He’s not Paul Pierce; he’s Bill Russell. He’s not Ray Bourque; he’s Bobby Orr. He’s not David Ortiz; he’s Ted Williams. But, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, he’s really only Tom Brady.
Before we go any further, let me clarify what this article is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. This article is my own personal take, not so much on the accomplishments of Tom Brady, but more so on the stature of those accomplishments as seen through the eyes of a twenty-something Boston native, born and raised.
Surrounded by my father and three uncles, I was always in the presence of decades of Boston sports knowledge, and four of the nicest, most genuine people that you could ever meet shared that information passionately, enthusiastically and probably to a far greater extent than they ever even realized. It wasn’t delivered through lecture and consumed through note taking—it was just something to be absorbed by a seven-year-old watching the game with the guys.
And they enjoyed watching the game just as much that way (my words, not theirs). But, hey—now we’re getting into a different article all together…
What this article is not is an attempt to proclaim Tom Brady as “the best quarterback of all time,” or “the best of his generation,” or just simply “better than Peyton Manning,” as we so often hear all of these debates recycled.
For starters, that’s just not the article that I want to write. Secondly, while I think that I am capable of collecting supportive data and presenting a pretty solid case for any one of those claims, it still would only be my opinion; not absolute fact, and it never will be. And lastly, if you haven’t already accepted the suggestions of literally every expert analyst, head coach (past and present), and other all-time great quarterbacks, who invariably agree that Brady is at least worthy of consideration for all of those labels, then I certainly don’t expect my words to be able to sway you. Agree to disagree…
Since 2001, Tom Brady has been the centerpiece of the New England Patriots, a franchise which held an overall winning percentage well under (.500) prior to his leadership.
We all know the story: Starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe is injured early in the season, and Brady (a seventh-round draft pick and second-year player out of Michigan) steps in, marches the team into the playoffs, all the way to the Super Bowl and doesn’t leave without jewelry.
Since then, Tom and the Pats have picked up a couple more rings, along with another Super Bowl appearance following the only undefeated 16-game regular season in NFL history. A lot of players have come and gone. The coaching staff, led by head coach Bill Belichick, has seen several incarnations. Ten seasons since that initial trophy, and the Patriots are once again on track as one of the NFL’s elite this season, making a bid for ring No. 4.
Boston’s been no stranger to championships in that time frame. While the Patriots themselves have hoisted three titles, the Boston Celtics have also seen a return to glory, winning an NBA Championship over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008, in a matchup that saw the sport’s most storied rivalry renewed. Two years later, the stage was set again, this time with the Lakers coming out on top.
Even more exciting for the city, the beloved Boston Red Sox earned a World Series in 2004. It was the team’s first in 86 years, and it was earned on the heels of what many believe to be the most exciting playoff series in the history of American sports, as the Sox battled back from an 0-3 deficit to eventually best the “The Evil Empire” in Game 7. They would also take the 2007 World Series Championship.
Needless to say, with all these championship trophies, Boston has also seen its share of heroes as of late. David Ortiz came up with some of the most memorable clutch hits, moments that will never be forgotten by Boston Red Sox fans (or Mariano Rivera—sorry, I had to).
The Celtics’ Paul Pierce earned a Finals MVP award, after his 10th season with the team. He has since scored the 20,000th point of his career, all of which have come in a green and white uniform. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he’s the most talented player the franchise has seen in my lifetime.
But, while these two icons (along with a handful of other names—Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling for the Sox; Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett for the Celtics) have left their footprints on the collective memory lane of Boston’s vibrant sports fanbase, none of it really compares to what Tom Brady has meant to my generation.
Of all these talented, hard-working, competitive athletes, Tom Brady is the only one who is not simply representing the franchise's best player, while also being recognized as one of the best players of his era. Rather, Tom Brady is in the unique position of being the greatest player and greatest champion that has ever been associated with the New England Patriots.
With all due respect to athletes like Pierce and Ortiz, to whom I cannot express enough gratitude and appreciation for providing some of my fondest sports memories, I know that they are not the best players ever to play their respective games in the city of Boston.
Ted Williams never gave me memories. Neither did Bill Russell, or even Larry Bird for that matter. While I have had the privilege of seeing highlights and hearing stories of these past champions, it is hardly comparable to witnessing them play day in and day out.
To really appreciate an athlete’s contribution to a franchise and a sport as a whole, you need to not only see them in action, but you have to live and breathe their highs and their lows. I’ve been lucky to live in a time of these remarkable athletes, but watching Ray Bourque play seemingly every minute of every game, or seeing Cam Neely score 50 goals in only 44 contests is just not comparable to tuning in every time Bobby Orr takes the ice, revolutionizing hockey in the process.
But, that’s exactly the sort of electricity that surrounds Tom Brady and the legacy that he continues to build.
If you’re from San Francisco, maybe it's like watching Willie Mays in the '50s. If you’re from Los Angeles, maybe it's like watching Jerry West in the '60s. From Cincinnati? Think Pete Rose in the '70s. Edmonton? Remember watching Gretzky in the '80s? If you’re from Chicago, maybe it's like watching Michael Jordan in the '90s. Maybe you’re from Switzerland? Roger Federer in the 2000s. If you’re from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, picture Obi-wan Kenobi in his prime.
All of those other labels aside, Tom Brady is the first Patriot that can, without any discussion, be referred to as the greatest player in franchise history. The other professional sports teams in Boston had their heroes; had at least one “greatest player ever” come along, perhaps only to be replaced by another “greatest player ever,” since. But for football fans throughout New England, Tom Brady is a first.
For the most part, Brady is respected throughout the nation and across generations. But, as with any great athlete, there will always be those outsiders who look to tear down the accomplishments, discredit his successes and spin the statistics.
Say what you will (because I know that you will), but take a look at the list of names above. If your city isn’t listed, give yourself a moment to consider whose names would be there, if it was. Think about that the next time you feel you are “so sick of hearing about how great Tom Brady is.” (I’m looking at you, Jedis.)
Whichever name you related to, if SportsCenter played on repeat 24-7 when he was around, everyone would have gotten sick of him, too. That's because it’s easy to get sick of somebody who just won’t lose, or who has often bested your guy. That doesn’t mean No. 12 isn’t the best player out there.
In fact, it probably means he is. (Oops, I guess this did turn into one of those articles.)