With a spectacular Super Bowl comeback leading to his 5th Ring, Tom Brady has been declared the GOAT: The greatest of all time.
A friend of mine took a shot at me for previous statements about me saying that Dan Marino was the greatest of all time. (Bias alert: I am a NY Jets fan so technically Marino and Brady have been responsible for a lifetime of heartbreak).
Now the reason we argue who is the best ever is because we all have different criteria for how we judge “the greatest.” For me it is simple, the greatest of all time is the one with the most pure talent. The arm strength and accuracy. The touch. The field general mentality. And perhaps the most important the Mindset. (I would argue all great QBs have a fantastic mindset.)
Another way of saying it is this:
If you were starting a team from scratch who is the QB (you could do this with any other position) who you would pick? THAT is your GOAT.
What are your criteria? Is it stats? Peyton Manning. Rings? Tom Brady. (or Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw if the Dirty Birds don’t blow it yesterday). Talent? That’s where things get dicey for me because I could see someone making a case for someone like current Colts QB Andrew Luck: immense arm talent, mindset, mobility and he elevates a team with weaknesses most of the time.
While I am no longer resolute in my saying Marino was the best ever I look at Marino putting up the yards he did in the era he did habitually without a running game and a defense and it was awe inspiring. He didnt have Montana’s Bill Walsh designed West Coast Offense, Bradshaws defense, Tom Brady’s “system” that has produced a 14-6 (70% winning) record without him) or Mannings consistent offensive weapons throughout his career.
The number one criticism you hear about Marino is that he never got “The Ring”. This is a nonsensical argument. For starters Football is the Ultimate Team sport where while it’s possible for great players to elevate their team mates no one can carry a team devoid of a supporting cast. Furthermore QBs can earn “The Ring” while being a game manager and not an integral part of the offense. I can think of three QBs off the top of my head with “The Ring” who were side acts to their stellar defense (Jeff Hostetler, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson.)
Are any of them better than Marino?
Marino was a contemporary of Montana and Elway, both of whom had rings, Elway later in his career when he was no longer the driver of the offense. Marino had 10K yards more than Elway and 20K more than Montana. Those three defined the 80s and yet Marino lapped them stat wise but is downgraded simply because he never got “The ring.”
Would Marino have gotten Rings if he switched places with Montana? I think Marino to Rice would have produced a few rings as well and maybe even more prolific stats for both of them.
My point being is this: It is truly impossible to determine the Greatest of all time based on stats or championships when there are so many variables involved: such as teams (coaches and systems) they play for, supporting cast, and the era in which they played.
I decided to take a look at the stats of the top 12 passers in NFL history and the active QBs in the top 25. Their stats tell stories that the data may not tell: Look at the What ifs:
#1 Peyton Manning – Peyton almost came out of Tennessee as a Junior but papa Archie asked the team with the #1 draft pick, Bill Parcells and the NY Jets, if they would definitely draft him. The Tuna, brownie points for honesty, said he couldn’t guarantee that as the Jets were in rebuilding mode sequence #953 and Manning would have fetched a lot in a trade. Peyton returned for his senior season, the Jets traded the 1st round pick to the Rams who selected Orlando Pace a perennial all pro tackle while the Jets dropped to #8 where they selected James Farrier a linebacker who proceeded to be a perennial all pro when he defected in free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Meanwhile Manning goes #1 the next year to the Colts who built up exemplary talent on offense. Marvin Harrison was there when he was drafted and they proceeded to add Edgerin James, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark in the next few years. All 1st rounders all pro bowlers. All that talent and still only one Super Bowl victory with the Colts.
He goes to Denver with Demarius Thomas and Eric Decker and a few more pieces that rack up great numbers in the first year before he starts to collapse.
His final game, a Super Bowl win with the Broncos, he was little more than a side show to Denvers fantastic defense.
What if Peyton Manning is drafted by the Jets in 1997 what happens to his career. Is he number one statistical QB on this list?
#2 Brett Favre. Interesting Story. The Jets Ron Wolf tried frantically to trade up with the Cardinals to take Favre instead of the Atlanta in the early parts of round 2 in the 1991 Draft. Sensing desperation the Cardinals played hardball asking for the Jets #3 round pick, a deal the Jets would not swallow.
The Cardinals drafted DE Mike Jones, Atlanta drafted Favre (Who Ron Wolfe a year later with Green Bay traded for with a first round pick), and the Jets took the Rocket Armed Louisville Slinger Browning Nagle who proceed to suck up the universe.
The 3rd Round pick who the Jets would have missed out on had they traded up for Favre? Georgia linebacker Mo Lewis, a player who despite having an excellent and long career he is best remembered for Hitting Patriots Drew Bledsoe so hard he tore an artery in the QBs shoulder allowing some punk kid from Michigan to take his starting position which circled back around in history to Fuck Atlanta last Sunday.
In other words if the Jets made that trade for Favre that creates a potential 25 year swing in the Time space continum where Favre leads the Jets and Tom Brady has a three year career as a back up QB in New England no one ever quite realizing what they have on their hands.
How’s that for a what if?
#3 Drew Brees- I’ll keep this short. Was drafted in the second round of the 2001 draft out of Perdue and was so unimpressive in his first three years that the Chargers selected Philip Rivers in 2004 (Trade and pick with the #1 Eli Manning but you get the jist.) Brees, supposed to keep Rivers on the bench for a year, lights up the league in 2004.
