In sports, usually there’s one player synonymous with each position. For wide receivers, there’s Jerry Rice. For runningbacks, there’s Barry Sanders. For quarterbacks, there’s number 12 and then there’s everybody else. No, the number 12 in question is not Terry Bradshaw, 4x Super Bowl Champion and 1978 MVP for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s not Roger Staubach or Joe Namath. It’s not even Aaron Rodgers, an icon of this generation of football, the reigning and 3x NFL MVP. All four are certainly in the top echelon of quarterbacks to play in the NFL, but only one can be the greatest of all-time: #12 Tom Brady.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the reigning Super Bowl Champions for the second time in their franchise history and first since the days of Warren Sapp and John Lynch. It was Tom Brady, at 43, who brought them their first championship since the 2002 season in front of the home crowd at Raymond James, the first time any team in the NFL won the Super Bowl in their home stadium. It only added to the legend of Tom Brady, who had already won an NFL-record six championships in his illustrious career.
It was Joe Montana, nicknamed the “Comeback Kid,” and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Steve Young who waltzed into Canton after bringing five championships to the Bay Area as part of the San Francisco 49er’s dynasty. It was that dynasty that a young Tom Brady grew up studying, living just 25 minutes away from the San Francisco metropolitan area as a kid from San Mateo, California. Tom Brady was four years old when #16 won his first ring and 16 years old when #8 won his final ring. Tom Brady watched from the sidelines in college as the backup for the Michigan Wolverines, as Brian Griese, a future Pro Bowler for the Denver Broncos, led the school to a victory in the Rose Bowl over Washington State. It was 1999 when Tom Brady had a number of 4th quarter comebacks, including close games against Penn State and Indiana. Michigan named him “The Comeback Kid,” in similar vein to one of the two Hall of Fame quarterbacks that Brady grew up idolizing. Unbeknownst to the Michigan faithful, it’s a name that would be symbolic of Tom Brady’s professional career. At the time of this writing, Tom Brady is second all-time in 4th quarter NFL comeback wins, only three shy of Peyton Manning’s record. His 40th was a come-from-behind win over Dak Prescott and the Cowboys just three weeks ago as the Bucs got the ball back with under ninety seconds left on the clock and found Chris Godwin to setup Ryan Succop’s game-winning field goal.
Yet, this almost wasn’t Tom Brady’s timeline. The entire world knows the name Tom Brady. He’s revolutionized sports in the way of a LeBron James or Mariano Rivera for the last generation. Yet, the quarterbacks drafted before Brady include Chad Pennington (Jets), Spergon Wynn (Browns) and Mark Bulger (Saints). Brady even saw his own hometown club draft Giovanny Carmazzi over him. Brady waited patiently, as his time finally arrived at number 199 and he was selected by Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots. After going 5-11 in 2000, Bill Belichick was on the hot seat with his head coaching future in question. Belichick had been an excellent defensive coordinator in New York, where he won two Super Bowl’s with head coach Bill Parcells. Yet, his system had failed in Cleveland, he didn’t even coach a single game in New York and was off to a dreadful start in New England. Many questioned whether or not Bill Belichick was the right hire or if he had an NFL future. Questions arose even more in the second game of the season when franchise icon Drew Bledsoe took a hit from Mo Lewis. Tom Brady was put into the game as a last resort and played himself into starting the last fourteen games of the season. The New England Patriots finished 11-5, the second highest seed in the AFC. Brady threw for 2843 regular season yards and 18 touchdowns in his 15 appearances. He was elected to his first of fourteen Pro Bowl’s. The Patriots won their first Super Bowl Championship in team history. From that point on, New England would never be the same as Tom Brady sought out to build his own dynasty, much like the one he watched on television as a child in California.
The top receivers on the 2001 Patriots were David Patten and Troy Brown. The Patriots didn’t seem to have a supporting cast that would win them a championship again in the near future, with many critics citing the “tuck rule” as the reason they even won in 2001.
