Mr. Consistency: While his looks have changed over the years, his play on the field has not and the many faces of Tom Brady are just another piece of the legacy he is still writing.
When you think of some of the greatest men to ever lead our country, the same names instinctively come to mind time and time again. Household last names, that don’t require a first name, a middle initial or anything else, like Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and, of course, Washington.
The same can be said for NFL quarterbacks. If 100 random people were surveyed on a busy city street regarding who they believed the best quarterback of all-time to be, many of the answers would definitely be repeated.
Some would gravitate to the original greats like Johnny Unitas or Bart Starr. Others might lean on those with the greatest stats like Brett Favre or Dan Marino.
But, then there would be those fans smart enough not to look at what the quarterback has done for himself, but to look at what the quarterback has done for his teammates.
And his city.
But, most importantly, they would look at what he has done for, well, them. And what can a professional athlete do for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of fans who follow his career, idolize all his triumphs and pick him up when he should make a mistake?
Bring a Lombardi Trophy back home, of course.
That’s what the real greats have done in the past, what others are trying to emulate in the present and what still others, some who may not even be born yet, will compare themselves to while striving to overtake them.
While there are undoubtedly other factors in determining who the greatest of all-time ultimately is, there is no denying that if a quarterback does not have multiple championships under his belt, he cannot be in the discussion. That is because there are those like Joe Montana, like Terry Bradshaw, like Troy Aikman and like Tom Brady, that have all hoisted the Lombardi Trophy three or more times during their playing careers.
Growing up in San Mateo, Calif., Brady idolilzed Montana, who was, at the time, the quarterback of his hometown team, the San Francisco 49ers. Montana went on to set records, win 117 games, win awards and, most importantly, win titles. In fact, he led San Fran to four Super Bowl championships in 1981, 1984, 1988 and 1989.
Montana appeared in four Super Bowls in his 16-year playing career. He won them all. For that reason, it is hard to argue with him being the greatest to ever do it. He appeared in four NFC Championship games and won all of those too.
Bradshaw, like Montana, also won four Super Bowl championships in his 14-year NFL career. And he, too, was four-for-four when he made it to the big game. Leading the Steelers‘ dynasty of the ’70s, Bradshaw won rings in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979.
He finished his career 25th all-time in passing touchdowns with 212 and ninth in wins with 107. Bradshaw won 14 playoff games, which is currently good for three behind Brady. He also made the AFC Championship game four times throughout his career. And won all four of them.
Aikman was the leader of the ‘Team of the ’90s.’ From 1992-95, the Dallas Cowboys won three out of four Super Bowls and Aikman led them to each one. In his 12-year playing career, he, too, won three Super Bowl rings while never losing on the biggest stage.
He finished his storied career for America’s most storied franchise 27th in NFL history with 32,942 yards, 21st with 94 wins and had 11 playoff wins. Like the two quarterbacks mentioned before him, Aikman also never lost an NFC Title game, finishing his career with three wins and no losses in three chances to play for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Then, there’s Brady. The pretty boy. The one with the supermodel wife and the millions upon millions of dollars in the bank. He has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl championships in his 12-plus seasons in the league (2001, 2003-04).
In addition, Brady has set plenty of records of his own – many of which he passed these other men for in the process – and is still building them. He is currently fifth all-time in touchdowns with 334, fifth in wins with 136 and tied for second in Super Bowl titles. He has already thrown for more touchdowns and more yards than the other three.
He has, however, lost two Super Bowls – something that these other three quarterbacks never experienced in their careers. Brady has been to the big game five times now, including last season’s loss at the hands of the Giants. He remains behind all three men in Super Bowl win percentage, though he has made more appearances than any of them.
To take it a step further, Brady will be making his seventh AFC Championship game appearance as the Patriots take on the Ravens tomorrow at Gillette Stadium. Of those other three great quarterbacks, none reached the Title Game more than four times. Only the great John Elway stands with Brady in the number of Title Game and Super Bowl appearances as they both currently have five (Elway was 2-3 in the Super Bowl).
It’s not about getting to the big dance. It’s about dancing flawlessly on the way to being the last one standing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Brady currently has more Super Bowl championships than some incredibly influential quarterbacks. Favre, Marino, Moon, Tankerton, Unitas, Kelly, Young, Warner and Theissman, just to name a few. But, as of this moment, he has not done enough, in my opinion, to be regarded as the greatest to ever do it.
As if that isn’t enough, with a win on Sunday, Brady and Bill Belichick will appear in their sixth Super Bowl together. None of the other quarterbacks went to more than four with the same head coach. Bradshaw and the great Chuck Noll were together in all four of his appearances. Should Brady and Belichick win it all again, they would tie that tandem with the opportunity to pass them next year.
The George Washington in football terms might come down to a number that one of the other Mount Rushmore heads is associated with: five. Can Brady be the first of these elite leaders to be at the summit of the game five times in his career?
With the way he plays, the short answer is: yes.
So, maybe it’s not just championships that result in the immortality of a quarterback. Heck, 29 different quarterbacks have won at least one championship. Maybe you have to string them all together. Maybe that’s how you become George Washington. He could have been president for life, but was wise enough to know that no one would benefit from that.
Anyone can do it once, but only a select few can do it more often than they didn’t do it. Montana. Bradshaw. Aikman. Brady. These four names will forever be associated not with records, not with wins, not with championships, but with one seldom-spoken and glorified word: dynasty.
Brady has a chance in the next few seasons – the last few of his career – to pick up a couple more Super Bowl wins and then ride off on his horse, to the tune of cheering crowds and maybe even a little musket fire, as the undisputed greatest quarterback of all-time.
But, he’s not quite there yet.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.