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Roger Goodell acknowledges that Tom Brady is ‘probably the greatest player to ever play the game’

Related: The Scho Show: Previewing Super Bowl 55

Super Bowl LI MVP Trophy Presentation Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Not counting the 2008 campaign that he missed because of a torn ACL suffered in the season opener, Tom Brady has been a starting quarterback in the NFL for 19 years. In 10 of those, he has led his team to the Super Bowl — whether it was the New England Patriots between 2001 and 2019, or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season.

Brady’s legacy, which also includes six Super Bowl wins and virtually every meaningful postseason record in the book as well as countless others, has cemented him as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. On Thursday, during the traditional press conference leading up to the Super Bowl, this was also acknowledged by a seemingly unlikely character: league commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell’s history with Brady and the Patriots is obviously a complicated one. Not only did he strip the team of two first-round draft picks in 2008 and 2017 due to the Spygate and Deflategate scandals — both times based on flimsy-at-best evidence — he also suspended the future Hall of Fame quarterback for four games to open the 2016 season.

That suspension was also brought up by Ben Volin of the Boston Globe during Goodell’s traditional Super Bowl presser. As expected he sidestepped the question about the severity of that suspension five years later, but he did praise Brady’s accomplishments along the way.

“Tom Brady has shown that he is probably the greatest player to ever play this game,” said Goodell. “His leadership, his ability to rise to the big occasions — and make everybody rise around him — that’s what’s absolutely incredible to me. Everyone just plays better when they’re with him. He’s an exceptional talent. And more importantly, he’s one of the great guys. I’ve known him for probably 15 years. And he’s an extraordinary guy.

“He’s real and he cares about this game, deeply. He cares about the people involved in the game. And so, for me, I wish him well. I think he’s going to continue to be a great performer. I’m glad to hear he’s planning to play a few more years.”

Goodell not answering Volin’s question was obviously no surprise; this was the first time he talked around a difficult subject.

However, it was nonetheless positive to see him recognize Brady and what he has meant for the league — one that has been run by Goodell since 2006 and has grown into an internationally appealing product in large part because of the success that Brady had during his time with the Patriots: they were the dominant team in the league at the dawn of the internet age, and represented the NFL not just in the United States but abroad as well.

On Sunday, Brady will try to add another Super Bowl ring to his already legendary collection: he and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line. Despite limited fans being allowed in the stands, the event will again be the biggest of its kind in the world.

Brady’s career over the past two decades helped it become just that, and Goodell knows.