In elite sport, when individuals are considered for the status of ‘All-Time Greats’ there are a few pre-requisites to meet in order to fit the criteria. An individual’s career stats are vital to any argument. Longevity is crucial to not only aiding those stats, but to support any argument regarding an individuals’ peak at the very top of the game. Most commonly used when debating all-time greats however is the argument of memorable performances against adversity, individual accolades and Championships.
With these most recent aspects to be considered, the recent addition of a seventh NFL Championship in Tom Brady’s illustrious career has only served in widening the gap between himself and the anyone else who might be considered an ‘All-Time Great’.
New England Patriots
Throughout his career, Tom Brady has spent two decades with the New England Patriots. Operating as the team’s primary starter for 18 of those 20 seasons, Brady and the Patriots dominated the league, winning 17 division titles, reaching 13 AFC Championship Games to go along with 9 Super Bowl Appearances, winning 6 of them. Brady’s most recent Championship with New England cemented his place with the most Super Bowl rings in NFL history, going clear of Charles Haley who earned 5 Championships through the early 90’s.
The Patriots, along with Head Coach Bill Belichick were widely credited with creating an organisation and a culture that changed the way the sport was viewed an played throughout the league. Widely considered the greatest coach of all time due to his success, Belichick and Brady inevitably found their paths intertwined throughout their time together.
Throughout his career, Brady built a brand based on elite performance and longevity. Protecting his body and maintaining his performance levels on the field were vital and the foundation of TB12, along with a documentary entitled ‘Tom vs Time’ served to highlight the dominance he had in such an extended peak of his career.
At the end of the 2019 season however, Tom Brady, now a free agent at the end of his contract, failed to have it renewed by the team he had led for twenty years. The stance was simple from the organisation; Brady, then 42, was now too old to compete in a league where the average age of a player was just over 26. Despite the Quarterback position being better protected and therefore players being able to play in that position for longer, only a handful of players have been able to perform to an elite level passed their 40th birthday. So, despite a Championship just the season (their second in three years), the Patriots distanced themselves from Brady, giving him the opportunity to move away in Free Agency.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, without a Championship since 2003, had found themselves at the wrong end of the league in recent times, suffering nine losing seasons in their last 11. When Brady decided to join the failing franchise, it therefore raised a few eyebrows. It also raised the phone of a number of other free agents who were out of contract and eager to team up with the person who many already considered to be the greatest to ever play the game.
Brady’s former teammate Rob Gronkowski, a cult favourite among NFL fans, was coerced out of retirement to join his former Quarterback in sunny Florida for another run at a title that would give Gronkowski his fourth ring. With all but 2 of Gronkowski’s now 86 career touchdowns being thrown by Brady, it was clear that the two shared a bond that stretched beyond the football pitch.
Super Bowl LV
In a historic season, the NFL worked tirelessly to ensure that the regular season and post-season that followed could take place. In a phenomenal display of organisation, preparation and strict adherence to protocol, the league managed to complete the season however it wasn’t without its’ difficulties. A total of 66 players opted out of the season due to safety concerns, making roster decisions difficult for teams. The NFL, for the first time in their history played games on every day of the week throughout the season in an attempt to deal with the demands of an intense schedule, COVID-19 outbreaks and the travel demands associated with completing a regular season.
When it was all said and done, the Kansas City Chiefs, led by the imperiously talented Patrick Mahomes, boasted the best record in the league having won 14 of their 16 games in a bid to defend their NFL Championship.
The Chiefs cruised through the post-season whilst Brady and the Buccaneers qualified as a result of their Wildcard victory at Washington having won 11 of their 16 regular season games. Road victories at the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Playoffs and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game followed to set up their return to the Super Bowl and the first time that a team played in a Super Bowl at home.
The most potent offence in recent years was thwarted as Tampa produced a dominant display to win 31-9 with Brady throwing for 201 yards and 3 touchdowns.
At the age 42, the New England Patriots, along with many throughout the NFL world, bet on the wrong side of Brady’s success. Having led Tampa to the Super Bowl at the very first time of asking a year later, it would take a brave individual to make that same bet again.
In the aftermath of claiming the Championship, Tampa boss Bruce Arians was confident of having many of his side return for the following year after Brady proudly announced he would not be retiring on the podium.
Brady, now with seven Championships – two more than the nearest player and three more than the nearest quarterback – appears to have cemented his position as the greatest to ever play the game. From humble beginnings as the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Brady remains the man to beat over two decades later. Patrick Mahomes, the latest to suffer at his hands and the recipient of the most lucrative contract in the sports’ history, looks set to mount a challenge in the coming decade. The unprecedented nature of what Brady is achieving at such an age has transcended the sport and created a legacy that few truly believe will ever be surpassed.