There Are No Goats: Why Tom Brady - Or Anyone Else - Is Not The Greatest Of All Time
By Sam Akroyd
With Super Bowl LV showcasing two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, resident curmudgeon Sam Akroyd explains why there is no such thing as the GOAT – and if there was, it certainly wouldn’t be Tom Brady:
One of the worst things about the Super Bowl is the relentless stream of hyperbole coming out of various media outlets in the run-up to the first Sunday in February. This problem has been magnified this year as the stage is being required for an epoch-shifting, generational torch passing ceremony from the GOAT to the imaginatively monikered Baby GOAT. So I am here to beg you, please; no more GOAT chat.
To be clear I’m not asking for an end to the GOAT discussion because the debate has been put to bed by Tim Brady’s tenth appearance in the big game, and his first one away from Bill Belicheck’s guiding hand. I’m asking for an end to it all because we’re not in the playground playing Top Trumps.
Witnessing History? Not Really
Every generation wants to believe it is special. This exceptionalist belief fuels much online debate as Boomers and Millennials tirelessly and tiresomely take each other apart. And in the sports arena, this manifests itself in the form of the GOAT argument. It’s a comforting idea that we have been blessed to be witness to an otherworldly talent whose exploits our grandchildren will scarcely believe, but if we are doing so (and we aren’t) it is certainly not taking the form of Saint Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
This isn’t a ‘Tom Brady is bad actually’ article. He is clearly very good; he has a postseason record most other quarterbacks won’t match over their whole regular season career, and his somewhat unbelievable – but borderline infuriating – ongoing triumph over Father Time is a wonder to behold. None of this means, however, we need to change his middle name to ‘The Greatest Ever To Do It’. Especially since he very clearly isn’t.
Rings Not A True Barometer Of Greatness
The number that Brady cheerleaders throw around more than any other is 6, as if Super Bowl victories is the ultimate metric by which to judge a quarterback’s abilities. Since Championship weekend we’ve had endless opining that if Brady does lead Tampa Bay to victory and his seventh title then his GOAT status will be beyond all question. Yet almost every ‘How The Bucs Can Win’ piece will focus almost entirely on Tampa’s defense – in particular their front seven. Super Bowl victories are an excellent metric for judging a coaching staff or front office but they’re much closer to a footnote when considering how good a quarterback is or was.
To extend the GOAT debate further (and I’d really rather you didn’t) you can consider the following thought experiment: what Patriots team wouldn’t be improved by replacing their quarterback with, say, Patrick Mahomes? There’s two decades of New England teams being led by The Greatest Ever To Do It™ to pick from, and I’m not sure any would be better off with the Tom Brady they had over this year’s Patrick Mahomes.
Maybe I’m being unfair and you can think of some seasons where you wouldn’t swap Brady out – the 16-0 Super Bowl-less season perhaps – but it’s certainly a small minority of years that you wouldn’t replace the “GOAT” with a man who has 3 seasons as a starter under his belt. Hardly a ringing endorsement for generational greatness. You don’t need to walk in stats here folks, just apply a bit of common sense.
Too Many Variables
But it appears I’ve got caught up in the game, so I’d like to reiterate that my concern is not whether or not Tom Brady is the GOAT – it’s that there is no GOAT.
First of all, the idea of comparing players across generations is a fool’s errand at best. Mahomes is playing a different game to the one Joe Montana did, most notably in terms of what a quarterback is expected or even allowed to do. Various rule changes, increased professionalism, the role of technology and a myriad of other factors muddy comparisons through the years to make them pointless.
To a lesser extent, comparisons across teams are fraught. We know a huge part of Brady’s success stems from his good fortune at being drafted 199th overall to New England, and all the benefits that brought. And I think it’s fair to say he wouldn’t have all that finger bling if he’d gone to Detroit.
The coaching a quarterback receives and the players he has to work with will also have a huge impact on the quality of play he’ll produce. To pick on Detroit again, I don’t think Patrick Mahomes would be on quite as a high a pedestal if they had drafted him rather than the Kansas City of Andy Reid, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Not to diminish anyone’s abilities but comparing a quarterback who is having to overcome poor coaching or milquetoast offensive weapons to one who is being assisted by those very variables, again, feels a pointless affair.
So this Sunday as you bed down for a feast of football I’m asking once again to put the Top Trumps away and understand there is no greatest ever. There’s just a collection of great players, some of which have been lucky enough to win Superbowls and some who have not. Just enjoy them on their own terms.