Does Tom Brady Really Have To Be The ‘Greatest Ever’?

Is this really necessary?

I mean, I understand the allure of it, of course. I’m having the debate myself… Tom Brady, the greatest ever? But I’ve been having it since I was a kid, since I saw Tom his first, then his second, then his third, and I realized I could be a real-time witness to my generation’s Joe Montana. Like with Tiger Woods, we’ve sort of been just waiting for Brady to become the best-ever, kind of eating away the rest of his career from his earliest years on the assumption he would just retire as the G.O.A.T.

That there kind of slants the argument, though – the debaters are now split into two biased camps: you have the traditionalists behind Montana, the millenials behind Brady. Neither can prove their case. Neither will entertain reasons from the other. (For example, the Sporting News has published two articles in the past day – one for Montana, one for Brady. They know what Robert de Niro knew in Casino, that it’s always a safe bet when you’re never gambling.)

And you can’t come up with your own unique opinion on the matter, either. It’s all already been said.

Working for Montana is his Super Bowl record, an unblemished 4-0. He had three MVPs, and many think he should have gone a perfect four-for-four.

Brady also has three MVPs, but his two losses will be held against him – the amazing accomplishment of simply making six championship games won’t be given to Brady, as it should be, or that he was never blown out in either loss. In fact, his best Patriots team went 18-0 and then lost its final game of the year on a last-minute touchdown drive from the New York Giants. And only one time did Brady’s Patriots win a Super Bowl in a year they entered as the public’s favourite. He lives to punch above his weight.

Brady didn’t have the receiving core of Montana. You’ll hear that one.

Because Montana had Jerry Rice. Brady had to make due with an always-changing rotation of wide-outs, and he made it work with all of them. (And heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano was perfect in his boxing career… would you really take him over Muhammad Ali? Perfection is overrated, always.)

But you can’t really fault a great player for how great his team is, can you? After all, is he a product of his environment, or is his environment a product of him?

Plus, it’s hard to evaluate a guy like Brady or a winner like Montana next to anyone, because they don’t come with obvious skill sets. Montana was, probably, the best pivot under clutch in NFL history. And he wasn’t drafted until the third round, not even coming out of Notre Dame with a national championship.

Brady was famously a late pick as well, not selected until the 6th round and the 199th pick. But Brady’s imperfections – his lanky frame, his awkward, slow running, and his sneaky mobility – are actually his strengths. Just like with Montana, it’s hard to quantify Brady’s intangibles or good vibrations, especially when there are others who are faster, can throw longer, and are more accurate.

Here’s one I haven’t heard enough of – the Pats were dead in the water with perennial Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe, and they were champions by the time Brady flexed his starting muscle. The 49ers rebounded just fine after Montana, with Steve Young leading the way. But Young was a great quarterback, as well.

So who changed their franchise more?

Montana may be perfect on his own, but New England has never won a Super Bowl without Brady. That’s something to consider, if records and blemishes are getting the same weight as hardware.

As far as coaching, neither Brady nor Montana has the edge.

Bill Belichick’s a master in New England. Bill Walsh was an offensive pioneer in San Francisco. Both are all-time great coaches and, while many will now be knee-jerk quick to call Belichick’s the game’s best-ever, they were both the perfect conductors for their respective operas.

Now, I’m only 27 years old. I’m almost happy I never saw Montana in his prime, because I want no part of this debate. Not in a serious sense, anyway.

I’m happy to tell you, “I don’t know if Tom Brady’s the best quarterback of all-time, but I know he’s the best quarterback I’ve ever seen.”

I didn’t need to see Brady win his fourth championship to make my mind up that way, either. (And I won’t forget that, just 12 months ago, most people were waiting for Peyton Manning to beat Seattle so they could rush to put him atop the pile, too. Isn’t it funny how fast and heavy the mob sways?)

No, to me, Tom Brady would be the best-ever quarterback with three Super Bowls and three losses as he is at 4-2. And it’s not like he even won that game on Sunday either – not only could you argue Julian Edelman was actually New England’s best offensive player in the game, since Tom added two picks to his four touchdowns (a ratio he seems to like), but the Patriots’ defence was involved in the final minute’s defining play, with rookie Malcolm Butler intercepting an about-to-win Russell Wilson on the one-yard line.

Brady was named the MVP, but Brady wasn’t even on the field when New England won. That would be like giving the MVP of World War II to a general with an army in Africa (okay, not really). That’s football, I guess.

The debate between Brady and Montana – and eventually Peyton Manning, I truly believe – will come down to this: If you were going into the Super Bowl, which guy would you want on your team?

That’s easy. It’s choose either. I’d literally just flip a coin and be completely fine with it.

That’s a luxury in a sport too often desperate to divide itself between Coke and Pepsi. And I’d rather just enjoy their respective all-time awesomeness, if you don’t mind.

VIDEO: The Brady 6 – Year of the Quarterback (NFL Films)

VIDEO: Is Tom Brady the Greatest Ever? (ESPN First Take)