LEGACIES ON THE LINE

HERE WE GO

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - MARK MASKE

The man, the game, even the bets.

The neatly pack­aged nar­ra­tive for Sun­day’s Su­per Bowl would be as fol­lows. Tom Brady take the field, cap­ping the sea­son of his De­flate­gate re­venge tour for the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots. Not only with a chance to win an­other Lom­bardi Tro­phy, but also with an op­por­tu­nity to set­tle the de­bate once and for all about which quar­ter­back is the great­est in NFL his­tory. Thus putting Joe Mon­tana, Dan Marino, John El­way, Brett Favre, Pey­ton Manning and ev­ery­one else inar­guably in his rear-view mir­ror for good.

In truth, that ar­gu­ment might be al­ready set­tled.

To many, Brady has se­cured the ti­tle as the best ever and that won’t change Sun­day, win or lose.

“I don’t think he needs to do any more,” said Troy Aik­man, the Hall of Fame for­mer quar­ter­back of the Dal­las Cow­boys. “I’m sure he’s sit­ting there say­ing he wants to win his fifth. That would be kind of the cherry on the pie. But I don’t think (it’s nec­es­sary) when you look at his re­sume of work and what he has ac­com­plished.”

Aik­man, an NFL an­a­lyst for Fox who will call Sun­day’s game, said this week he has be­come con­vinced that Brady is the great­est ever af­ter long be­ing stead­fast in his be­lief that it was Mon­tana.

“I’ve al­ways said Joe Mon­tana was the best,” Aik­man said. “That’s just been the guy who I’ve al­ways an­swered that ques­tion with. I was younger. I was in high school and I’m watch­ing Joe and all his great ex­ploits. And I got in the league and we played against each other and know­ing how hard the game is, he al­ways made it look so easy and he did it on the big stage four dif­fer­ent times . ... But get­ting ready for this game and then re­ally kind of delv­ing into all that (Brady has) ac­com­plished — there’s oth­ers, I know. Otto Gra­ham is a guy who seems to al­ways get lost in that con­ver­sa­tion.

“But I think that any­one who wants to make a case for Tom Brady be­ing the great­est of all-time, they cer­tainly can do that re­gard­less of what­ever hap­pens on Sun­day.”

Aik­man is far from alone in his as­sess­ment.

“I think that ques­tion has al­ready been set­tled,” for­mer Wash­ing­ton Red­skins quar­ter­back Joe Theis­mann said. “He doesn’t need a fifth ring to prove he’s the best. The quar­ter­back po­si­tion is the most de­pen­dent po­si­tion on the field. What de­fines great­ness is to be able to op­er­ate at the high­est level no mat­ter who is around you. Tom de­fines that. Look at his re­ceiv­ing corps right now. Al­most ev­ery­one has come from some­where else. That’s been the hall­mark of Tom’s en­tire ca­reer. Look at his run­ning backs. It’s been a ro­tat­ing cast. Tom has el­e­vated it all to great­ness.”

If prom­i­nent for­mer quar­ter­backs from the Cow­boys and Red­skins can agree, can there be any ques­tion? And they have com­pany.

“In my mind, it’s al­ready set,” said for­mer quar­ter­back Kurt Warner, an an­a­lyst for the NFL Net­work and a fi­nal­ist for Satur­day’s Hall of Fame vote. … “The fact that you play in seven Su­per Bowls, which is ridicu­lous. I mean, it’s ridicu­lous . ... He’s done it as well as any­body. He’s been as good as any­body that’s ever played. And he has more of this than ev­ery­one else? Then, for me, he moves into that po­si­tion of be­ing the great­est of all­time.”

Brady makes his sev­enth Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance and seeks his fifth Su­per Bowl tri­umph; a fifth win would put him ahead of Mon­tana and Terry Brad­shaw for the most ever. Brady ranks fourth in ca­reer pass­ing yards be­hind Manning, Favre and Drew Brees. He ranks fourth in ca­reer pass­ing touch­downs be­hind the same trio. He is third in ca­reer passer rat­ing be­hind Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wil­son. Brees said last week at Pro Bowl prepa­ra­tions in Florida that “you can cer­tainly make that ar­gu­ment, with­out ques­tion” that Brady is the best.

“If he wins a fifth Su­per Bowl,” Brees said, “then it’s re­ally go­ing to be hard to ar­gue that . ... There’s been leg­endary guys to play the quar­ter­back po­si­tion in this league, guys that we all looked up to as kids, and there’s go­ing to be guys that come af­ter us that have leg­endary ca­reers. I think each one of them, within their own gen­er­a­tion or their own era of foot­ball, you can prob­a­bly ar­gue, ‘Man, they were the great­est at what they did.’ Great­est of all-time, that’s a big state­ment. But Tom Brady is ab­so­lutely in that con­ver­sa­tion.”

Some other cur­rent quar­ter­backs were sim­i­larly re­luc­tant to make sweep­ing dec­la­ra­tions.

“When you look at his re­sume and hav­ing ap­peared in, I think, more Su­per Bowls than any other quar­ter­back and has a chance to win more than any other quar­ter­back, he’s just a con­sis­tent win­ner in terms of their di­vi­sion, home play­off games,” the Red­skins’ Kirk Cousins said at the Pro Bowl. “He set the bar for the rest of us and he prob­a­bly will end up be­ing the great­est of all-time when you add it all up.”

The Cincin­nati Ben­gals’ Andy Dal­ton said: “He’s ar­guably the best of all-time. To go to seven Su­per Bowls and to have as many cham­pi­onships, as many win­ning sea­sons and ev­ery­thing that he’s done, he def­i­nitely has the ar­gu­ment to be the best of all-time . ... Ev­ery­body is go­ing to have an opin­ion on what it is. But I think for him there’s not much more he can do to so­lid­ify it.”

Said the Kansas City Chiefs’ Alex Smith: “He’s for sure in the con­ver­sa­tion of the three, four guys in that pool. Ev­ery­body might pick some­body (dif­fer­ent). But he’s with­out a doubt in that con­ver­sa­tion ... I think at this point his legacy is ce­mented. What­ever he adds on will just be more ic­ing on the cake.”

Af­ter sit­ting out the first four games while serv­ing his De­flate­gate sus­pen­sion, Brady threw 28 touch­down passes and two in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son at age 39.

“Most of us who went to mul­ti­ple Su­per Bowls, we pretty much had our same core,” said Aik­man, a three-time Su­per Bowl win­ner. “He’s done it with three and four wide re­ceiver sets when they had Randy Moss. He’s done it with two tight end pack­ages. He did it ear­lier in his ca­reer with their de­fence and run the foot­ball. And now they’re do­ing it with lit­tle wide re­ceivers that are just run­ning all over the place and just get the ball to them. They know what ev­ery­one can do. And Tom knows what ev­ery­one can do.”

JIM ROGASH, GETTY IM­AGES

Many feel that Tom Brady’s legacy as the great­est NFL quar­ter­back ever is se­cure even be­fore he takes the field in Su­per Bowl LI Sun­day.

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