Legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana won't declare New England Patriots superstar Tom Brady the best QB in NFL history because he doesn't believe it's fair to compare players from different eras since the game has transformed over the years.
Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk relayed comments Montana made for an appearance on the Hallmark Channel's Home & Family on Friday, which were obtained by TMZ Sports, where he discussed the continued debate about whether himself, Brady or another quarterback is truly the best ever.
"I think that it's really hard to put anyone in that bucket," he said. "Even before he got five—you look back to some of the guys some people don't even know, Sammy Baugh or Otto Graham, I can't remember which one but one of them won like seven or nine championships and so far ahead of their time. It's so hard to compare guys from then to now, how they would compare here and how we would compare back then."
It's a reasonable stance by Montana, though those type of remarks don't usually gain much traction in a heated sports debate like "best quarterback ever."
The problem, and also the reason there will probably never be a concrete answer, is the different criteria that must be considered. Along with adjusting for era, tone must consider how playoff success should be weighed, a QB's teammates and numerous other factors.
For example, Pro Football Reference's formula for Approximate Value lists former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning at No. 1 by a pretty sizable margin. Brady is No. 2, but he's enjoyed more postseason triumphs than his longtime friendly rival.
Montana checks in tied for No. 28 in that particular ranking. But, with all due respect, it would be hard to find many who agree the likes of Drew Brees (No. 7) or Philip Rivers (No. 22) are better than him in the grand scheme of things.
And as Montana noted, the efforts to judge overall production don't prominently feature the old-school players like Baugh or Graham, which makes the analysis even more difficult.
As for Brady, he stated leading up to the Super Bowl he's not really interested in trying to place himself atop any greatest-ever list, per Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News.
"I don't think anything about a personal legacy," Brady said. "I mean, those words would never even come out of my mouth, unless I just repeated them. So those things have never been important to me."
So, while many were quick to proclaim him the undisputed king of NFL quarterbacks after the Patriots stormed back to stun the Atlanta Falcons for his fifth Super Bowl victory, Brady was more worried about finding his missing jersey.
All told, Montana's comments on the issue are right on the mark, but that won't stop the debate from raging on for generations to come.