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First, an explanation:
Tom Brady is the most accomplished quarterback among the 1,036 men who have ever taken a snap as an NFL quarterback. He has won six Super Bowls. Sunday, he will play in his 10th, which is the most improbable one since his first, which was 19 years ago and at a time when most folks still thought of him as a place-holder for Drew Bledsoe.
For the next hundred years — maybe for the next thousand, maybe forever — it will be impossible to write the history of the NFL without including Tom Brady’s name in the first couple of paragraphs. Even if Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs win this one, and Mahomes gets a third of the way to Brady, and even if Mahomes winds up matching or surpassing that number someday, Brady will stand as a memorial to excellence and to the ultimate goal of anyone who plays, coaches, or cares about football: winning championships.
There’s one problem with that designation.
MAAT doesn’t have a cute furry emoji the way GOAT does. Most Accomplished, All Time does not — never will — have the same ring to it as Greatest Of All Time. And here’s the thing: it’s easy to get the two of them confused, or to think them synonyms. They are not. The fact is, most of the men who have played the position would rather be remembered as Brady will be remembered.
Even if those guys were — or are — better quarterbacks.
(For the 18 years before this one, the next thing I would have to do is prepare for the influx of e-mails from Fairfield and Springfield, Montpelier and Providence, Bangor and Manchester and hundreds of other charming New England towns — to say nothing of Boston itself — which would fill my email with anger the next few days. Thankfully, they have taken a brief — if temporary — sabbatical from deifying Brady. Instead, we will surely hear from both Buccaneers fans in due time.)
“You saw what he’s done this year,” Tampa coach Bruce Arians said earlier this week. “You saw what he’s done his whole career. You saw what he did in Green Bay [to win the NFC Championship]. What more can I add to that?”
Yes, Arians learned all year what Bill Belichick knew (and might even admit if poured a pint glass brimming with sodium pentothal) for every day since Sept. 23, 2001, the day Mo Lewis nearly broke Bledsoe, the day Tom Brady first trotted onto old Foxboro Stadium as a QB1 for the first time: you want to win a football game, hand the keys to Tom Brady. He’ll win you the football game. He’s won 230 of 299 games as an NFL quarterback. He’s 33-11 in the playoffs. That’s a winning percentage of .767.
Most accomplished quarterback, all time.
But is he the best?
Is he better than Aaron Rodgers, who owns the best quarterback rating of all time (104.3), who throws spirals so picture-perfect they resemble art more than athletics, who can run a little bit, who has done so much of his damage in the relentless foul weather of the NFC North, and who is a not-so-terrible 126-63-1 as a starter?
Is his career, pound for pound, better than Peyton Manning, who won two titles, who made four Super Bowls playing for four different head coaches, who owns five regular-season MVPs to Brady’s three, who is acknowledged as a savant of the position and spent 15 years as an unquestioned darling among fantasy football owners and who sits just behind Brady in fourth place on the QBR list, 96.62-95.71?
Let’s dust off the archives for this argument, too. Before Brady, Joe Montana was the undisputed designee as the MAAT, and he could make an equally compelling case for the GOAT since he was 4-for-4 in Super Bowls, since he was the unquestioned king of his generation (and, not incidentally, served as a hero and idol for a certain kid growing up in San Mateo, Calif., by the name of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady). Brady passed Montana in the one category; would you list him higher in the other?
Two more names from the history books:
John Unitas won three championships (two in the NFL, one Super Bowl) spanning 14 seasons. He was 118-63-4 in 176 years as a Colt. At a time when even great quarterbacks routinely turned in completion percentages under 50 percent and had more picks than TDs, Unitas had some awfully modern-looking numbers: 54.7 percent completions, a 287-246 TD-INT rate. His QBR (78.20) is 71st all time, but of the 70 ahead of him only Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach and Bart Starr were his contemporaries; he was decades ahead of his time.
And what about Starr? It was his record of five titles that Brady broke. Starr was the most essential Packer, even if it was Green Bay’s running game that earned its mythology. Jerry Kramer, who blocked for Starr all those years, once said, “If the Old Man” — that would be Vince Lombardi — “dreamed up something called the ‘Packer Aerial Attack’ instead of ‘The Packer Sweep,’ Starr would’ve set records no man would be able to touch.”
Also receiving votes: Drew Brees … Dan Marino … Steve Young … Otto Graham … Sonny Jurgenson … Staubach … John Elway … Y.A. Tittle … Terry Bradshaw … Dan Fouts …
A few others, maybe. And, maybe, if we could put together a Punt, Pass & Kick competition for the ages, we’d be able to better gauge this, and better judge. But of all 1,036 quarterbacks who have taken snaps in the NFL, only one has won six titles, with No. 7 on deck. Only one is the MAAT. Is he also the GOAT? Probably not. Ask him if he cares.
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