Tom Brady: Unrepeatable
Will-Usherwood Bliss describes just how unlikely NFL Quarterback Tom Brady’s career has really been and why he should be considered one of the all-time greats in sports history.
22 years ago, with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, The New England Patriots selected Tom Brady, a quarterback (QB) out of Michigan. With six QBs taken over him, and three QBs on the roster with Brady, he was never meant to be someone special – albeit Brady was a familiar sight in college football, he was in no way expected to be an elite level QB. Among the four Patriots QBs was the previous first-rounder Drew Bledsoe, the guaranteed Patriots starter. Sixth rounder Tom Brady, as such, was nothing but a roster-filler – a late-draft pick taken because the Patriots had to take someone.
Twenty-two years later, if you ask a random member of the public to name one American Football player, they will name Tom Brady. I could take this time to document the seven Super Bowls, the three MVPs, the endless records broken, or all of his ex-teammates’ sons who now play against him over two decades later – but I’m sure you already know all of this. Instead, I want to focus on just how unlikely this is in the sport and how the legacy of Brady is truly unrepeatable.
Every sport has its greats, and statistically speaking, you may not even put Brady in the Top 5 across sport. Lionel Messi – 34 major trophies at Barcelona in 17 years. Lewis Hamilton – 7 world titles in 14 years in the sport. Rafael Nadal – 21 Grand Slam titles since 2005. Tom Brady? 7 NFL titles in 22 years in a US-only league. Even compared with the NBA, another US-only league (sort of), Michael Jordan won 6 titles in only 15 seasons. Compared with the other greats, Brady seems to just fit into the narrative of US sports hyping up their own players while forgetting about the other sporting greats outside of America.
In an era of greats in every sport going, people who go above and beyond the norm for athletes and reach levels of worldwide fame, is Tom Brady’s statistically worse career so noteworthy? It’s down to the sport in question.
In the NFL, the average career of a QB lasts 3 years. The position itself is arguably the most crucial on the field: they adjust and sometimes call plays; they are responsible for the entire offensive drive, be it passes or handoffs; they can flip a team from nothing into something. In such a concussion ridden, contact heavy sport, for the key man on the field to not only play but to keep winning until his mid-40s is phenomenal. There’s a reason why the NFL only has 17 games a season – its brutality. Brady suffered an ACL tear in 2008, for many the first sign of a career decline, yet he kept going for another 14 years at the top of his game.
Much of the criticism surrounding Brady comes from the calls of him being a system QB. Doubters claim these QBs aren’t naturally good by themselves but rather have a team built around them in order for them to succeed. Several critics point towards Brady’s defence constantly being elite level, be it under Belichick’s watchful eye at the Patriots or the star-studded roster at the Bucs. But let’s not forget the offensive statistics that he’s put up. He is one of only four QBs to have a 50+ TD season, and even in his final year, he was an MVP candidate. But even then, people will point to his help on offence. Throughout his years, he’s had his share of elite offensive talent: the Patriots O Line has consistently been top tier, his receivers include the likes of Moss, Gronkowski, Welker, Edelman and Mike Evans. Yes, he’s had help on offence, but a QB alone cannot win a Super Bowl, let alone 7. Any Super Bowl-winning team has a good QB, but they must also have the weapons to aid them: Mahomes has Hill and Kelce, Stafford has Kupp, Joe Montana had Jerry Rice, and even Russell Wilson had the prime Legion of Boom during his Super Bowl win.
A QB can be the deciding factor, but they have to have the help around them. So, what makes Brady different? The fact that he’s kept this up for 22 years. Even when he hasn’t won the Super Bowl, he’s got to the final or at least made the playoffs in every year he’s started. Take his 6th Super Bowl win against the Rams; who did he have? An injured Gronkowski, an ageing Edelman, Chris Hogan, Sony Michel and James White. Yet, he still outscored that star lineup Rams offence.
If I haven’t repeated myself enough in this article, then the bottom line is this. No one in the history of sports has played such a brutal sport for such a long time at such a high level, and no one will for quite some time. Even when Brady finally retired, it felt like he could go on for another 5 years. Even after finally leaving his Patriots dynasty behind, he went across the country to a mid-tier team the year before and led them to a Super Bowl victory. His mark on the sport is unrepeatable; the impact and culture he brings to a team are unmatchable. Perhaps, after twenty-two years, it’s safe to say that Tom Brady was never a system quarterback – he was the system.