Think about the Timing. What If:
Drew Brees has a big year in 2003 instead of 2004. Do the Chargers draft Rivers (#12 on the list and almost certain to move into top #7 or #8 next year) creating the environment for Brees to move to the more prolific for his abilities New Orleans offense which vaults him to #3 and does Rivers land in San Diego or in some shit hole where he is misused for most of his career?
4. Tom Brady – Currently considered the Greatest of All time. But it was some fortuitous bounces. What If:
Besides the above mention Mo Lewis Near decapitation of Patriots 1993 #1 Overall Draft pick Franchise QB Drew Bledsoe what if Brady sat on the bench a few more years before moving on as a free agent to some team that doesn’t have the Dark Hoodie. Where is he in history?
He was drafted 199 on 2000. What happens if he is drafted at 198 by the Rams who took SS Mat Bowen or Tennessee who took DT Robaire Smith at 197 etc etc. all the way to say the third round and again no Hoodie OR what happens if Brady slips another round and doesn’t get drafted at all. Is it really possible that the Greatest of All Time almost slipped through the cracks completely?
Or is it more likely that Brady was latent talent who went to a system which not only maximized his abilities AND has had success without him at the Helm?
5 – Dan Marino – Dan Marino retired when Bill Clinton was president where everyone else in the top 5 retired when Obama was president or are still active. Think about that. This era is the era of QBs. When Marino played you could mug wide receivers on the field.
The Guff between #5 Marino 61,361 and #6 Elway 51,475 is almost 10k passing yards. If 60k yards are the benchmark of the elite only one person drafted in the 80s or prior who reached it.
What would Marino do today in the Saints Offense which Brees has racked up such prolific numbers?
Marino put up elite numbers when No one put up those numbers (Except, perhaps, #7 Warren Moon who stared in a prolific 4 Wide Receiver “Run-n-shoot” offense.) Does Tom Brady rack up those Numbers on the 80s Miami Dolphins? Does Brady get the ring?
Now Marino, despite always lacking an elite running back and defense, didn’t go to a shitty team. He slipped to the AFC conference champions at 27 in the draft because of cocaine rumors.
Put another way in his second year he threw for 5,000 yards and lead Miami to another Super Bowl. Marino’s talent elevated his team to a point where they were CONSTANTLY contending. It’s hard to build from the draft when you are always drafting in the 20s, and lest we forget, this was mostly pre free agent days as we see it today.
But, you know, he doesn’t have the ring.
6. John Elway – Was always more of a rocket armed Field General and leader than a prolific passer, longevity lead him to eclipsing the 50K yard mark.
But again what if he didn’t demand to be traded by the Colts in the 83 draft. Where does his place in history reside?
7. Warren Moon – Undrafted out of University of Washington he also threw for 21k yards in the CFL for the first 5 years of his career before jumping to the NFL, racking up another 49K yards. Combining the totals from both leagues he approaches Manning and Favre territory.
But no rings so fuck him. And as a black man he did this in an era where despite going to pro bowls every year the media is openly questioning whether there will ever be a successful black QB 🙄
Can anyone seriously consider a reason why Moon is not in consideration for one of the greatest of all time? Again what does he do in Brady’s spread offense?
8. Eli Manning – Will surpass Elway next year and slide into #6 All Time. Beat Brady in Super Bowl twice and has as many rings as his brother.
Even mentioning him in the same breathe as those three will draw laughter.
Again Archie didn’t want him to go to San Diego which lead to a pick and trade with the Giants and then SD picked Rivers who had Brees yards (yada yada) another of History’s what if scenarios.
9. Fran Tarkington – if he won some of those super bowls against Superior teams he would be mentioned in the Same breathe as at least Montana. 47K passing and thousands more rushing.
10. Ben Roethlisberger Didnt realize he was here, did ya? Has a Chance to Jump to #7 ahead of Moon next year.
11. Vinny Testaverde – Literally Sucked in Tampa revitalized his career with Cleveland and the Jets. Imagine if he was just dumped after Tampa.
12. Rivers will Jump in front of Tarkington next year.
In the top 25 there are only 3 more active QBs
14. Carson Palmer 44,265 May be retiring.
21. Matt Ryan 37,701 Next year will Jump up to about 41,000 yards putting him #16 on the list behind Air Coryell luminary Dan Fouts. He has only be playing since 2008. Think about his potential numbers.
23. Aaron Rodgers 36,827 (Where is he on the list if he doesn’t sit behind Favre, Steve Young behind Montana style) all those years. What if the 49ers don’t select Alex Smith with the #1 in 2005?
Looking back over that list, I ask again, who do you pick to start a team from scratch?
That’s the greatest of all time. The GOAT 🐐
Is it the Kid with the best stats out of Tennessee? The Kid out of Michigan with the most rings? The undrafted black kid from Washington who lit up two leagues when Blacks “couldn’t play QB” or the Curly haired kid from Pennsylvania who never quite made it to the promised land but almost singlehandedly destroyed record books?
To many what ifs and can’t tells to be sure.
It is often said that football is a game of inches but it’s more than that, it’s a game of timing: the right people being in the right place at the right time…