There has never been anyone like Tom Brady
Tom Brady leaves the stage now at the age of 45, a number for a quarterback around which it is even more impossible to wrap your mind around than all of his other numbers. Predictably, there is much GOAT talk going around, the way it was when he first retired a year ago. It was appropriate then the way it is now. Brady is the GOAT, and not just at quarterback and not just in football, but of everything we have ever seen, or ever will see again, in professional sports in this country.
No one will ever do what he did, in anything. He won his seventh and last Super Bowl for the Bucs at the age of 43 – and a half – and it was the equivalent of him doing in his sport what Jack Nicklaus once did in his, Jack winning his last Masters at the age of 46. Except, one last time, Brady was Nicklaus for a whole season of Sundays and Mondays, and doing it in a sport where the other guys get to keep hitting you, at least if the ball is in your hand.
In the end, he won more professional titles than Michael Jordan did and more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and just one fewer than Magic Johnson and Larry Bird combined. He won two more Super Bowls than Derek Jeter won World Series and played in the same number of Super Bowls – ten — as Joe DiMaggio did World Series back in the days when Joe D’s Yankees were winning nine. But even the great DiMaggio, as great as he was, wasn’t Brady. No one was.
Even in the NFL season before this one it looked like he might go back to the Super Bowl again. Against the Rams in the divisional round, when he was 44 – and a half— he completed 30 passes for 329 yards and would have been on his way back to the NFC Championship game if the Bucs hadn’t let Cooper Kupp run all by himself down the field at the end of the fourth quarter.
Brady wasn’t just the best regular-season quarterback of all time, he hands-down was the best Super Bowl quarterback of all time, and not just because of sheer volume; and even coming along after Joe Montana was 4-0 in the big game, throwing for 11 TDs and zero interceptions. I saw all of that from Joe Cool,, with my own eyes.
But even with Montana’s iconic 92-yard, come-from-behind drive in Miami to beat the Bengals, Brady is the one who brought his team from 28-3 down at halftime against the Falcons to finally win that Super Bowl in overtime. He completed 46 passes that night for 466 yards. When he was up against it against the Seahawks in Glendale, Ariz. that time, he was merely 13-for-15 in the fourth quarter for 124 yards and two touchdowns before Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson at the end. The Patriots had been 24-14 down in the final quarter on that Sunday night. So even Montana wasn’t Brady.
Repeat: No one was.
Brady played in those 10 Super Bowls and threw a combined total of six interceptions, against 21 touchdown passes. He threw for more than 500 yards against the Eagles in one of the Super Bowls he lost. His passer rating for his regular season career was 97.2. His passer rating in Super Bowls was 97.7. In his career, he had more than 3000 Super Bowl passing yards and completed 65.8 percent of his passes, doing that against one Super Bowl defense after another.
Even at the very end against the Giants in Glendale, when it was third-and-20 with under 20 seconds left, Brady threw a perfect ball over 70 yards to Randy Moss that was somehow in Moss’s hands until Corey Webster knocked it away at the last second.
“That ball was tracking on Moss like it was a long-range missile,” Tom Coughlin told me one time.
Brady was as good and maybe even better in his 40s than he had been in his 20s and 30s. After his 40th birthday, all he did over the next six seasons was average more than 4600 passing yards per season and went for 5316 in the season before this one. He threw 193 touchdown passes in his 40s. He completed more than 2500 passes. In his 40s. Playing quarterback in the NFL.
And even this past season, as tired as he looked in his last playoff game against the Cowboys, playing on an 8-9 team, he still did make it to the playoffs one final time; and even though he will be 46 when the next NFL season starts, he had everybody speculating over the past month about where he might play next, until he decided to stop playing, “for good,” as he said.
Michael came back with the Wizards and averaged exactly 20 points per game in his last season. Brady played five more years past that age, and was still as much Brady as he’d ever been, and sometimes much more.
