Is Tom Brady already the greatest quarterback ever?
The Super Bowl is only a few days away, but before it arrives, is Tom Brady already the best quarterback to ever play the game?
On February 1, Tom Brady will take the field for his sixth Super Bowl appearance. Regardless of outcome, the buzzword for commentary following that particular contest will be "legacy", especially for New England's star quarterback.
Legacy is a term that is loosely batted around in the sporting culture in 2015, and it is often misused. In actuality, legacy simply means "anything handed down from the past", and that indicates that, in the sporting culture, a player's legacy could not possibly be fully formed until the end of the individual's career. In the case of Brady, 60 minutes of football in early February 2015 will undoubtedly impact the way that future football fans think about his career, but before we even reach kick-off in Super Bowl XLIX, there is a simple question on the table.
Is Tom Brady already the best quarterback in the history of the NFL?
Brady's sixth Super Bowl appearance places the former Michigan Wolverine in a class by himself, but there are plenty of other metrics that insert New England's "golden boy" into the mix with the elite quarterbacks in history. At the age of 37, Tom Brady ranks fifth all-time in passing yards (53,258), fifth all-time in passing touchdowns (392) and fifth all-time in passer rating (95.9). Those numbers speak for themselves, and when factoring in that Brady has shown no signs of slowing down, it is a safe bet to think that he will continue to ascend over the next handful of seasons.
Tom Brady is certainly defined by more than numbers, which makes his case for "best ever" status an interesting one. The modern era of football has seen an utter explosion in passing statistics, and while it is a notch in Brady's cap that he has been able to keep up, it must be remembered that Tom Brady did not crack even 3,800 passing yards in a single season until his fifth full campaign.
The New England Patriots of the early 2000's were built on defense, a strong running attack, and the fact that Tom Brady simply wouldn't lose them games under center. As a 24-year-old NFL sophomore, Brady managed the game beautifully, completing 63.9% of his passes while leading his team to a Super Bowl victory, and he did it without the benefit of a full training camp, as he was inserted into the lineup following an injury to Drew Bledsoe in the early stages of the season.
Brady's "legend" was born during that 2001 championship season, but it would only grow. The 6th-round pick (!) would go on to captain the Patriots to ten consecutive playoff victories to begin his career, and Brady's three super bowl victories have the now 37-year-old knocking at the door of history, with only Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana sitting with more rings.
With the name of Joe Montana on the table, there are two names by which Tom Brady is often compared. The first is Montana and the second is his contemporary, Peyton Manning.
Because of the nature of the game when he played, Joe Montana does not have the shear numbers to "compete" with today's gunslingers, but it is equally impressive that he ranks among the top-13 in all three major passing categories given a vastly inferior amount of pass attempts. The trump card for Montana is playoff greatness, and he has something that Brady will never be able to match.
Joe Montana was undefeated in the Super Bowl.
Brady has three victories, but he also has two Super Bowl losses, and each game was marred by inconsistent play from the quarterback. Montana's four rings came in four attempts, and he was largely dominant, including the fact that he presided over the most dominant Super Bowl win in history. Tom Brady "wins" the argument on shear stats and longevity of his prime years, but it is tough to argue against Joe Montana in the biggest spots.
On the flip side, there is Peyton Manning. The 38-year-old Manning is still an active player, but he is, unquestionably, the most prolific regular season quarterback in NFL history. Manning already holds the league record for career touchdown passes by a wide margin, and with one more season, he will surpass the ageless Brett Favre for career passing yards. In short, Peyton Manning has been as dominant as any single player we've ever seen... until the playoffs.
Manning is a dismal 11-12 in playoff games (against 18-8 for Brady), and his teams have been bounced from postseason action in their opening game on nine occasions. That is an unfathomable number given his regular season accolades, and a quick look at the numbers also backs up Brady's candidacy as the better player in January and February.
If we're honest, this argument will neverbe fully complete. Fans of stats and efficiency numbers will always point to Manning's consistent level of greatness while pointing to "small sample" and "conditions" for his playoff failures, while the Brady contingent will hold tight to three Super Bowl rings and a growingly equal resume elsewhere.
With all of that on the table for both Peyton Manning and Joe Montana, I'll take Tom Brady.
All three players have excelled in various segments of their respective careers, but Brady's combination of statistical prowess, playoff success and a steady hand give him the nod. The apex of his powers was real, and that is evidenced by a 2007 season in which Tom Brady led the Patriots to a 16-0 regular season mark while setting the NFL record (since broken by Manning) with 50 touchdown passes against only 8 interceptions. Non-coincidentally, that was the only season in which Brady was gifted with elite talent at the wide receiver spots, and he took full advantage of his personnel.
Since then, the Patriots have simply accepted that they will be a chameleon team. They are happy to vary their personnel and mindset, sometimes to the detriment of Brady's numbers, and he is surely okay with that given his focus on victories above all else. Three Super Bowl rings in the early years of a career will do that to a player, and as he looks for his fourth in six appearances on February 1, questions of legacy and the totality of career success will surely be bandied about.
The choice for "best quarterback ever" will always be a subjective one, and that has to be stated. Everyone's criteria is different, weighing team success and individual statistical prowess at different levels. Still, it is a three-man race in my view, and even if the NFL stopped producing football games prior to Super Bowl XLIX, Tom Brady would be the choice.
At least in one man's opinion.
Jim Harbaugh puts Gatorade in his cereal (Video)
Julian Edelman is an 'a-hole' about Super Bowl tickets
Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland not hired for Saints front office position, yet
For more sports coverage, visit FanSided.com and follow Brad Rowland on Twitter: @btrowland