Third MVP Cements Tom Brady's Claim to 'Greatest of All Time' Title

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 4, 2018

Tom Brady's legacy received a boost 24 hours before Super Bowl LII.
Tom Brady's legacy received a boost 24 hours before Super Bowl LII.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Football fans will never stop fighting over the NFL's GOAT, or "Greatest of All Time." And not only is it almost impossible to compare professional football players from different eras, but measuring individual success in football isn't as easy as it is in boxing, golf or tennis.

Football is the ultimate team sport. When evaluating a player's accomplishments, team success has to be considered alongside individual accolades, as well as both cumulative and rate-based statistics. 

It's easy for John from Providence to look at Tom Brady's five (soon to be six?) Super Bowl rings and claim that the New England Patriots quarterback is the greatest, most accomplished player in league history.

But it's just as easy for Mike from Terre Haute to look at Peyton Manning's five MVP awards and make the same claim about the longtime Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos passer. Maybe Steve from Santa Clara is convinced that the GOAT is Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, whose numbers tower over his positional peers like no other player in NFL history.

Beyond that, more complex, less tangible arguments can be made for legends like Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas. 

However, it's become increasingly hard to dispute the notion that Brady is the most successful player in pro football history: He has reached a record eight Super Bowls; he can become the first player to win six Vince Lombardi Trophies; and on Saturday he became the first player with at least three Super Bowl victories and three MVP awards. 

Manning still has Brady beat in the MVP category by a 5-3 margin, but Brady is one victory over the Philadelphia Eagles away from owning a 6-2 lead in championships. Brown, Unitas and Brett Favre also won three MVPs, but Brown and Favre were NFL champions just once, while Unitas won three NFL championships and one Super Bowl. 

Strictly in terms of MVPs, this separates Brady from Aaron Rodgers (two MVPs, one Super Bowl), Kurt Warner (two MVPs, one Super Bowl), Steve Young (two MVPs, three Super Bowls) and Joe Montana (two MVPs, four Super Bowls).

If an MVP is the ultimate single-season player accomplishment and a Super Bowl is the ultimate single-season team accomplishment, it'd be pretty hard to keep comparing any of those guys to Brady. 

Tom Brady is the only man on the planet with at least three MVPs and three Super Bowl rings.
Tom Brady is the only man on the planet with at least three MVPs and three Super Bowl rings.Elsa/Getty Images

He gets points for longevity, too, having been dominant with the Patriots for virtually 17 consecutive years. If not for losing the 2008 season due to injury, he'd be on track to surpass Favre and Manning as the all-time passing yardage leader early in 2018 (he still might accomplish that in 2019 or 2020, although Drew Brees also needs to be leapfrogged). 

He's also just 52 passing touchdowns short of surpassing Manning for the all-time lead. Only Rodgers has a higher career touchdown-to-interception ratio, only Rodgers and Russell Wilson have higher career passer ratings and Brady's won as many playoff games (27) as Manning and Favre combined (no other quarterback has won more than 16). 

Plus, the dude is 40. Forty! He's just the 14th quarterback to start a game beyond the age of 39, just the second to make the Pro Bowl, the second to win a playoff game and the first to one to reach the Super Bowl. 

Prior to Saturday, nobody had ever won MVP at age 38 or 39, let alone 40. 

It was already tough to argue that Manning or Brown or Unitas or (fill in the blank) was better than Brady. 

Some will still cling to Manning's sheer numbers and his five MVPs. Others will still argue nostalgically for legends from vastly different eras. There are those who will continue to ignore the numbers and claim that arguably more gifted but indisputably less decorated players like Favre, Rice, John Elway, Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, Reggie White or Lawrence Taylor were greater, based solely on their own two eyes. 

The debate won't stop raging, because it's a complex sport with so many variables to consider. But now, it's at least safe to conclude that, when it comes to career individual, team, time and rate-based accomplishments—as well as the eyeball test—nobody has covered as many bases as Tom Brady. 

      

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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