Before Super Bowl LV, I thought that I could already read the headlines: “Mahomes Bests Brady to Solidify Himself as the Next Great One.” I thought, contrary to everything that I’ve ever known about football, somehow Brady would be defeated. I thought, even though he has been at the helm of all my heartache and animosity towards New England sports, that Brady would come up short. I thought wrong. As unsurprising as it was devastating, his Tampa Bay Buccaneers handily won the game, paradoxically forcing me to hate Brady even more while gaining undeniable respect for his greatness.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Steelers football is the lifeblood of the city. The cult of Steeler Nation borders on the religious: the faithful traveling to fields near and far to see their team play. Our Sunday services are held first in church and then later on the gridiron, amidst a sea of black and gold. My team has given us countless memories, including six Super Bowl wins and a variety of legendary players. This 2020 season, like all that came before, was supposed to be “our year.” But history tends to repeat itself, much to the chagrin of NFL fans everywhere. And this year was no different. It ended with, excuse me while I tear up a bit — Tom Brady hoisting yet another Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl MVP award. His seventh ring has diminished the last glorious bragging right of Pittsburgh fandom that I cherished so deeply — the Steelers six championships had been the most in the NFL for over a decade. Now, I must come to terms with the new normal: Brady is greater than any franchise in football.
Many names come to mind when I think of the world’s most prolific athletes to date: Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Serena Williams, Lionel Messi. All of them have accomplished more in their respective sports than anyone else, yet their legend now pales in comparison to that of Tom. With 10 Super Bowl Appearances, seven Super Bowl Championships, five Super Bowl MVPs, three NFL MVP Awards, 14 Pro Bowls and countless quarterback records, he is undoubtedly the most decorated football player ever. In fact, if his 21 NFL seasons were to be split into thirds, he would have the career accolades to fulfill three Hall of Fame-caliber careers.
However, Brady’s greatest triumph is his ability to remain the best player on the field even at the age of 43. Brady’s agelessness is best exemplified when compared to other fabled quarterbacks. I can vividly remember the great Peyton Manning in his final season, hobbling around the field, barely able to throw the ball at 39 years old. It took John Elway his entire sixteen-year career to make five Super Bowl appearances, a total that Brady has equaled since turning 37. Not to mention, he won four out of those five. Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback at the helm of my Steelers since as long as I can remember, is now on the verge of retirement at age 38. This past season, as he visibly struggled to run and throw over ten yards, I was even calling for his job. As all of these legends and more have come and gone at the hands of time, Tom Brady remains alone at the peak of the NFL mountain. From there, he looks down on his subjects.
My excuse for Brady’s accomplishments has long been the team for which he played: The New England Patriots. At every opportunity, I would scream “He’s a system QB!” or “Bill Belichick is the real reason they always win!” Maybe Brady heard me, because after all of that unparalleled success in New England, he chose Tampa Bay, a team who had been among the most mediocre in the league since their last Super Bowl victory in 2003. Why would he do that? I maintain he did so for two reasons. First, although he is the best, he is also extremely egotistical. If we connect the dots, the initials of Tampa Bay are TB. Does that look familiar? Second, this move was done to show all of his doubters that he can win anywhere, with anyone, at any time. Prove us wrong he did.
For the sake of argument, I’ll play devil’s advocate. Many would urge me to consider the controversy surrounding his career, how he is the ultimate “cheater.” Fine, let’s go with that. Take away the Super Bowls he won amidst Spygate (2007). He’s been to seven since and won four of them. Take away his Deflategate Super Bowl (2015). He’s been to five since and won four of them. This would leave him with four “legitimate” rings, putting him in a category with the likes of Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Neither of them come close to Brady’s success in their illustrious careers. You see, Tom Brady does not belong to a category, he is in a league of his own.
For whoever reads this and thinks I found pleasure in spending my time writing about all of Tom Brady’s wonderful accomplishments, you’re wrong. I simply wanted to put the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate to rest. Tom, you have officially solidified yourself as such, now please, for the sake of many football fans’ sanity, retire.