I know that the narrative around the Super Bowl was that Tom Brady was supposed to pass the torch to the next generation.
Legions of football fans not residing in New England or northern Florida are just so sick of Brady that they can’t wait for whatever comes next. Those people should probably get a grip.
Because it all makes so much sense. Until it doesn’t. There’s this quarterback who made waves his first year as a starter but didn’t quite make it to the big game. An exciting young player who might become the future of the league. He was an athletic anomaly, elusive and fast, but a pinpoint passer that didn’t panic and scramble as a first instinct. We could all see that he would make an impact on the league, possibly become something truly special. Then, he won it all in his second year with a team that seemed poised to become the next dynasty. Offensive weapons, formidable defense, great coaching. The whole package. The media elevated to a fever pitch, and no one could see any way that this team didn’t just stack up rings like pancakes at a buffet. But then something happened. The still young, but now established, superstar quarterback returned to the Super Bowl in his third year but couldn’t repeat. An over the hill guy named Brady stole the glory, refused to hand over the Lombardi Trophy, and with it, the keys to the kingdom. No passing of torches. Not yet at least.
You’d be excused for thinking that I’m talking about Patrick Mahomes here. Everything I’ve just written would fit his narrative perfectly.
But I’m not. I’m talking about Russell Wilson, back in 2013-2014.
Wait. What? Yup. Bear with me, gentle reader.
Wilson has been exceptional in the years since he had his Super Bowl championship in 2013. The Seahawks have been tremendous as well, missing the playoffs only once since that title, when they went 9-7 in 2017 and narrowly missed out on a wildcard berth. So, Wilson the wunderkind who was going to rewrite the history books has become something different. A very, very good quarterback (one who was in the MVP conversation early this year), on a consistent playoff team. Russell Wilson has been great, but no one in their right mind would compare Wilson’s career to Brady’s. And no one should be trying to compare Mahomes to Brady either. That’s a conversation that just doesn’t make sense until a quarterback has won at least four Super Bowls. Minimum. Five is probably the real number, because that would get you past Montana. That’s a number that’s crazily, wildly, insanely hard to get near, even for Hall of Fame level quarterbacks on solid franchises with Hall of Fame coaches.
Aaron Rodgers. One title. Drew Brees. One title. Russell Wilson. One title. With the results of this year’s game, Brady has seven rings in twenty years. It’s an unthinkable level of success in a team sport that overwhelmingly does not reward individual excellence with championships. Brady’s longevity is great, sure. But Brees is forty-two. Rodgers is thirty-seven. Those two guys are sure-fire first ballot hall of famers that have both been in the game a long, long time. They have an amazing nineteen playoff seasons with two titles between them as starters. Think about this: Brady has been to the playoffs eighteen times. That should give you an idea of what it’s going to take to get into the conversation with Brady. Much less supplant him.
Just being exceptional and staying in the game for a long time does not ensure championship level success. Going to the Super Bowl in half of your active seasons in the NFL is plainly unthinkable but winning it in over a third of your seasons is something beyond even the imaginings of little boys playing in their backyards. Collectively, we need to start wrapping our heads around the fact that we, as mortal creatures, will never see anything like Brady’s two decade run of success in our lifetimes.
That’s what’s being missed when we get ahead of ourselves trying to hold a coronation for the next GOAT. Championship fatigue turns fans of other teams into bloodthirsty detractors. Sometimes, the sports world loses its collective mind. Remember when we gave Karl Malone the MVP over Michael Jordan despite worse stats and a worse team record? Or when they gave it to late-career Barkley, yes, that Charles Barkley…on the Suns in 93, pretty much just to avoid giving it to Jordan. The league couldn’t think of anyone else. Jordan’s Bulls beat the Suns in the Finals. Obviously.
Patrick Mahomes is an awesome young talent. But why overload him with the GOAT talk because he won a Super Bowl in his second year, despite it being the worst game of his career to that point. (Seriously. Check the numbers.) It’s time to sit back and recognize that what Brady has done over the past twenty years is beyond reckoning. There will be no “next GOAT”. At least not for a long, long time. Unless titles aren’t the ultimate measure of greatness in a team sport. Which they are.
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Image Source: USA Today