “I grew up a fan of Joe Montana, Steve Young, Dan Marino, John Elway and Warren Moon and watched them all. I loved watching football highlights, watching guys’ techniques, dropbacks and throws.
“They paved the way for us quarterbacks today. We’re paving the way for quarterbacks of the future. I’m a hell of a lot older than most of the guys in the league now, so there’s a lot of guys who are probably looking at me like I used to look at them.”
Brady is a student and a master of the game at the same time. Even with all the greatness seen in every American sport over the years, he has taken the art and science of winning to a place it has never been.
The GOAT arguments for anybody else officially have disappeared.