Is Tom Brady the greatest of all time?

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, February 10, 2021

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Now that Tom Brady has won a seventh Super Bowl ring, we, and he, of course, will hear for the rest of his career that he is the greatest of all time, or GOAT, a nice thing to appreciate unless you are Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City defensive back. He gets in Brady’s face and then wants to castigate him for the “competitor’s reaction” that ensued.

Sportsmanship and etiquette will always be in short supply in professional sports. Unfortunately, that syndrome trickles down to the college — even high school ranks.

When people come with the GOAT sobriquet, I take pause and say, would it not be more appropriate to suggest that these multi-award winning icons are the “most accomplished of all-time.” While Nick Saban’s stunning record, gives him the enviable GOAT status in the opinion of many observers, I often think about Bo Schembechler of Michigan, who is appreciated by those who knew him, and the many who played for him, as a truly great coach. Bo won Rose Bowls, Big Ten Titles, coached countless superstars, but he never won a national championship.

If you concede, and most insiders agree, that it should be tougher to win a national title today than ever in college football history, a view with which I agree, then that heightens the case on behalf of Saban. Those who know him best would likely agree that he has to be the greatest recruiter of all time. Even with saying that, there flashes front and center the notion that there likely are some wizened ole timers in Tuscaloosa who are Bear Bryant advocates and are not ready to label Saban the GOAT over the Bear.

Comparing today with yesteryear, is not an exact science. From what I have been exposed to over the years, there seems to be a consensus that Ted Williams, if not the greatest hitter ever (with five of his prime years in the military), there is no doubt about his being the greatest of his era. He never won a World Series ring. Joe DiMaggio won nine.

What if the left-handed Williams had played for the Yankees with that inviting 350-foot right field porch in old Yankee Stadium? Like the Babe? What if Williams or DiMaggio had been stuck with the lowly St. Louis Browns and never got out of mediocrity bondage? That brings to mind where would Brady be with all this ring business if he had been drafted by a downtrodden team? Such as the Browns, Jaguars and Lions, three of the poorest performing teams in the last 15 years? What would his career have become without Bill Belichick?

And that remarkable supporting cast? Put him with a MOR team, such as Tampa Bay and look what he meant to the Bucs! That should be taken into account, but it will always be the view here that there is no GOAT without a TEAM.

Georgia may not have been the most talented team in the country in 1980 but if you take into context the pure meaning of team, nobody had what the Bulldogs had in that unforgettable year. Remember what that supreme master of slogans, Erk Russell, came up with: BIG TEAM, little me?

Sometimes the most successful teams are also the luckiest. Perhaps, the better term is “most fortunate.” Georgia was very fortunate to win every close game — seven points or less — which totaled six, including the finale with Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Only a championship team could go 93 yards — Belue to Scott—with a bombshell play to defeat Florida in Jacksonville with time running out. Title grabbing teams do that sort of thing. How the heck could it be that one of Brady’s seven rings came when the Falcons blew a 25-point lead in Super Bowl LI in Houston?

With Brady tying the late, great Otto Graham with seven titles, I recall sitting down with the latter at his home in Sarasota, Fla., in 1999 and reviewing his remarkable career in which he quarterbacked the Browns to the title game ten straight years, winning seven. Not many remember Graham and those who do likely don’t recall that the first year he, Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns won their first National Football League title, Graham had won a NBA championship playing for the Cincinnati Royals in 1945-46.

Graham was an all-around athlete, who also played in the band. However, in our conversation, he refuted the legend that he marched with the band at halftime. “That makes a good story,” he laughed, “but it did not happen.”

In our conversation, he expressed lofty praise for his coach Paul Brown, who called the plays, something which has become standard in the NFL.

That’s a story for another day, but this reminder—when you take the GOAT stance with an athlete coach, it is best to remember that line about beauty being in the eye of the beholder.