This Sunday (in the Super Bowl that actually is not taking place because football ended already, right?), Tom Brady will take his second crack at winning his fourth Super Bowl ring when the Patriots meet the New York Giants. If he gets that elusive fourth ring, he will join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw in the elite club of quarterbacks that will have four Super Bowl rings.
Naturally, that has opened debate on where Brady fits in the pantheon of all-time greats at the quarterback position. It is not a simple argument because people weigh everything a little bit differently. Whether it be counting stats, Super Bowl trophies or rule changes, there are numerous ways to break down the quarterback pantheon.
Monte Poole fired one of the first shots in the Bay Area, declaring Tom Brady "every bit the equal of Joe Montana." His primary arguments dealt with the fact that Tom Brady did more with less when he had guys like David Givens, Troy Brown and Deion Branch as his number one receivers in given years.
Joe Montana's teams in 1988 and 1989 had some dominant offensive players, but if you go back to 1981 and 1984, it reframes the debate a little bit. In 1981 Dwight Clark had a great year and Freddie Solomon was a strong #2, all while Montana had a fairly poor rushing attack (five rushers wtih 60+ carries, none averaged more than 3.6 ypc). In 1984, Dwight Clark led the team with 52 receptions and 880 yards. Of course, that team had Wendell Tyler averaging 5.1 yards per carry en route to 1,262 yards.
The comparison grows even murkier when we consider a lot of the rule changes over the last 15 years. We are in a sort of a statistical golden age for quarterbacks thanks to rules that do benefit the offense more than the defense. The rules have adjusted over the years, but it would be interesting to look at Brady over the last decade if he had played in the '70s and '80s. We can only speculate, but it's an interesting hypothetical.
I haven't really gone into the specific stat comparisons between the two quarterbacks primarily because there are legitimate arguments that quarterback stats are getting inflated by rule changes. When two players break Dan Marino's passing yardage record in a season (Brees, Brady) and four of the top six single season marks come from the same year (2011), it's safe to say inflation is at hand.
If I had to pick between those two I'd go with Joe Montana. However, I do think it is reasonable to think that Tom Brady has played his way at least into the discussion. A common refrain is that Joe was 4-0 in Super Bowls and Brady has that one loss. That is of some value in the overall context, but I'm not sure how much I value it at this point. It's really enough of a battle that every little detail can swing it this way or that. But it creates an interesting discussion as Brady is working towards the twilight of his career.