It was a snowy day in Foxborough and Brady went to make a pass when Brady’s own Michigan teammate Charles Woodson sacked him, forcing a fumble that presumably would win the Raiders the game. As fate would have it, the referees overturned the ruling on the field, citing that Brady was “attempting to tuck” when the Hall of Fame safety sacked him. This gave Brady and the Patriots another opportunity to win the game and advance, which they did, in one of the most controversial victories in NFL history. NFL Rule 3, Section 2, Article 2 states that any forward movement of a players arm for a forward pass renders the play incomplete and not a fumble. Brady did not fumble the football. The Patriots would ride that all of the way to a championship. They couldn’t do it again, could they? In the 2003 and 2004 seasons, with a receiving corps featuring Deion Branch and David Givens, Brady would win back-to-back championships, bringing his tally to three. As Brady put up 32 points against the Carolina Panthers, he’d win his second Super Bowl MVP award in 2003.
Brady led the league in passing for the first time in 2005 (4110) but it wasn’t until 2007 that the Patriots brought in Randy Moss and for the first time in his career, Tom Brady had a true weapon. 2007 was a banner year, until it wasn’t. Tom Brady won his first of three NFL Most Valuable Player award, threw 23 touchdowns to Moss (the most touchdowns in a single season for any receiver) and passed for fifty total touchdowns. He threw for over 4800 yards, over 300 yards-per-game and won sixteen games. That’s right, the Patriots had the opportunity to become the first team to not lose a single game in a season as the Super Bowl fast approached and they awaited the New York Giants and Eli Manning. The generation’s Steve Young had his Jerry Rice and the story was supposed to be complete with a fourth championship in six years. Brady had shown up in Arizona in a boot, with an injured ankle. Yet, he was still poised to win as the ultimate competitor. He played and it was like shooting target practice for the Giants defense as Brady’s mobility wasn’t in tact. On top of this, Brady set up the Patriots for a 31-yard-field goal attempt at the NY 31 with the team up four late in the third which Belichick didn’t not call, opting to try for the first down. In the fourth, the team was up late after Brady found Moss for the touchdown and the Patriots needed one stop.
They did not get that one stop due to holding that was not called. Giants’ Shaun O’Hara has now since confirmed that he did, in fact, intentionally choke Patriots’ defensive end Richard Seymour on the play. The following play, a usually steaday-handed Asante Samuel dropped a pick that would’ve ended the ballgame and secured victory for the Patriots. What happened next? Well, that’s the stuff of legend. David Tyree caught the football with under a minute left in the game by using his head…literally.
Tyree caught the ball with his helmet. This moved the ball to the New England 24. Belichick four plays later left Plaxico Buress all alone with Ellis Hobbs, who had been playing on a torn groin. The Giants scored the touchdown. The Giants handed Tom Brady his first Super Bowl loss. It was a 17-14 final, with the Patriots three points, or that field goal that Bill abstained from going for, short of sending it to overtime. This was also the season of Spy Gate, a scandal in which the Patriots’ coaching staff was found illegally taping the Jets sidelines and their coaches conversations during games. This stain on Brady’s legacy, despite having nothing to do with it, is still held against him to this day.
He threw only eleven snaps in 2008 before Kansas City’s Bernard Pollard blew out his ACL, causing him to miss the remaining fifteen games. Recovering from an ACL tear, Brady once again showed that he was the ultimate competitor in 2009, despite the Patriots losing in the first round to the Ravens, 33-14. Brady won the Comeback Player of the Year award while playing through fractured ribs, a broken finger and recovering from his previous ACL injury. The gritty veteran posted a 96.2 passer rating, despite all of this.
