New England Patriots QB Tom Brady is the most successful player in the history of the NFL. He might not be the most decorated, like Peyton Manning. He might not have all the records, like Jerry Rice. He might not be the most athletic, like Lawrence Taylor.
But no player has played a bigger role in achieving Super Bowls victories and that’s where Brady distances himself from the crowd- and when you combine those championships with his career production and his own individual accolades, Brady takes the crown as the greatest player in the history of the NFL.
Just don’t tell that to Brady.
Brady will always deny that he’s the greatest, often deferring to other players with more talent. He provided an updated ranking of the best players he faced in his career and those he watched growing up.
"I don't remember a lot of those guys like Jim Brown playing," Brady said in an interview with ESPN. "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."
All seven of those contemporary players listed are Hall of Fame caliber and were major factors against the Patriots over the course of their careers, while Taylor and Sanders are two of the best players Brady could have watched while growing up. But are they the greatest players of all time?
It seems like Brady wants to avoid the conversation of “greatest player” entirely, which is his prerogative, by saying, “well a handful of players are bunched pretty close together at the top of the list.” Brady doesn’t care about the argument enough to split the hairs presented to him- and that unwillingness is part of what drives Brady to the top of the list.
Dwight Freeney followed Jason Taylor, who followed Lawrence Taylor, while Von Miller and Khalil Mack are following in Freeney’s footsteps. There will always be a player that pushes the boundaries of the position and attributing the title of “greatest” can only lead to complacency.
When asked if Brady had surpassed Joe Montana in the pantheon of quarterbacks, the 5-time Super Bowl champion quarterback made an interesting admission.
"I don't agree with that," Brady 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 think there are many more players blessed with more ability," Brady added. "I've worked hard with what I've been given ... and I've had to go about making improvements in different ways. If I was doing the things everyone else is doing, I wouldn't have the same results.
"I'm still 100 percent invested in helping this team win. I never want to let my teammates down. My lifestyle choices got me to this point. ... Football is more than just what I do. It consumes me."
Brady calls himself a “product” of the Patriots system, coaching staff, and era of open passing attacks, and says that other quarterbacks “could accomplish the same kinds of things” if they had just been at the right place and time under head coach Bill Belichick at the start of the 21st century.
But this acknowledgement of good fortune again plays into Brady’s drive to be the greatest. His goal has always been to take full advantage of the opportunities granted to him and other quarterbacks might not have had the mental make-up to work alongside Belichick for such a long span of time.
Football “consumes” Brady in a way that it might not consume other players, or for as long as it has. Flames flicker in the later stages of careers, but Brady’s passion burns as brightly as ever.
If the greatest of all time needs to pretend like he isn’t in order to keep that fire burning, then let’s leave Brady to his own devices. Perhaps he’ll finally allow himself to reflect upon his standing once he retires- whenever that may be.