New England Patriots: Super Bowl Victory to Ignite Joe Montana/Tom Brady Debate?
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots enter this week anticipating their match-up with the New York Giants while feeling motivated by the prospect of lifting the Lombardi trophy on Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVI.
For Brady however, there are more motivators than just another Super Bowl ring, of which he already has three.
Indeed, he will be hoping to avenge his only ever Super Bowl loss from the 2007 NFL season, however while many other Patriots share that determination, only Brady has the opportunity to potentially achieve all-time greatness this weekend.
All-time greatness is a subjective thing. For many onlookers, Brady is already an all-time great and a certain hall of famer.
For the man who rages at his team for slacking off in the dying moments of a blowout victory, nothing short of being the best of all time will allow for any talk of being an all-time great.
Despite winning three Super Bowls and tying John Elway next week for the most Super Bowl appearances, no matter what happens, Brady still won't be satisfied, or even contemplate calling himself great, until he achieves much more in his career.
It is why he still struggles to overcome the fact that he was drafted 199th overall in the 2000 NFL draft as the seventh quarterback taken, exemplified by the tears shed in an interview prior to this year. It's also why he scrutinized himself as if he were a camp arm trying to hold onto his job after the AFC Championship victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
It is that drive and passion that has made Brady a future hall of famer, but he is yet to separate himself from the pack and put his name in the discussion as the greatest quarterback ever.
As a youngster, Brady admired Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. Now that he is a professional quarterback, it is Montana who is standing between he and his ultimate goal.
Generally, the argument for the greatest ever quarterback in NFL history is between Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana. Because the game has changed so much since Unitas retired in 1974, more often than not Montana is considered to be the standard bearer for modern era quarterbacks.
In fact, on NFL Network's top 100 players of all-time, a list voted for by a "blue ribbon panel" and released prior to this year, Montana was the fourth ranked player and highest ranked quarterback. Unitas was sixth overall and Brady was 21st.
The gap between Brady and Montana is not that large, but the discussion of who is the greatest can't even begin unless Brady wins another Super Bowl ring. Winning the Super Bowl is the most important aspect of any NFL player's career and the very fact that Montana has one more will always give him the edge no matter what records Brady breaks.
Winning the Super Bowl is a team effort, it is not an individual award, which is why I dislike the thought that determining the best individual is based on an accolade that is earned through a team effort. However, because the game has changed so drastically over the past decade or more, it is very difficult to compare players through statistics.
Even if you do just compare Super Bowl victories, you also have to compare the responsibility of the individual for that Super Bowl win.
While three of Brady's Super Bowls came on defensive led teams, Montana won two of his with Jerry Rice and never brought a team with such little talent to the Super Bowl as Brady has done this year. Even though they have only beaten two teams with winning records all season, including the 9-8 Denver Broncos, you cannot argue that what Brady, and Bill Belichick, have managed this season is astounding.
Brady has never had much talent around him on offense, save for the 2007 season when Randy Moss gave him his first true number one receiver. Deion Branch, prior to 2007, was a good, but not great receiver. Despite this, he was still able to twice be the MVP of the big game as well as being the first ever unanimous MVP of the regular season.
Montana can then counter that however with one extra Super Bowl MVP and six all-pro selections.
You see the Brady-Montana debate is a very difficult one to differentiate between, that is presuming that it can start.
A Super Bowl victory next week won't make Brady the best ever quarterback to play the game, but it will allow the argument to begin. Determining whether Brady's single season touchdown record is relevant because of rules and whether Montana's unbeaten Super Bowl record is better than appearing in more is not something I intend on doing right now.
One thing will be clear though.
With a fourth Super Bowl ring, Brady's legacy will emerge from the ambiguous mesh that is the pack trailing Montana and Unitas.
A group that features Peyton Manning, the only ever four time league MVP, John Elway, appeared in five Super Bowls winning two, and Dan Marino who holds multiple all-time records at the position. Being in the company of guys like Manning, Elway, and Marino is not too bad for a sixth round pick, but Tom Brady isn't like every other 199th draft selection.
In a season when his arch rival, Peyton Manning, missed the whole season, Brady travels to the stadium that Manning built next week looking to ignite the debate between his boy-hood hero and he.
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