Just before kickoff Sunday night, I tweeted an extremely clever and definitely-not-too-subtle-by-half joke about Tom Brady’s “dubious” claim to the title of GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). A while later, I did it again. I will be the first to admit that sometimes my sense of humor is a bit too dry, but more than one friend asked me what I was talking about, so after watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win Super Bowl LV in what could charitably be called a dismantling of the Kansas City Chiefs, I’d like to clear some things up.
Tom Brady is good at football. I know I’m not really breaking any ground with that statement, but, man, he’s good. Like, he’s really, really good.
I feel as though I have a pretty deep knowledge of NFL history and I really don’t know how to explain just how incomparably good he is.
Brady has played in 10 Super Bowls. He has won seven. No other quarterback has won more than four. Two of his losses came courtesy of two of the most improbable late-game plays in the history of the sport. In the third loss, Brady set a single-game Super Bowl record with an absurd 505 passing yards, but his defense gave up 41 points. There is a very plausible universe in which Brady’s Super Bowl record is 10-0. He has won blowouts. He has won nail-biters. He has won defensive snoozefests. He has won on last-second field goals. He has won in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, which also happens to be the only overtime game in Super Bowl history because of course he did.
The quarterbacks Brady has beaten in a Super Bowl include Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, and Pat Mahomes, players who all have or are expected to have at least borderline Hall-of-Fame resumes. On Sunday night, Brady completed 21 of 29 passes, threw no interceptions, and tossed three touchdown passes in the first half. He’s 43 years old.
Brady has appeared in 18 percent of all Super Bowls ever played. Since becoming a full-time NFL starter, he has reached the Super Bowl 48 percent of the time. He has won more Super Bowls than any individual NFL franchise. He has won more Super Bowls than Joe Montana and Peyton Manning combined. He has won more Super Bowl MVP trophies than any other quarterback has won Super Bowls. He has won more Super Bowls than the cumulative total of the other seven franchises with which he has shared an AFC or NFC division, which, between them, have played 355 seasons of football during the Super Bowl era.
There is simply no combination of English words apt to describe this kind of dominance. The only one that comes to my mind is “stupid.” These statistics are just plain stupid. Brady’s longevity and resume are stupid. The idea that his seventh Super Bowl cements him as the GOAT is stupid, as if that wasn’t already the case. I’m willing to admit my Twitter jokes were also stupid, and by the end of the third quarter on Sunday, I felt pretty stupid for thinking Kansas City was going to win its second consecutive championship.
We should have known. We’ve seen this all before. We’ve seen Brady lead powerhouse offenses in New England, like he did in the first half on Sunday. But we’ve also seen him allow stellar defense to do the heavy lifting while he manages the game and bleeds the clock away like he did in the second half. Brady’s greatest skill might be the versatility to be whatever kind of quarterback the game plan requires, and we’ve seen enough in the past two decades to have known he would have been the right kind of quarterback on Sunday.
Most of Super Bowl LV had a peculiar sense of deja vu. The Buccaneers franchise has run this formula before. Tampa Bay has now played in two Super Bowls. Each time it faced the No. 1 seed in the AFC and entered the game a single-digit underdog. Each time its dominant defense beat the tar out of its opposition. Even the game’s most bizarre moment, a streaker sprinting across the field in the fourth quarter, was a repeat of previous Super Bowl streaking incidents, such as one 17 years ago in Super Bowl XXXVIII, which, by the way, was also won by Tom Brady.
Now, to be clear, Brady was brilliant, and the mistake-free football he displayed Sunday is its own kind of impressive, but his seventh ring came with an awfully big assist from the Tampa Bay defense. The Chiefs averaged nearly 30 points per game this season. Mahomes threw for 38 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Travis Kelce had more than 1,400 receiving yards. Earlier this season, against these same Buccaneers, Tyreek Hill wracked up more than 200 receiving yards in one quarter. Kansas City’s offense is the type of dynamic force that changes the expectation of what’s possible.
And Tampa Bay, in one of the great defensive performances in Super Bowl history, held that offense to three field goals. The Chiefs, loaded with talent and guided by an offensive wizard of a head coach, did not score a touchdown.
Granted, a beat up offensive line was clearly, at least in part, culpable for the Chiefs’ disastrous performance. But Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles knew that with players like Devin White and Jason Pierre-Paul he had the horses, and he let them run all night. One wonders if Brady won the MVP award as a default when voters realized a piece of it couldn’t be given to each defensive player.
That isn’t to say Brady was not deserving. A great defense usually won’t win without an offense that scores points, and Brady put up 31 of them. His first half performance might have been the finest of his NFL career, which, considering its consistency and longevity, is really saying something. Put in terms a Business School student might easily relate to, Brady has been so good for so long that his first Super Bowl win featured ad spots for Blockbuster and Circuit City.
I have now watched Tom Brady win a Super Bowl while I was a high schooler, a college student, a working stiff, and a 35-year-old married graduate student. They say the only constants in life are death and taxes, but Brady makes an awfully compelling argument to amend that. At this rate, I’m wondering if I’ll see him win No. 8 while I’m in retirement.
Obviously, that notion is silly, but after watching Super Bowl LV, I’m convinced it’s silly not because Brady wouldn’t be playing in 30 years or so, but because he’d probably just prefer to win No. 8 next year. At this point, one wonders if he’s so good that he can win a Super Bowl simply because he chooses to. Winning a championship at 44, which is how old Brady will be when Super Bowl LVI kicks off in Los Angeles next year, would be unheard of. Then again, so was winning a Super Bowl at 43. Of course, no quarterback has won consecutive Super Bowls in 16 years, when it was done by someone named….(looks at note card)… Tom Brady.
Rationally speaking, I don’t really expect him to win the Super Bowl again. … But I wouldn’t really bet against him.
Photo credit: https://www.kvue.com/article/entertainment/entertainment-tonight/tom-brady-and-the-tampa-bay-buccaneers-win-super-bowl-lv/603-0b09d849-d987-42cb-a2ec-ed063ec24541