2010 was really when Tom Brady started to be placed into the discussion as the greatest of all-time, when he won his second NFL MVP award. Brady posted a 7.3 TD%, with 36 touchdowns and only four picks. His 0.8 INT% is the second lowest of his career. His passer rating was 111 and he threw for 3900 yards. It was his first season with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is now the weapon synonymous with Tom Brady. Just this past year, they broke the record for most touchdowns by any quarterback/receiver combination in Super Bowl history. In Week One against Dallas, Brady connected with Gronkowski for 86th time in their career, passing Steve Young and Jerry Rice for the third-most reception combos in NFL history, the two Hall of Famer’s Brady watched in their prime.
The Patriots went to yet another Super Bowl in 2012 and unfortunately, it was yet another loss to Eli Manning and the New York Giants. The Patriots had the 31st ranked defense in the NFL, second worst statistical defense in the league. Things got so poor that Julian Edelman, the wide-receiver, had to play defensive-back. It was quite a turnaround from Brady’s early career where his defense was always stellar. Yet, the then-36 year old posted his career high in yardage (4827) and led his team to yet another Super Bowl game. Brady set a Super Bowl record with 16 completions in a row and even had the team up late, despite their defensive woes. Wes Welker dropped the ball, resulting in a turnover where the Patriots defense let them down when it mattered most. The defense was doing so poorly that Bill Belichick, who is supposedly “the greatest defense mind in football history” according to quite a few people, purposely told his defense to let Ahmad Bradshaw score because Tom Brady on offense without the lead gave them a significantly better chance than the defense that Belichick had put together had with the lead. Brady attempted a hailmary at his own 49 and it landed just out of the reach of Aaron Hernandez and the Giants had once again defeated the Patriots.
Brady was clutch in 2013, with five final drive comebacks but was overall average compared to his own standards set. It was 2014, ten years after his last championship, that Brady finally recaptured the glory that had eluded him for the better part of a decade. In a comeback win in the playoffs against Baltimore, he posted 367 yards and three touchdowns and had a date with the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. He threw for four touchdowns in the Super Bowl, winning his fourth championship and another Super Bowl MVP.
Much like every Brady championship, it wasn’t without its controversy. There was the tuck rule, spygate and now deflategate. Deflategate stems from the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, where the Patriots are believed to have tampered with the pressure of the footballs to gain an unfair advantage. Brady was initially suspended for four games in 2015, which was overturned by the US Court System. The US Justice System then overturned their own ruling, suspending him for four games in 2016. The debate as to whether or not deflategate had any real implications on the outcome or that it was overblown has been heavily discussed in the years since, to the point where even my junior-year Physics teacher dedicated a whole lesson on the physics of deflategate and if the reports were actually possible via the laws of physics (my teacher determined that they were not possible, for those curious). Alas, Tom Brady served his suspension in 2016 and came back angry. When Tom Brady’s angry, the league is on notice.
The Patriots went to the Super Bowl again in 2016, culminating in Brady’s fifth championship, passing his own childhood hero Joe Cool for the most by a starting quarterback in NFL history. The team won in overtime after being down 28-3, in the most Brady fashion, with big connections to Danny Amendola and James White.
The next year, surprise. The Patriots are in the Super Bowl again. This time, Brady fell to the Philadelphia Eagles and backup quarterback Nick Foles. Despite the memes that would come out of it, Brady excelled in a way that only Brady can. He had one of the best Super Bowl performances for a quarterback, despite the loss. Belichick benched starting corner Malcom Butler, a move that proved costly for the defense. Belichick never even offered an explanation and the Eagles shredded the Patriots defense. This loss was not on Brady and the offense, because the Patriots set the record for most points and yards ever by a losing team in Super Bowl history. That’s with Stephen Gotkowski missing an extra point and a 26-yard field goal attempt. His 505 passing yards in this game is a Super Bowl record. This loss is inexplicable and part of the reason Brady left Belichick just a few years later. Bill Belichick to this day has no excuse for how he coached the defense and special teams in this game. A lot of the flaws of the Patriots coaching staff have been seen now that they don’t win in spite of a lot of their issues. Brady was the band aid covering the wound. Tom Brady was and always will be “the system.” Brady won his third (and so far, final) NFL MVP in 2017, leading the NFL with 286 yards per game. He threw for 4577 yards and a 102 passer rating.
