By George Simms
The mark of any great sportsman is to make doing what they do look easy. On Sunday evening in Tampa Bay, a 43-year-old Tom Brady looked as though he simply strolled to his Super Bowl victory. His arm was metronomically accurate, balancing risk and reward perfectly in an efficient and effective performance under centre, completing 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
Super Bowl LV represented much of Brady’s career: underestimated, undervalued and overshadowed by conversations about flashier players and coaches. Whilst everyone agreed how special it would be for him to win a seventh Super Bowl, few expected him to beat Patrick Mahomes’ reigning champions. Brady went into that game as the greatest player to have ever played in the NFL and came out of it as the greatest player who ever will.
Most games played and won by a quarterback, most passing yards, most touchdown passes, most game-winning drives and most fourth-quarter comebacks. Seven Super Bowls, three MVPs, five Super Bowl MVPs. That’s more Super Bowls than any team in the NFL, let alone any player.
Brady has never even had a losing season – all the more impressive when you consider that Bill Belichick’s Patriots have had losing seasons directly before and after Brady was their starting QB. With no pre-season, he took the 7-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to an 11-5 record and a Super Bowl victory.
The Bucs have the lowest winning percentage of any franchise across the Big Four American Sports and Brady has the highest individual winning percentage. In his long list of accolades, this is what stands out for me. His winning is infectious.
His easy confidence has spread throughout every player in that squad, just as it did in New England. They were playing for him and, most importantly, they were playing like him. Raw physical talent is by far the most overvalued and over-analysed metric in sport. The ‘It’ Factor. The answer to the question ‘What connects Johnny Manziel, Ravel Morrison and Anthony Bennett?’. Drafted 199th out of Michigan in 2000, Brady wasn’t supposed to have ‘it’.
He can’t run and doesn’t often make flashy individual plays to line highlight reels. But he knows how to win. He recognises better than anyone that games can be won far more efficiently through consistent, total performances rather than moments of individual brilliance.
Not only does he understand the game better than anyone else, but he also works relentlessly to know it even better than he already does. Aged 43, he was reprimanded for working out in a closed park in Tampa Bay. He kicked his kids out of the house in the week before the Super Bowl to make sure he adhered to his rigorous sleep schedule. You could reel off stories of his dedication and determination to winning for far more words than I can use in this article. But I don’t need to, because the winning he’s done illustrates it perfectly.
Brady is not just the greatest American Football player of all time; you have to look a long way to find a greater sportsman. Unlike Messi, he’s never going to be accused of going missing or underperforming when needed the most. Unlike Jordan, he proved he could do it without Belichick. Unlike Tiger Woods, he’s proven his dedication to winning comes before absolutely anything. If Lebron wins two or three more Championships, then he may well be on Brady’s level, but that’s very much a hypothetical situation. If Ronaldo wins a Champions League for Juventus, he might manage it too.
Olympians like Phelps or Bolt could challenge Brady’s record for winning, but both of their sports are fairly one-dimensional and heavily reliant on their natural, physical gifts. Schumacher and Hamilton get far too much help from their cars to be in this conversation.
Piers Morgan has been fighting Don Bradman’s corner as the greatest, and I can’t claim to be enough of a cricketing enthusiast to comprehensively disagree, but having retired in 1948 it seems clear that developments in understanding and technology in the sport since then make it an almost impossible comparison.
Tom Brady’s greatness comes from simply understanding what it takes to win. In terms of longevity and consistency, he is the greatest winner in sporting history, in one of the most difficult sports to win. And as much as we’re told it’s the taking part that counts, it’s not. It’s the winning. It’s what makes both Brady and Alexander of Macedon ‘great’. On top of that, he has the rare ability to make those around him winners too.
Brady has gone full circle in his career – there was a time when it was surprising how prolific he was, then everyone understood and appreciated it. Last night, it became clear that he’s now ascended to a level of greatness where we’re all able to be refreshingly surprised again. With multiple potential years left at the top, I’m very excited to see how one of history’s greatest sportsmen can still surprise us.
Image: Melisa David via Flickr