Brady v. Montana: An In-Depth Analysis on the Legacy Tom Brady is Making, and How it Stacks up to Joe Cool’s

Results of a poll sent to Westminster College students asking which quarterback is better - Tom Brady or Joe Montana. GRAPH BY JIM MALVEN

Results of a poll sent to Westminster College students asking which quarterback is better – Tom Brady or Joe Montana. GRAPH BY JIM MALVEN


Following Tom Brady’s fourth Super Bowl win, equal to all-time great Joe Montana’s record, many football fans are asking where does the fourth ring put Brady on the list of great quarterbacks. Looking at a career marred by scandals and controversies, sports writer Jim Malven takes an in-depth look at what Brady has accomplished, what he is compared to Joe Montana, and what his career means for football history.

With twenty-six seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX and the ball on the New England one-yard line, the Seattle Seahawks seemed destined to repeat as world champions.  Down by four, Seattle’s only option for survival was to score a touchdown, but they had two chances to move the ball the necessary three feet, and with Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, a Seahawks TD was nearly inevitable.  But on second and goal, with his season on the line, quarterback Russell Wilson opted out of handing the ball off to Lynch and instead called for a pass play.  The pass was intended for Jermaine Kearse, who had just moments ago made a dramatic reception in which he fumbled the ball between his hands and then recovered the precious pigskin as it rolled across his legs.  However, two plays later, Kearse’s luck ran out, as New England cornerback Michael Butler stepped in front of the Seahawks’ receiver and intercepted the intended pass, giving the ball back to the Patriots, who were up by four and just a few more ticks away from football nirvana.  After a couple of kneel-downs, the 199th overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft, a kid from Michigan named Brady, won his fourth NFL championship and went on to be named Super Bowl MVP for the third time in his illustrious career.

Both of these accomplishments – the four Super Bowl wins and the three Super Bowl MVP Awards – are NFL records for a quarterback, records that Tom Brady shares with his boyhood hero, former 49ers QB and Hall of Fame playcaller, Joe Montana.  Today, Brady is undoubtedly the most accomplished player in football, but where does he rank among the all-time greats?  Are we witnessing the single greatest quarterback to ever play in the NFL, or should we, like the young Brady, continue to idolize Montana, and only Montana?

Although Brady was a low draft pick, who, in hindsight, flew under the radar, his talent became very apparent once an opportunity presented itself.  That opportunity came in the form of an injury to the Patriots’ starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, during the 2001 season – an injury that effectively rewrote NFL history.  During the second game of the second season of Brady’s professional career, Bledsoe suffered from internal bleeding after being hit by New York Jets’ linebacker Mo Lewis, forcing the Pats to go with the 24-year-old rookie, who promptly led New England to a Super Bowl victory and has since become one of the most dominant athletes of our era.  Besides his aforementioned achievements, Brady has also twice been named Offensive Player of the Year, twice led the league in passing yards, and thrice led the league in passing touchdowns.  In addition, he holds NFL records for postseason wins (21) and starts (29) as a quarterback, completions in a single Super Bowl (37 against Seattle, breaking his previous record), postseason passing yards (7,345), Super Bowl passing yards (1,605), postseason passing touchdowns (53), Super Bowl passing touchdowns (13), conference championship wins (6) and appearances (9) as a quarterback, and division titles as a quarterback (12).  Obviously, Brady has quite an impressive résumé, perhaps an unmatched résumé, but we shouldn’t place Brady on a pedestal too quickly.  In order to help assess the legacy of Tom Brady, The Columns polled Westminster students and staff on their opinions about Brady and his competition.

Results of a poll sent to Westminster College students asking which quarterback is better - Tom Brady or Joe Montana. GRAPH BY JIM MALVEN

Results of a poll sent to Westminster College students asking which quarterback is better – Tom Brady or Joe Montana. GRAPH BY JIM MALVEN

Brady’s biggest rival for the number one spot, according to both our online poll and common opinion, is Joe Montana.  In a survey that asked the Westminster community who the greatest quarterback of all-time is,

only seven of the 71 responders (9.86%) selected Brady, whereas 43.66% voted for Montana.  Brady did come in second among the list of six QB’s (the “other” option actually received more votes), but he got 24 fewer votes than Montana.  While Brady unquestionably deserves to be ranked toward the top of the list, many feel that he should not be at the very top, reserving the “best ever” label for Montana. After perusing the list of Brady’s accomplishments Montana seems out of style, but there are still very good reasons that is cool to like the man they called “Joe Cool.”

