Five reasons why Tom Brady is the undisputed GOAT of American football

It’s official: Tom Brady is retiring. Again.

As the 23-season veteran quarterback prepares to move off the field and into the commentary booth, the headlines have begun to flow — “legend”, “superstar”, “immortal”.

Yet somehow, it doesn’t feel like those terms quite do justice to what Brady accomplished.

If you aren’t a fan of American football, you could easily get lost in the lingo and assume this is a typical case of sportswriters reaching for breathless superlatives.

You’d be wrong. Here are five facts that should convince even the most confused Australian just why Tom Brady is the undisputed GOAT of gridiron.

He won seven Super Bowls in 23 years

Sounds impressive, right? Let’s put it into perspective.

Seven Super Bowl wins is the most by a quarterback in history. Tied for second are Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, at four.

No team, collectively, has won seven Super Bowls. The Patriots and the Steelers have won six each.

That’s because winning a Super Bowl is hard. Very hard. So hard, in fact, that 12 of the NFL’s 32 teams have never managed it in the championship game’s 57-year history.

That’s right, there are 32 teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy each year — compared to, say, the 17 teams in the NRL, the 18 in the AFL, or the 20 in the English Premier League.

That means there are 31 teams going home broken, bruised and bitterly disappointed every year.

The NFL is also based on parity — the principle that the struggling teams should get a leg up and the dominant teams be brought down a peg or two every year to keep things interesting.

The league achieves this by giving the top draft picks to the worst-performing teams, as well as capping the total pool of salaries that can be paid to players on a single team, meaning rich clubs can’t just buy the best players and everyone has to make trade-offs at certain positions.

It’s meant to make it harder for individual teams to establish long-running dynasties — and for the most part it does a pretty good job.

Even greats of the game like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have only managed single Super Bowl wins.(Reuters: Jeff Haynes)

It’s why commentators talk about “Super Bowl windows” — usually the three or four years in which a rookie quarterback has hit their stride but is still on their cheap initial contract (freeing up money to bring in other star players), or when a team has managed to juggle its players’ contracts so as to maximise roster talent before it finally has to pay the piper and everything comes crashing down.

Brady somehow managed to win three Super Bowls in the New England Patriots’ early-2000s window — then jammed that window open and kept it like that for another decade and a half, winning three more, all in a league set up to prevent one team from dominating.

But of course, he didn’t do it alone.

He settled the greatest ‘coach or player’ debate of all time

Perhaps more so than in any other sport, coaches in the NFL have a great deal to do with the on-field action.

They don’t just draw up a game plan. They draw up a playbook — a meticulously detailed guide for what every player on the field should be doing at any given moment — and then decide which play to run in real time, their decision relayed to the quarterback or linebacker via a speaker in the player’s helmet.

You might say NFL players are the chess pieces, and their coaches are the chess players.

Of course, there’s much more to the game than that. But it’s easy to see why a great coach can elevate a team as much as, if not more than, a great quarterback.

A tall NFL player in a dark blue jersey with the number 12 talks to an older man in a grey jumper who's wearing a headset.
Brady and Bill Belichick discuss strategy during Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.(Reuters: Matt Sullivan)

With defensive genius Bill Belichick at head coach for the Patriots, Brady was in the perfect position to succeed.

The problem was their success together inevitably led to the question: Who was the real mastermind here?

There’s little doubt that proving he could win without Belichick was part of the reason for Brady’s eventual departure from New England.

Moving to Florida in his old age, as many Americans do, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, immediately won another Super Bowl, and topped it off with a tequila-soaked boat parade.

Belichick, meanwhile, experienced his first losing season since 2000 after signing former MVP Cam Newton.

He racked up the stats (at his own pace)

Gridiron football is the ultimate team sport, with 53 players on each roster, separate groupings for offence and defence, and specialists for punts and field goals that can decide the fate of a close game.

Not to mention someone has to catch the passes the quarterback throws.

For that reason it’s hard to find a statistic that can be used to measure Brady’s individual performance against the GOATs of other sports, like Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky or Don Bradman, using a statistical method like standard deviations.

What we can do is marvel at the fact that Brady currently leads the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and a slew of other metrics, despite maintaining a longevity-focused style of play that never lent itself to flashy highlights or mind-blowing individual statistics.

He played until 45 — and he played well

Even more impressive, perhaps, than Brady’s statistical achievements — Super Bowl rings notwithstanding — is the fact he was able to play at such a high level for so long, in a league where the average career typically lasts only a few years.

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Tom Brady retires at 45, insisting this time it’s ‘for good’

This time, American football player Tom Brady says he’s done for good. The seven-time Super Bowl winner with New England and Tampa Bay announced his retirement from the American NFL on Wednesday, exactly one year after first saying his playing days were over, by posting a brief video lasting just under one minute on social media.

