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.