The folks at GQ published their "Men of the Year" issue this week, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was one of the featured men. Chuck Klosterman wrote the accompanying piece, which included a 45-minute interview with Brady. The actual interview adds nothing of value, but the entire article does include some stuff that I found interesting.
The article is titled, "Tom Brady Is the Greatest Quarterback of All Time. Period." Klosterman opens the article by acknowledging that is just his opinion, and then goes into detailing why he thinks that. It is a fairly flawed discussion because it essentially compares him to Peyton Manning, and justifies itself entirely from how he compares with Manning.
We've had numerous discussions about Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana. I would not be surprised if we had another one next February considering the Patriots are among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Brady has been a part of four Super Bowl winners, and two Super Bowl losers. If the Patriots win Super Bowl 50, he would be the first quarterback to start on five Super Bowl winners.
Tom Brady is an all-time great quarterback. I will not deny that. However, the comparison of players across eras is among the more difficult tasks. We can compare players to their own players, and consider how much better they are compared to how much better older players are to their contemporaries. It gives us some context, and makes for some interesting discussion.
However, a significant problem with declaring Player X the greatest of all time is the rule changes. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and the rest of today's quarterbacks have benefited from a rule system that allows for much greater offense. Rules have constantly changed to where you can barely breathe on a quarterback for fear of getting a personal foul penalty. It potentially makes the game safer, which I think is generally a positive, but it also changes the comparison considerably.
Would Tom Brady have succeeded alongside Joe Montana in the 80s? Yes, I think Brady could have been a good quarterback in the 80s. Would he be a 4-time Super Bowl winner and have the same perception as he does now? I have no idea. Different rules require different adjustments. Maybe he adjusts and is still an all-time great. Maybe he does not adjust as well, and is merely a good quarterback.
Either way, it's frequently too difficult to make the leap in declaring an all-time great. There are obvious exceptions. Wayne Gretzky's numbers are so thoroughly ridiculous that I don't think anybody would argue that he is not the greatest of all time.
We also call Jerry Rice the greatest wide receiver of all time. Of course, even that is sometimes brought into debate by people who try and defer to Green Bay Packers wide receiver Don Hutson. But even that debate is a tricky one. Hutson played significantly fewer games in a much more run-heavy era, but he also had his best years during World War II, when a lot of talented players were serving in the military. It's one more example of why comparisons across eras, particularly in football where the game has changed so drastically over the years.
I certainly have no problem with the debate occurring, because it can be a fun one. And like I said, it is only going to heat up if the Patriots claim their fifth Super Bowl in February.