Back in 2010, NFL Network released a 10-part series honoring the best players the sport had ever seen. The number one spot on The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players unsurprisingly belonged to long-time San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, who is still in possession of every major receiving record.
While Rice’s status on wide receiver Mount Rushmore is undisputed, a lot has happened since the The Top 100 first aired. New talent emerged, and one player in particular added to a résumé that was already Hall of Fame-worthy 11 years ago: Tom Brady.
By 2010, Brady had led the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl wins as well as the only 16-0 season in league history. He thus had a strong claim at the title of greatest quarterback of all time, even as others like Peyton Manning or Joe Montana were leading him in terms of raw statistics and Super Bowl rings. Of course, those records were not meant to last.
Brady went on to redefine the record books, winning three more Super Bowls as a Patriot and a seventh title after joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. With seven rings on his fingers — two more than the closest competition — and already in possession of virtually every passing record in the book, especially in the playoffs, Brady is now no longer just in the conversation as the best ever QB in league history but also as the greatest player.
That title, at least according to The Top 100, belonged to Jerry Rice a decade ago but even he has now admitted that Brady is the GOAT. That said, he did so rather reluctantly when appearing on 95.7 The Game earlier this week.
“I don’t have seven Super Bowl rings, but I think I played in an era when football was more of a contact sport. You’re seeing a lot of that now: players are protected,” Rice said. “When you have seven rings, you’re doing something right. I think with Brady, he still wants to play. He said something about playing until he’s 45. I think he can do it now in this league because players are so much more protected. So, yeah, he can have that GOAT status. I never wanted that status anyway.”
Rice — pictured here wearing a baseball cap with the word GOAT on it — does have a point when it comes to the physicality of the game: the NFL of the 1980s obviously was a different league in terms of player safety than it is today. That said, there is no argument that the introduction of salary cap and free agency in the 1990s greatly impacted how much success teams and individual players can have.
Despite all those, Brady still managed to win seven Super Bowls with two different teams. Rice, meanwhile, is the owner of four rings all earned as a member of the 49ers.
He still remains the bar by which all wide receiver performance will be measured for years and possibly decades to come, but as far as the status of greatest player of all time is concerned he will have to concede after holding it back in 2010: that title firmly belongs to Tom Brady now, regardless of whether Rice truly never wanted it in the first place or not.