When Joe Montana found Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone for what is now known as "The Catch" in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, little did anyone know that there were two legendary quarterbacks present that day. When he was just four years old, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady attended the game at Candlestick Park with his father.
Brady grew up idolizing Montana, but as his historic and possible record-breaking season heads into Indianapolis this Sunday, Brady has a chance of being better than his hall of fame idol and perhaps one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the league.
Brady has been on the fast track to the NFL Hall of Fame prior to the current record-breaking season. After throwing three more touchdowns against the Washington Redskins last Sunday for a career high 30 touchdowns for the season, Brady is on his way to shattering Peyton Manning's seemingly unbreakable NFL mark of 49 TD passes and there are still eight games left.
Manning is just one of the many past and present quarterbacks to be surpassed by Brady's greatness. Some of the undisputed best quarterbacks in NFL history include Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton, Brett Favre, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Warren Moon, and Joe Namath.
|San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana looks to pass Sept. 24, 1989 against the Eagles. Montana threw four fourth quarter touchdowns to engineer a 38-28 come-from-behind win over the Eagles. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)|
There are two major factors that measure the greatness of these quarterbacks. First and foremost is winning. A quarterback must win championships to be great. Whether it's fair or not, players like John Elway and Peyton Manning needed to win a championship to validate their careers.
The other mark of a great quarterback is career statistical numbers. Big statistically superior quarterbacks like Marino, Moon, and Takenton put up sensational career numbers but never quite reached that championship pinnacle, while winners like Namath, Montana, Aikmen, and Staubach are all considered great, despite their average and, especially in the case of Namath, sub-par career stats.
Brady's career record for wins and looses is 102-26 including regular-season and playoff games. It is the best record of any NFL quarterback in the Super Bowl Era (since 1966) with at least 40 starts. Brady entered 2007 with a 12-2 (.857) playoff record, the second best in NFL history behind Bart Starr (9-1, .900). He is the only quarterback in NFL history to start and win three Super Bowls before his 28th birthday, having quarterbacked the Patriots to victories in Super Bowl XXXVI when he was 24 years old, Super Bowl XXXVIII (26) and Super Bowl XXXIX (27). He is the fourth quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to three or more Super Bowl wins, joining Bradshaw (4), Montana (4) and Aikman (3).
With three championships, including two Super Bowl MVP awards, and record-breaking stats, Brady is great in both quarterback criteria. He puts up numbers and he wins.
Montana has four championships, three Super Bowl MVPs, but he lacks the career stats that Brady, if healthy, will eventually surpass. In 15 seasons, Montana amassed 40,551 passing yards with a 63.2 completion percentage, 273 touchdowns and 139 interceptions. In seven seasons, along with the rings, Brady has nearly 24,000 yards passing, a 62.9 completion rate, 177 touchdowns and 80 interceptions. Aside from this season, Brady has done it with an ever changing receiving corps with the likes of Troy Brown, David Patten, Deion Branch, David Givens, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney etc. Montana consistently had Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Roger Craig to catch passes. Brady gets the edge, especially if he wins his fourth Super Bowl.
Brady beats other Super Bowl winners, like Namath, who simply is remembered for winning Super Bowl III. In his otherwise mundane 12 year career, Namath threw for a 50.1 completion percentage for nearly 27,663 passing yards with 173 touchdown passes and 220 interceptions.
Bradshaw, whose career numbers include 27,989 career passing yards and 212 touchdown passes, a 51.9 completion percentage and 210 picks, punched his ticket to the Hall with four Super Bowl Championships. Brady will beat him in every statistical category.
Brady also beats out the numbers of Staubach (2 championships, 22,700 yards, 153 TD), Unitas (1 championship, 40,239, 290 TD), and Aikman (3 championships, 32,942, 173 TD).
Quarterbacks like Favre (59,546 yards, 425 TDs) and Moon (49,325 yards, 291 TDs) have spectacular career stats, but only Favre cracks threw with one Super Bowl win and Moon never had a whiff of the big dance. Brady has proven to be a bigger winner.
|Indianapolis Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning calls out signals adjustment as running back Joseph Addai listens for adjustments. (Getty images)|
Despite appearing in only one Super Bowl, many football gurus consider Marino to be the best statistical quarterback ever. Marino played in 242 regular season games, completed 4,967 out of 8,358 pass attempts, threw for 61,361 yards, and threw for 420 touchdown passes. Brady, like Montana before him, will always trump Marino, because they have the championship rings.
Some pundits may say Brady's chief rival, Peyton Manning, is still better. Aside from Brady winning more championships than Manning since his first full season in 2001, Manning has always been considered the better passer and has put up the better individual numbers. The comparisons of Manning being the Marino of this era and Brady the Montana continue to be very common.
It can be argued that throughout the years Manning has had the better weapons to throw the ball to than Brady. This is similar to the Brady-Montana comparison. Manning has consistently had pro bowlers Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark to catch passes, while Brady, who has had the revolving door of receivers, nothing of the caliber of the Colts until this season.
With quality receivers like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth, Brady's true greatness is begging to shine greater than ever before. Halfway through this season, Brady has already shattered his career best season for touchdown passes with 30 and is poised to annihilate Manning's single season touchdown passing record of 49.
Could Manning win with Caldwell or Gaffney? We may never know, but we know Brady can and he can also win with Moss, Welker, and Stallworth down in Indianapolis this Sunday. The comparison after the game of who is the greatest quarterback won't even be close.