The New England Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl this past February, and their huge comeback against the Atlanta Falcons had most people moving Tom Brady into G.O.A.T. status. He has lost two Super Bowls, but when you win five Super Bowls and put together that kind of comeback, it is not surprising people are going to jump all over it.
Brady has done what he can to downplay the comparisons to Joe Montana. He grew up a San Francisco 49ers fan, and of course a huge Joe Montana fan. But he has shown some semblance of understanding how hard it is to compare players across eras.
In a recent broad-ranging interview with ESPN’s Ian O’Connor, Brady was asked about the tag of greatest ever. O’Connor claimed the debate was over that he is a better quarterback than Montana, and even said there was no further debate that he is the best NFL player ever. Brady offered up a laundry list of players who he thinks are among the all-time greats.
"I don't remember a lot of those guys like Jim Brown playing," Brady said. "I remember Lawrence Taylor, obviously; he terrorized the 49ers. ... I know that I haven't played against a lot of those guys, but I've also played against a lot of guys that when I think of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney and Jason Taylor and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Darrelle Revis -- if those guys aren't the best, then whoever is better than them is only better by percentage points. It's not a big difference. So, like Deion Sanders, for example. I remember watching him play, how spectacular he was. But I can't imagine someone that much better than Revis. If there were, you couldn't complete a ball against Darrelle. So completing a ball against Deion is not much different than completing a ball against Darrelle."
O’Connor asked him specifically about being better than Montana. Again, Brady offered up the respectful answer.
"I don't agree with that," he said, "and I'll tell you why. I know myself as a player. I'm really a product of what I've been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I've been very fortunate. ... I don't ever want to be the weak link."
There will always be comparisons between eras when it comes to figuring out the all-time greats. However, football is among the toughest for comparison given how drastically the game has changed since its inception. Offense in particular has evolved considerably, and then you factor in adjustments in rules just in the past 20 years. I think Tom Brady could find success in most eras of football, but it’s hard to tell if he would be anywhere near his current level in some of the eras that were considerably tougher on offense.
Whatever you think, it makes for a fun debate. And having two players connected like Montana and Brady through a shared 49ers history (star and childhood fan) makes it all the more lively a debate.