Are we witnessing the single greatest quarterback to ever play in the NFL, or should we, like the young Brady, continue to idolize Montana, and only Montana?

Tom Brady has won the most Super Bowls as a quarterback and the most Super Bowl MVP Awards as a player, yet in these respects, he stands not alone, but alongside Montana.  In addition, many of Brady’s records had been previously set by Montana, such as reaching the 100-win plateau in the fewest games and passing for the most yards and touchdowns in the postseason.  Furthermore, despite the cliché that records are made to be broken, and despite the fact that Brady has surpassed Montana in some categories, a few of Montana’s milestones still stand, two decades after his retirement.  For example, he recorded a passer rating over 100 an unmatched twelve times, attempted 122 Super Bowl passes without throwing a single interception, threw two touchdowns passes of more than 95 yards, and finished his Super Bowl career with a perfect 4-0 record.

Based on the statistics, it is quite clear that both Brady and Montana are both tremendous quarterbacks who have the doors of the Hall of Fame standing open for them, but it also appears that Brady has already passed Montana in greatness and is headed toward even bigger and better things.  Brady will turn 38 in August, but there is no reason to say that he cannot continue duplicating what he did in Super Bowl XLIX, or what he has done his entire career.  In fact, an almost-40-year-old quarterback even coming remotely close to the “Tom Brady standard” would be a win in my book, and it is very likely that Brady will continue to do much more than just come close.  Sure, Montana was an outstanding player, but after Brady retires, and will have presumably accumulated even more records, will it even be appropriate to mention the two in the same sentence?

There are a few explanations as to why people view Montana as being better than Brady, and most of them are combinations of praises of Montana and attacks on Brady.  For instance, a common observation is that Montana has a perfect record in Super Bowl play and has won as many championships as Brady, while Brady has lost twice in the big game.  Of course, this means that Brady got his teams to the finale two more times than Montana, but many fans tend to focus more on the goose egg in Montana’s Super Bowl loss column than on Brady’s six championship appearances.

Another explanation is that some claim two of Brady’s championships should be credited to former Patriots’ kicker Adam Vinatieri, who kicked game-winning field goals in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII.  However, this argument is flawed in the sense that Vinatieri still needed a quarterback to advance the ball to within field goal range, rack up the necessary amount of points, and, above all, win enough games to get New England to the Super Bowl.

“It appears that Brady has already passed Montana in greatness and is headed toward even bigger and better things…after Brady retires, and will have presumably accumulated even more records, will it even be appropriate to mention the two in the same sentence?”

Besides, Joe Montana himself profited from having Jerry Rice, arguably the best wide receiver in NFL history, along with Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh. Neither Brady nor Montana could have achieved superstardom without a strong supporting cast.

Perhaps the biggest argument against Brady’s legacy is that he has been involved in two major scandals during his NFL career.  In 2007, reports emerged accusing the Patriots of videotaping the New York Jets’ signals during a game at New York, which, if true, would be a violation of NFL rules. That year, New England completed a perfect regular season, as they went 16-0, and made it to the Super Bowl.  After these accusations were publicized, people became skeptical of the Patriots’ integrity and wondered how much of their (and Brady’s) success was due to what was dubbed “Spygate.”  In response, New England head coach Bill Belichick admitted to the filming but denied that they were prohibited by NFL rules.  After the initial news broke, the Patriots faced further accusations – claims of having engaged in similar activities prior to Super Bowl XLII, which they won over the St. Louis Rams in 2002.  Legal or not, one has to wonder how responsible these incidents were for the Patriot’s perfect season and Super Bowl wins, and question whether or not the victories were as fully earned, or have the same meaning.

The second of the two scandals is known as “Deflate-Gate” and refers to a scenario during the 2015 AFC Championship Game in which the Patriot’s game balls were deflated in order to make them less firm and more catchable.  Like the Spygate scandal, Deflate-Gate would also be inconsistent with NFL rules; in this case, it would be a violation of legislation against tampering with game equipment.  The Patriots went on to demolish the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 that game, before winning the world championship, but one cannot say for sure what the score would have been if both teams had used fully-inflated footballs.

