During the 1980s and ’90s, the dying days of what was known as the “territorial” era of professional wrestling, guys would become the biggest star in a region, for a specific promoter, and that’s where they would stay.
They were champion of their own world, without the challenge of the top men from other territories. Fans were always left wondering and fantasizing: what would happen if the champion from one area wrestled the biggest star from another?
What if Harley Race wrestled Bruno Sammartino? What if Ric Flair challenged Hulk Hogan? What if Sting took on the Undertaker?
For the better part of Tom Brady’s 20-year reign as the “King of the NFL,” media and fans have continuously created challengers for TB12’s crown.
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“Brady is great, but Drew Brees is a more prolific passer, look at his numbers!”
“Brady has won more rings, but Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback.”
Last year NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, who I have a ton of respect for, asked honestly before Super Bowl LIV if Patrick Mahomes was “the most talented player ever to step on a Super Bowl field.”
I’m not totally sure what that means, but I know you can’t quantify it, so I guess it’s something that sounds good to say because ultimately it can never really be proven false.
In 2020, Tom Brady switched territories. He left the AFC, after vanquishing Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger for 20 years. Brady needed fresh opponents. In the playoffs he went on the road and beat Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, then had the audacity to host Patrick Mahomes and leave him battered, en route to his seventh Super Bowl title.
Over the last 6 years, Brady has been building from the top. Ever since he tied Bradshaw and Montana with four rings, he has pushed the pedestal on which he sits further and further out of the reach of challengers.
Perhaps the only sensical thing Tony Romo said all night Sunday was when he used simple math to make a very effective point.
“Brady wins this and makes it seven to Mahomes’ one. If Mahomes had won and it was 6-2, there is a chance that Patrick Mahomes could one day tie Tom Brady’s mark. But now…”
Mahomes is insanely talented and one of the best players at this stage in his career that we have ever seen, but winning six more Super Bowls is difficult for anybody. Just think back to that decade when the Patriots were perennially great but went 0-2 in Super Bowls. Or the fact Dan Marino played in Super Bowl XIX in his second season and never made it back, even though he was paired with the winningest coach in NFL history.
Drew Brees only played in one. Ditto for Aaron Rodgers. Russell Wilson, one of the best “young” quarterbacks in the league, hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl in the six years since the Malcolm Butler interception.
The point is, this is really hard to do. I never thought that anybody could surpass Michael Jordan on the list of greatest athletes of all-time. In fact, ESPN ranked MJ as the greatest athlete of the 20th Century. Tom Brady has now won one more championship than “His Airness” and has been at it longer. Tom Brady won a ring at 24 and one at 43. Jordan won six rings in eight years between ages 28 and 36.
After being one of the most divisive figures in sports after Deflategate, Brady has done something that in the age of social media is almost impossible: change minds.
For the simple reason that people like to watch greatness, they like to think that what they are seeing is special, “the best ever.”
In the grand scheme of things, we aren’t on this earth for long, and the chances of being here at the same time as the greatest of anything seems like buying a winning lottery ticket.
Some would love to live in the Roaring ’20s and watch Babe Ruth. Or the turbulent ’60s and ’70s to see Muhammed Ali. Being college-aged for Michael Jordan night after night would have been fun.
But seeing Tom Brady win seven Super Bowl rings? I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Tom Brady is the greatest of all time. In any era. In any territory.