After Brady unretired one year ago before he did the “for good” thing, Michael said this about Brady coming back:
“You know what that tells me? How much he wants it. How much he needs it.”
In the last season he will ever play, for that 8-9 team, he completed 490 passes and threw for 25 touchdown passes (against nine picks) and had 4694 passing yards and a completion percentage of 66.8 He didn’t match his own high standards, of course. But the numbers were still pretty damn good.
LeBron, the greatest all-around basketball player who has ever lived, is about to break Kareem’s all-time scoring record in the NBA, another magic number in sports. He continues to do more different things, in every game he plays, to help his team than any player in history ever has. He has won titles with three different teams, a remarkable feat. He just hasn’t won the way Tom Brady has in the modern world of sports. Brady is what Tiger Woods would have been if he stayed healthy. But Tiger didn’t. Brady did.
John Hughes, who was the Montreal Expos scout when they drafted Brady out of high school as a lefthanded hitting catcher, remembers the time Brady worked out for the Expos at Candlestick Park in 1995, then sat around with Expos players afterward.
“It’s like our players were drawn to him, even then,” Hughes told me the other day. “He had as much presence as any high school kid as anybody I’ve ever seen.” He laughed. “And this was in his other sport.”
He had presence. He had the arm. He had Bill Belichick for such a long time. But it is Brady who is the headliner of this time in pro football, and all times, in everything. The last column the great Red Smith wrote for the New York Times, he ended by saying, “Someday there would be another DiMaggio.” There will never be another Brady. Yeah, he’s the GOAT, all right. Out of all the other ones.
While we’re on the subject of QB1s:
If Patrick Mahomes can stay healthy, and keep his legs underneath him with all the running around he does, he might not play in as many Super Bowls as Brady did.
Or even come close to playing in as many.
Spending as much time in the open field as he does, it’s impossible to see him playing into his 40s.
But there is both magic, and genius, to what Mahomes is doing for the Chiefs, and he is already on his way to his third Super Bowl.
There is as much magic to what Mahomes does with a ball in his hands as there is with Steph Curry, out there behind the arc.
Let’s see if we can put our heads together and wonder who might be putting it out there that Kodai Senga, the starting pitcher the Mets just signed out of Japan, might have had a sketchy physical.
And would it be cheeky of me to guess Boras the Agent, everybody’s All-America?
I keep thinking back to that Eagles-Giants playoff game and believe I’ve identified one basic problem our guys encountered that night in Philly:
The other team was way better.
What good was possibly going to come from Julius Randle dribbling into the corner – and into a LeBron double-team – at the end of regulation against the Lakers the other night at the Facial Recognition Garden?
That’s the way it really ended for the Knicks on what had been such a big night for them, and for Jalen Brunson, right up until then.
Now that Brady has called it a day, it’s going to be a ton of fun waiting to see what happens with Green Bay’s No. 12, right?
And not just around here.
By the way?
It remains a pretty fun fact that Brady and Barry Bonds went to the same high school – Junipero Serra is what it was still called when they went there – in San Mateo, Ca.
Maybe Adam Silver needs to consider doing something about a terrific game like the Grizzlies and Warriors played the other night needing about a half hour to get through the last three-and-a-half minutes.
Because slogs like that, because of the refs and reviews and what always seem to feel like about fifty timeouts, aren’t all that great for business.
It is always worth mentioning that as spectacular a talent and winner as Magic Johnson was, he never won a single NBA title without Kareem as his teammate.
I know Kareem was hurt the night Magic scored 42 as a rookie to win his first championship in the pros.
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It so often gets forgotten that Kareem has as many rings as Michael does.
My pal Stanton is right, Kareem doesn’t get into the GOAT conversation in basketball nearly enough.
Do the Yankees have a leftfielder yet?
Asking for some friends.
Kyrie wants to be traded?
Tell him to make sure the door doesn’t hit him on the way out of Barclays.
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