Unlike last winter, though, the most successful quarterback in league history, as well as one of the greatest athletes in American sports, said his decision was final.

“Good morning guys. I’ll get to the point right away,” Brady says as the message begins. “I’m retiring. For good.”

He briefly retired after the 2021 season but wound up coming back for one more year with the Buccaneers. He retires at age 45, the owner of virtually every meaningful NFL passing record in an unprecedented 23-year career.

A year ago when he retired, it was in the form of a long Instagram post. But about six weeks later, he decided to return for one more run, citing “unfinished business” after an early playoff exit.

The Buccaneers — with whom he won a Super Bowl two seasons ago — made the playoffs again this season, losing in their playoff opener. And at the time, it begged the question about whether Brady would play again.

Only a couple of weeks later, he has given the answer.

“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first,” Brady says in the video. “I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay and I used mine up last year.

“I really thank you guys so much, to every single one of you for supporting me. My family, my friends, teammates, my competitors. I could go on forever. There’s too many. Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing. Love you all.”

Brady is the NFL’s career leader in yards passing (89,214) and touchdowns (649). He is the only player to win more than five Super Bowls and has been MVP of the game five times. He also holds marks for regular-season wins (251), Super Bowl appearances (10), playoff games and wins (48, 35), as well as playoff yards (13,400) and TDs (88).

“Tom’s legacy is unmatched in the history of this game. All the Super Bowl titles and statistical records speak for themselves, but the impact he had on so many people through the years is what I appreciate the most,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said.

“His imprint on this organization helped take us to the mountaintop. We will certainly miss him as our quarterback, but I will also miss him as a leader and friend,” Licht added. “Our entire organization is indebted to him for what he provided us over the past three years. We won’t ever forget the wins or the accolades, and his influence will be felt for years to come.”

Brady announced his retirement one day after attending the premiere of “80 for Brady” — which comes out Friday — in Los Angeles. The movie tells the story of four lifelong friends, played by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field, who went to a Super Bowl to see Brady play.

He was asked Tuesday night whether he felt a connection working with women — the four stars range in age from 76 to 91 — who don’t want to retire.

“They’re working hard and they love it. So good for them,” Brady told The Associated Press. “You know, it’s just that’s what life is about. You got to, you know, wake up every day with a purpose. And when you find something you love to do, you know, it’s hard to stop. You really enjoy it. And there’s a lot of aspects that you do enjoy. So they still bring it at this age. It’s really unbelievable to watch them on set and how much energy they have. And I certainly was inspired by them and learned a lot of lessons on this whole experience.”

Famously underrated coming into the NFL — he was picked 199th in the 2000 draft by the Patriots, behind six other quarterbacks, three kickers and a punter — Brady certainly wasn’t expected to become synonymous with greatness. He played in one game as a rookie, completing one of three passes for six yards.

The next year, it all changed.

Brady took over as the Patriots’ starter, the team beat the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl that capped the 2001 season and he and New England coach Bill Belichick were well on their way to becoming the most successful coach-QB duo in football history.

More Super Bowl wins came after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Patriots returned to football’s mountaintop for a fourth time in Brady’s era a decade later to cap the 2014 season, the start of three more titles in a span of five years.

He signed with Tampa Bay in free agency in 2020 and added a seventh Super Bowl ring to his collection in his first season with his new team. The Bucs and won 37 games (including postseason) with Brady at quarterback — third most in the league over the past three seasons behind Kansas City (46) and Buffalo (41).

“I think I’ve been on the record dozens of times saying there’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady, and I still feel that way,” Belichick said in 2021 — shortly before Tampa Bay, with Brady, came to New England and beat the Patriots in a game dubbed “The Return.” “I was very lucky to have Tom as the quarterback, to coach him, and he was as good as any coach could ever ask for.”

Brady set league single-season records for completions (490) and pass attempts (733) while throwing for 4,643 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his final season. The Bucs, however ranked dead last in rushing offense and, forced to rely almost solely of Brady’s arm, struggled to get the ball into the end zone.

After scoring 61 touchdowns in 2021, Tampa Bay slipped to 31 last season and averaged just 18.4 points per game — down from over 30 in Brady’s first two seasons with the Bucs.

At 8-9, Brady’s only losing season in over two decades as a NFL starter, the Bucs became just the fourth team in league history to earn a postseason berth with a losing mark in a non-strike year. The offensive struggles continued during a lopsided loss to Dallas in the NFC wild-card round.

Brady won three NFL MVP awards, was a first-team All-Pro three times and was selected to the Pro Bowl 15 times.

Brady and model Gisele Bündchen finalized their divorce this past fall, during the Bucs’ season. It ended a 13-year marriage between two superstars who respectively reached the pinnacles of football and fashion.

It was announced last year that when Brady retires from playing, he would join Fox Sports as a television analyst in a 10-year, $375 million deal.

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