Boston sports fans have been blessed to root for pillars of professional sports since the Taft administration. Picking a Mount Rushmore of sports heroes for this region deserves a full March Madness bracket simply to whittle it down to four.
Guys like Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird and Bill Russell could all be considered, in some circles, to be the best to ever play their respective sport — and certainly their position.
For years, the New England Patriots looked on as the Ringo to the other three professional teams, not having much to contribute to the landscape of greatness. But now that Tom Brady has made himself the greatest Patriot of all time, it won't be long before he ascends to true, everlasting greatness.
With last week's convincing win over their bitter rival New York Jets, Brady and Bill Belichick became the winningest quarterback-head coach combo in NFL history, passing Miami Dolphin greats Dan Marino and Don Shula. What makes that statistic even more impressive is the fact that it only took Brady and Belichick 152 games to break a record that took Marino and Shula 187 games to set. Not to mention (sorry, Dan), the Patriots tandem has won three Super Bowl championships in that short time as well.
Now, after Monday night's win over Todd Haley (the homeless man's, well, never mind) and the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady is tied with Johnny Unitas in career wins at 118. If the Patriots win out this season with Brady at the helm, he'll tie Fran Tarkenton for fifth all time at 124 wins. Brady also holds the record for highest winning percentage (.771) among the top 50 quarterback wins leaders by a comfortable margin over Roger Staubach (.739).
Some will already count Brady among the best quarterbacks of all time, and rightfully so. But what does he need to do to become the greatest quarterback to ever play the game? Well, he'd have to leapfrog a few notables to gain that honor.
This past summer, the NFL Network unveiled its list of the best 100 players to ever strap on pads, and Brady checked in at No. 21. While Brady was already ahead of some notables (John Elway at 23, Dan Marino at 25), ahead of him still stand Brett Favre (20), Otto Graham (16), Sammy Baugh (14), Peyton Manning (8), Johnny Unitas (6) and Joe Montana (4).
It's hard to judge the signal callers of yesteryear against what the game produces today, which makes it difficult to form an objective agreement on quarterback greatness. Older writers will always vouch for how great guys like Baugh and Graham were in a league that was much different than it is today.
Otto Graham led the NFL in passing in 1953, when he threw for 2,722 yards in a 12-game season, which shakes out to 226.8 yards per game. This year, through 10 games, Drew Brees leads the NFL with 3,326 yards, or 332.6 yards per game.
While the discrepancy in numbers is huge, it must be noted that today's brand of football is far different than it was in the 50's. In recent years, the "Colts" rules (thank you, Bill Polian) have limited the way that defensive backs are able to cover receivers, essentially making passing downs 7-on-7 touch football.
Quarterbacks are also more protected now than ever thanks to what some call the "Brady" rules (thank you, Bernard Pollard), which ensures that quarterbacks are safe as long as they stay in the pocket (Eagles fans, please forward that sentence to Michael Vick).
Because of this new wide-open style of play, statistics are skewed. It was viewed as a fantastic feat when Marino threw for 5,084 yards in 1984, but now Brees and Brady are on pace to break that record, with Aaron Rodgers also in the hunt.
So if statistics are thrown out, what exactly does Brady need to do to be considered the greatest of all time? It boils down to three things, with some subcategories mixed in.
The first thing he must do is win another Associated Press MVP award. While the MVP award is never a true indicator of greatness, Brady's second MVP award that he won in 2010 holds the distinction of being the only unanimous choice in history. That's extremely important because never in the history of the NFL has every single voter for the award agreed that one player was better than anyone else. Were Brady to win a third award, he would be tied with Favre and Unitas (among quarterbacks, Jim Brown also has three), and still trailing Manning, who has four. It should be noted, however, that Favre's MVP in 1997 was shared with Barry Sanders and Manning's in 2003 was shared with the late Steve McNair.
The second most important thing that Brady needs to do is to get to 150 wins before his career is over. While he stands at 118 right now, the 34-year-old Brady says he wants to play until he's 40. If the Patriots do indeed win out this season and Brady gets to 124 wins, it should (fingers crossed) only take him two more seasons to reach that goal while keeping an absolutely sparkling winning percentage.
The winning percentage is the true kicker because it is the highest among quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era. With 150 wins, Tom Terrific would sit at second all time behind the incomparable Brett Favre. Of course, old friend Peyton Manning could throw a wrench into the plans by returning to play in 2012 and tacking on wins to his total of 148. But unless Manning goes to see big, fat Bartolo Colon's "regenerative" doctor down south, his career could be in jeopardy.
It should be somewhat obvious what the most important thing is that Brady needs to do to cement his legacy. He needs to win another Super Bowl. If and when he does that, he will have four Super Bowl rings, tying him with Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Even though no one in New England likes to talk about it (rightfully so), Brady had a chance to skyrocket to the top of the all-time list if his 2007 New England Patriots had won Super Bowl XLII. Then Brady would have been 4-0 in Super Bowls all time, his team would have been the only 19-0 team ever and no one would ever know what a "helmet catch" is. But alas, it was not to be, so now we are left with speculating when Brady will raise the Lombardi Trophy again.
If Brady completes all three of these tasks, then he will have a case against anyone to be considered the greatest quarterback of all time. Favre will have more wins, but Brady will have more championships. Montana will have a better record in Super Bowls, but Brady will have more MVPs and wins. And Manning will have more MVPs, but let's be serious (biased) here, Brady will always be better.