Updated: Feb 12, 2022
Credit: Brad Muckenthaler (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/20160917_Tom_Brady_at_Michigan_Stadium.jpg)
It’s over. Somehow, finally, impossibly, it’s over. On January 29, 2022, the greatest quarterback in NFL history and likely the greatest player to ever suit up in an NFL uniform called it quits. After 22 remarkable seasons, including this past season where he still led the NFL in passing yardage and touchdowns, Thomas Patrick Edward Brady Jr. is done.
The fact that Brady has even played this well for this long is hard to comprehend. He is coming off one of his finest seasons at the ripe age of 44. For comparison's sake, Ben Roethlisberger, who also announced his retirement earlier this month, just had possibly his worst season as a professional as he wrapped up his storied career. Roethlisberger doesn’t turn 40 until March.
It’s difficult to completely encapsulate how incredible Brady has been since being the 199th player selected in the 2000 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. Here’s a quick rundown of his accomplishments:
7-time Super Bowl Champion (most all-time and collectively Brady has won more championships than any NFL franchise)
5-time Super Bowl MVP (most all-time)
3-time NFL MVP
2-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year
3-time First Team All-Pro
2-time Second Team All-Pro
15-time Pro Bowler
Comeback Player of the Year in 2009
In addition to all of these awards, Brady holds NFL career records for passing touchdowns (624), passing yards (84,520), completions (7,263), career starts (316) and career wins (243). He has also led the NFL in passing touchdowns five times, in passing yards four times, in passer rating twice and in completion percentage twice.
Perhaps the most impressive part of these records is just how wide the gap is between Brady’s records and the next closest competitor. Behind Brady in career wins is a tie between Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre and the iconic Payton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. They both sit at 186 career victories. That’s a 57-win gulf.
But Brady’s most significant achievement will always be his Super Bowl total. No player at any position can even approach Brady’s seven rings. Maybe most impressively, Brady managed to secure his seventh after joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his 21st season in the NFL after winning six championships alongside Bill Bellichick and the Patriots in New England.
Among all the great quarterbacks who have won multiple Super Bowls, only two have won with multiple teams: Brady and Payton Manning. Manning, of course, had a spectacular career as well, consistently being considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. However, Manning falls considerably short of Brady in the Super Bowl department, having only won two in his career. Besides, anyone who watched the Broncos run to their Super Bowl victory in 2016 understands that Manning wasn’t exactly at the peak of his powers at that time.
So, this begs the question: can anyone surpass Brady, and what would it take? To be completely honest, Brady’s career might be unsurpassable.
Any quarterback who would hope to overtake Brady as the G.O.A.T. would have to start by approaching Brady’s Super Bowl total. Getting five rings would be a good start. Here’s the problem though: no other QB besides Brady has ever won five Super Bowls.
Here’s the other big problem: Brady didn’t just win those seven championships, he also did it with two teams. As previously mentioned, Manning is the only other quarterback besides Brady to win championships with multiple teams as the starter, and Manning only ever won two. Our hypothetical Brady-contender would likely need to win multiple championships with multiple teams, maybe even championships with three different teams, following a Lebron James-style model for career success.
But championships alone wouldn’t be enough to surpass Brady. Part of the mystique surrounding Brady is his longevity. The man has played in the NFL for 22 years. This is one of, if not the most, punishing sports in the entire world and Brady just led the NFL in touchdowns and passing yards as a 44-year old. That’s nuts.
Any potential G.O.A.T. would need to combine the championships with the production and longevity. That’s a daunting task. Would a hypothetical career that lasted 20 seasons, won five Super Bowls (two with one team, two with the next, and one more with another to top it off), five Super Bowl MVPs, six regular-season MVPs and broke some combination of Brady’s career records of QB wins, starts, passing yardage, touchdowns or completions be enough to move into the #1 spot? Maybe.
That’s how incredible Brady has been. Even our hypothetical challenger with that unbelievable resume might still fall short. Brady has set the bar so high that it’s likely no one will ever be thought of as greater. Brady has moved into Babe Ruth-territory. Living-legend status. And legends never die.
Is it possible that someone will one day come along and, with the right conditions and support, challenge Brady’s NFL supremacy? Sure. But I won't be holding my breath.