The Patriots did win a sixth Super Bowl the next year, thanks to Belichick and his excellent defense and a Sony Michell run in a 13-3 victory over the Rams. Tom Brady not only became the first player to win six championships, but he became the first quarterback to win a championship in his forties.
The Patriots made the playoffs in 2019 but went home early when Brady’s former teammate Logan Ryan took the last pass of Brady’s tenure with New England for a pick six. Brady said after the Super Bowl that “next year, I’m not watching the Super Bowl in a blazer.” Brady did not, as he joined Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay. The team had already been loaded with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Ronald Jones II. He brought in Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette. With players such as Ndamukong Suh, Carlton Davis, Antoine Winfield, Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Lavonte David, they had one of the best defenses in football. The Bucs started 7-5 and went 8-0 the rest of the way. They ended Drew Brees’ career, ran through the eventual MVP in Aaron Rodgers and then smoked the championship-favorites Chiefs. Tom Brady won his seventh championship and fifth Super Bowl MVP as the Bucs creamed Kansas City in a 31-9 massacre. Right before then, Nikita Kucherov had brought the Lightning their first of now-two consecutive Stanley Cups and the Rays went to the World Series on the back of Randy Arozarena. Tom Brady immediately brought a winning culture not only to the Bucs, but to the city of Tampa. Tom Brady was notorious in New England for taking pay cuts to keep great players around him and it’s something that’s rubbing off on Tampa. Mike Evans, Lavonte David and Ali Marpet all restructured their contracts and multiple players took pay cuts to return. Tampa Bay became the first team to ever win the Super Bowl and retain every starter.
Tom Brady has started 2021 on a tear like no other. He leads the league in completions at 97 and touchdowns at 10. He’s averaging 362 yards per game. He has a 109.3 passer rating. In only three games, he has thrown for well over 1000 yards. At 44 years old, Brady returns to New England for the first time since he left. Sitting pretty at 80,291 career regular season passing yards, Brady only needs 67 yards to pass Drew Brees on the all-time passing yards list. In his return to New England, he becomes the NFL’s passing king. In the regular season, no quarterback has ever won more games (231). Now, he’ll have the most yards.
He’s never finished below .500. He has more championships than any player in NFL history. He’s the only quarterback to throw 40 touchdowns in a season in both leagues and tied for the most seasons ever with 35 or more touchdowns. No player has more passing yards (74,571) or touchdowns (541) with a single team, both marks he set in New England. He has thrown a touchdown to 85 different receivers, a telling stat that shows that New England outside of Moss never put a great wide receiver around him. They always plugged in gap guys that Brady would find in ways that only Tom Brady can. He didn’t need an offense because he was the offense. If you include the playoff numbers, he holds nearly every record for quarterbacks, including overall yardage (91,653). He is unequivocally the greatest quarterback of all-time. He was never intended to be anything special but instead he inspired a generation and made two decades of fans fall in love with the sport of football. How different would the sport of football be had another team drafted Tom Brady? Or if he had signed with the Montreal Expos when they drafted him out of high school as a catcher? Or if Drew Bledsoe never gets hit by Mo Lewis and plays out his ten year contract? Ultimately, it’s irrelevant because Tom Brady ended up having the best career of any player with any singular franchise in the history of sports. This Sunday on NBC Tom Brady returns to Foxborough. The game is at 8 PM and will stream simultaneously on Peacock. The game would, no doubt, be the biggest regular season game of the year even if Brady weren’t going for the all-time passer record. This just makes it that much more spectacular. And while Brady and Belichick’s fortunes couldn’t be more opposite since their split, it makes for fascinating television.
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