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Is Tom Brady Really The GOAT Of All GOATs?

This one means more. It’s not merely flipping the number on Tom Brady’s Super Bowl tally from six to seven. This one makes Brady bigger. 

The questions about him, his standing, his spot in history. It all just went up another level, far more than any of his other Super Bowl wins elevated him. Brady led Tampa Bay to a 31-9 win Sunday over the supposedly best quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, and team, Kansas City Chiefs.

And when it was over, if you looked around the web you saw the proclamation that this made it official: Brady is the GOAT. But sorry, guys, you’re half a decade late with that proclamation. Brady was already the greatest of all time. This takes the debate up another level: Is he the GOAT of sporting GOATs?

“Cant stop. Wont stop,’’ New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, Brady’s longtime teammate, tweeted after the game. “The best ever in all sports.’’

While I’m ready to celebrate all things Brady, I’m not ready to go that far. The greatest of all time is still Michael Jordan, who made basketball an international sport. After that, I’m going with Muhammad Ali, who brought so much real social meaning, in addition to making George Foreman look foolish.

A tier below that is Serena Williams (who looked awfully good, speedy and fit at 39 Sunday in her first-round Australian Open match), Wayne Gretzky, Usain Bolt and Pele. I’ll put Brady in with this group.

It’s an unwinnable debate and also, conveniently for me, unlosable.

But what Brady did Sunday was write his own chapter in the GOAT handbook. This one meant much more to his legacy than the other six combined. During the ravages of a pandemic, Brady stood for victory in general somehow, standing as a symbol that some things don’t have to change and can’t be beaten down, giving us something comfortable to cheer for.

Of course a game and a quarterback don’t weigh more than a pandemic. But there was just something here about America in a storm. On top of that, Brady did it at age 43, not as the fading guy held up by his teammates. He looked stronger than ever. He’ll leave when he wants to, and he’s already said the time for that is not now.

It has been a curious thing to see the greatest in sports stepping up at the worst times. I suppose they always do, but Brady and LeBron James won another title. And Rafael Nadal, the most dominant claycourt player ever, had his most dominant French Open, all during a pandemic. Nick Saban, the greatest college coach, re-created himself at age 69 into an offensive force.

And I would have never even thought to predict Williams to win the current Australian Open in tennis, but she was running down shots Sunday that she hasn’t run down in years. She has 23 major titles, one short of the record held by Margaret Court. 

And it hasn’t just been hitting a ball for Williams. She changed women’s sports in general, came along as an African-American woman from Compton in a mostly white sport and changed the look of female athletes in general, standing as a message to young girls about muscular women and body image.

That’s the stuff required to be in the GOAT of GOATs debate.

Brady got this one out from under the shadow of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, leaving his career-long comfort zone in New England to create something new in Tampa.

He also showed the difference between greatest of all time and greatest of this time. It was way too early to be trying to force Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes into the GOAT debate. He’s only 25 and has already won a Super Bowl. 

But John Elway won two and Dan Marino never won one. Peyton Manning won two, Joe Montana four, Terry Bradshaw four, Troy Aikman three. These are the realistic numbers of all-time greats.

Mahomes isn’t likely going to catch Brady. Rookie contracts end and players want to be paid as much as possible, and salary caps figure in. Just the energy it takes an entire team to win back-to-back Super Bowls is special itself. The 1985 Chicago Bears are the most dominant team in NFL history, and instead of starting a dynasty, they haven’t won another Super Bowl since.

Stuff happens. But it doesn’t seem to happen to Brady.

I’m still sticking with Jordan, though. He and Brady both had this freakish need to prove people wrong about them. That seems shallow to me, but it is a common trait among GOATS, including Williams and Ali.

This one gave Brady seven titles vs. Jordan’s six. Jordan and Brady both had defining moments in the clutch. Jordan never lost an NBA Finals, going six for six. Brady has lost three Super Bowls.

Jordan did have all-time greats around him in Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. But on Sunday, I think Tampa’s defense was equally responsible as Brady. Jordan was the best defensive player on the court, too, meaning he was always there for all the important moments.

But it was really how he elevated the game into a worldwide thing, especially with the original Olympic Dream Team. I remember being at the Olympics in Greece, getting into a taxi and the driver saying he’d never been to America but dreams of it someday. He asked where I’m from.

Chicago, I said.

“Michael Jordan,’’ he said.

Make your own argument about Brady. He’s big enough for the debate now. Maybe I’m just splitting hairs between GOATs.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

13 Comments

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  1. Given what happened to Schilling, what will happen when it’s Brady’s turn at the HOF? Time to start a pool as to which Blue Checkmark ‘stands up for what is right’ and refuses to cast his/her/xer/zer vote for Brady because he once had a MAGA hat in his locker.

  2. I think being considered the GOAT should be a combination of accomplishments. Brady obviously has the most hardware in NFL history, but, throughout his career, did you ever watch him and think he’s the best QB you’ve seen play? Throughout his career there was always someone else who the general public and the media would say was the better QB.
    In my own personal opinion, the most dominant athlete I saw who truly was absolutely better than everyone for a long period of time was Tiger Woods.

    • Just a thought, but Tiger has only himself to carry. He can blame no one else for a bad day. However, a QB can throw perfect passes and his receivers can still drop them. He can make a perfect handoff, and the back fumbles the ball. Meaning, his stats are reliant on others. Tiger’s are not.

      TB may not be the most athletic QB, but let’s face it. He joined a mediocre team, during a pandemic, with no preseason, having never worked with the play system, and he took the team to a SB win. THAT is a dominant athlete.

  3. C’mon, greatest athlete of all time and you’re listing single-sport, even single-position athletes?

    Jim Thorpe was the greatest American athlete of all time, and it’s not even close:

    Two gold medals at the 1912 Olypmics, in Decathlon (!) and Penthathlon!

    He was an All-American in football, helping tiny Carlisle upset a powerhouse Army team that same year.

    He played Major League baseball for the Giants and Braves, played exhibition minor-league basketball, was a stellar high school lacrosse player, and even won the 1912 national collegiate ballroom dancing competition!

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