The latest and greatest sports talk radio and water cooler debate this past week centered on whether or not Tom Brady now deserves to be called the greatest quarterback to have ever played the game. Four Super Bowl wins (with three Super Bowl MVPs) and two NFL League MVPs (2007 and 2010) certainly warrant him being a legitimate contender for the title, and Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, among many others, thinks his QB now has earned the belt. In the afterglow of their Super Bowl victory Edelman pronounced, “My opinion, Tom’s the best quarterback to ever be on this planet. He’s won four Super Bowls in the salary-cap era. He’s been in six. He’s played with a whole bunch of different guys. I don’t know how you can argue that. You can’t just go out and buy Super Bowls these days.”
Edelman, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and a fan of the 49ers, has assumingly now elevated Brady over Joe Montana, not a shocking proclamation for a player who’s teammate and friend had just won his fourth Lombardi Trophy. But is Edelman, at the ripe old age of 28, really qualified to compare the careers and and grade the legacies of these two QBs, or for that matter any of those that preceded or were contemporaries to Montana? You see, Edelman was only 3 1/2 years old when Montana won his fourth and final Super Bowl (XXIV), dismantling John Elway and the Denver Broncos 55-10 in January of 1990. Let’s just say you can color me doubtful that he remembers (or even saw) any of Montana’s amazing championship performances.
Montana, just like Brady, has four rings on his hand, three Super Bowl MVPs and two League MVPs (1989 and 1990). Edelman’s argument that Brady has done what he’s done in the salary cap era is a legitimate one since players seem to come and go now as if there’s revolving doors to their locker rooms, and Brady has consistently won with different supporting cast members. But the flipside to that argument is that Brady’s never had to compete against opponents that have kept their star players together year after year in dynasty fashion either.
Joe Montana, on the other hand, while playing with offensive stars such as Jerry Rice and John Taylor, had to face stacked defenses such as Tom Landry’s ‘81 Cowboys with Randy White, Ed Jones, Harvey Martin and Charlie Waters, and Mike Ditka’s ‘84 and ‘88 Bears with Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael in NFC Championship games just to get to the Super Bowl. (Sidenote: In the 1988 NFC Championship game in Chicago, Montana threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns against the vaunted Bears defense despite a wind chill of –26 degrees and wind gusts up to 30 MPH – one of the truly impressive QB performances I’ve ever witnessed).
If you want to go tunnel vision and only compare Super Bowl stats, Montana averaged an amazing QB rating of 127.8 in his four appearances on the biggest of stages, and of course never lost, while Brady averaged 95.3 and has two losses on his resume. Is that the end-all answer to the question of who’s had a better career? Of course not, but I think it has to be included in the discussion especially if you want to elevate Brady primarily because of his latest performance (where he had a 101.1 rating).
Ultimately I still rely on the ol’ eyeball test, and to me Joe Montana is simply the best I’ve ever seen play the position (with Roger Staubach still holding onto the number two spot), but everyone of course is entitled to their own opinion. I guess my only problem with Edelman’s claim is the words he chose to use, stating Brady is the “best quarterback to ever be on the planet,” considering he’s only been around to witness less than three decades of a league that was founded in 1920.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see the careers of many great quarterbacks play out, including those of course of Brady, Montana and Staubach, but there are many older than me that will swear that Johnny Unitas with his four League MVPs was the best to ever lace ’em (black hi tops) up. Or maybe Bart Starr, who won five NFL Championships, two Super Bowls and 90% of his playoff games. And I really can’t argue against either one because I never saw them play.
Want to compare running backs? To me its a no-brainer to say Walter Payton is the best I’ve seen. I watched his career in its entirety growing up just outside of Chicago and still to this day have never seen a back who does as much and as well as Sweetness did it. But was he better than Jim Brown? I’m not sure – because I never saw Jim Brown play. So I’m not qualified to make that claim.
Bottom line is I’d be thrilled to take any of the above mentioned QBs in their prime if I was starting a team, and Tom Brady will join the others in the Hall of Fame the day he is eligible. It’s a great debate and may have as much to do with regional bias as much as anything when it comes to many opinions, but for me it’s still Montana. Plus I just like to play the “old-timer” card whenever I can, and that whipper-snapper Julian Edelman gave me an opening. And, for what it’s worth, let’s not forget Joe Cool was never accused of tampering with a game ball (cheap shot inserted).