By Michael LeCompte
Tom Brady will start his record seventh Super Bowl when the Patriots take on the Falcons in Houston on Sunday and he will be looking for his record-setting fifth ring. Conventional sports wisdom and certainly the sports media have been applying “the greatest ever” tag to Brady for some time now.
There’s a big problem with that line of thinking though.
The problem with Brady is that he lacks that signature win. Sure, it could be argued that any Super Bowl win is a signature and Brady has four of them, but he fails to capture the hearts of fans and the essence of the game the way Bradshaw and Montana-the two other quarterbacks with four Super Bowl wins-ever did.
Brady is really nothing more than a cog in New England’s winning machine-he’s a system guy. The Patriots are going to spread it out and throw it quickly to several different receivers, while mixing in a consistent run game. Whoever the quarterback is in that system will thrive as long as they stay upright (as we saw this year with Jimmy Garropollo and even Jacoby Brissett under center early in the season). Brady’s biggest asset throughout his career has been his ability to stay healthy.
Bradshaw won his four Super Bowls in the 1970’s, playing in some classic playoff games and epic Super Bowl shootouts against Roger Staubach’s Cowboys. Beloved now for his goofy, grandfatherly, down-home wisdom, Bradshaw had several signature wins (the “immaculate reception” game and a brilliant 4TD performance in his fourth Super Bowl among them).
Along the way to his four Super Bowls Joe Montana had countless signature wins. He didn’t always put up the gaudy stats that Brady does, but when the pressure was on Joe Cool delivered. “The Catch” game stands out and his comeback win performance against Cincinnati is still probably the best Super Bowl ever.
These performances were in the past, though, and it’s a win now, instant-replay world that Brady lives in, but even there he doesn’t win with heart and passion. Some of Brady’s contemporaries may have less rings, but they already have several signature wins.
Aaron Rodgers still only has one ring, but he’s got enough Hail Mary bombs and clutch-performances to last two careers.
Russell Wilson is another guy who seems to make at least one play every Sunday (that usually involves escaping pressure from multiple defenders, running about 50 yards back and forth behind the line of scrimmage before deftly delivering the ball downfield) that illustrate the amount of heart he plays with.
After his first five seasons Wilson already has more signature wins than Brady-the epic 16 point comeback against the Packers in the 2015 NFC Championship chief among them.
When fans think about Brady’s four Super Bowl wins he doesn’t stand out, rather some clutch kicks by Adam Vinatieri in the early years and the Seahawks throwing the game away more recently endure.
Brady’s enduring moments were not achieved with heart and are judicial, rather than athletic. The infamous “Tuck Rule” ultimately started the Brady dynasty when an obscure rule (Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2) determined that his fumble wasn’t really a fumble. (The rule has since been discarded by the NFL).
The other enduring moment of Brady’s career has been Deflategate. Forever tarnishing his legacy and causing him to miss the first four games of this season, Brady reportedly used it as motivation to get back to the Super Bowl. This misplaced motivation should not be viewed as heart, though, rather it’s Brady getting mad at everyone else because he was caught cheating.
Brady is part of a ruthlessly efficient winning machine in New England. Unfortunately machines don’t have hearts. He may earn his fifth ring on Sunday and move past Bradshaw and Montana in the record books, but Brady will find that a fist full of rings doesn’t equal the heart of a champion.