Nevertheless, the degree to which these scandals aided Brady and his teammates does not matter in evaluating his reputation, because fans will often overlook these issues and merely point out that he cheated.  This is not necessarily wrong thinking, but as the actual events fade further and further into the past, the beliefs associated with them will become more polarized since people will have less access to the facts yet feel they still have to pick a side.  Thus, it does not matter whether cheating helped Brady, but whether we are okay with him cheating.

Statistics suggest that we are not.  In a Columns survey that asked whether the Patriots’ scandals should tarnish Brady’s reputation, 38 of 68 voters (55.88%) said “yes,” while the remaining 44.12% said “no.”

Respondents to the poll believed that the Patriots' scandals should negatively affect Tom Brady's reputation. GRAPH BY JIM MALVEN

Respondents to the poll believed that the Patriots’ scandals should negatively affect Tom Brady’s reputation. GRAPH BY JIM MALVEN

Simply put, Brady and his teammates broke the rules, while Montana has maintained a spotless, unquestioned reputation.  Perhaps this, more than anything, is why, on a different survey, 57.58% of the 66 voters chose Montana as a better quarterback than Brady.  Brady received just 13.64% of the vote, while 19 people (28.79%) said the two QB’s are pretty evenly matched.

The final factor that goes into comparing the legacies of Montana and Brady is nostalgia.  People typically have an inclination that somehow, the past, especially their youth, was better than present conditions.  This explains, then, why those who grew up during the ‘70s and ‘80s would regard Montana as the better quarterback.  There are those die-hard football fans who say, “In all my years of watching football, I’ve never seen someone quite as good.”  However, these individuals make up the minority of the older football fan-base; it is much more common to find someone who prefers a player who played during his/her youth over a player of similar quality who played during a later era, simply because the fan has a more positive image associated with the older player’s generation.  Back then, these fans would say, everything was better; there was a blurry picture on the television, teams wore brightly-colored uniforms, and players had much more freedom to bang into each other.  For fans of more recent generations, these things probably seem like negatives, but there is definitely a warm and fuzzy feeling that almost all of us have tied to our “glory days.”  Logically, nostalgia is not a sound reason to say Joe Montana is better than Tom Brady, and while either side of the argument can be corroborated by facts, the answer is ultimately subjective, and thus relies on opinionated reasoning as well.

“[When deciding his legacy], it does not matter whether cheating helped Brady, but whether we are okay with him cheating.”


Results of the poll asking respondents to name the greatest quarterback of all time. Tom Brady received 10 percent of the vote, more than any other contender, but still 34 percent less than Joe Montanta. GRAPH BY JIM MALVEN

During the bulk of the article, I have been debating who the better quarterback is – Tom Brady or Joe Montana, but now, let’s return to the original question – Where does Brady rank among the all-time greats?  To answer this question, we need to consider QB’s other than just Montana and Brady.  In the “Greatest Quarterback of All-Time” survey, the only QB who stood out was Montana, earning over 40% of the vote.  Brady received the second highest percentage of votes, but got only six more votes than the lowest vote-getter, Terry Bradshaw, while falling two dozen behind Montana.  This data suggest that it is not Montana v. Brady, but rather Montana v. the field.  They also suggest that Brady is among the best quarterbacks to ever play in the National Football League, since he did fare better than two-time Super Bowl winner and Super Bowl XXXIII MVP John Elway (5 votes), 1984 NFL MVP and holder of various records Dan Marino (5), 4-time NFL MVP and 3-time NFL champion Johnny Unitas (4), and 4-time world champion Terry Bradshaw (1).

For now, all we can say is that the common perception is that Brady is one of the ten greatest, if not top five, quarterbacks of all-time, but Montana is still number one.  Brady does hold more postseason records and have more conference championships than Joe, but overall, the stats are pretty equal, so equal that the only thing that matters is opinion, which, as of now, favors Montana.  Perhaps Brady will go down in history as a Joe Montana, a phrase which itself suggests Montana’s unimpeachable position, but by then, there will be someone new to take on the role of Tom Brady, and the debate will continue forever.

One comment

  • Brady maybe be better statistically, and helped his teams win especially from behind, even Joe, but for Superbowls at least Joe is actually statistically better than Brady but it’s fairly close though in comparison to Brady, but Joe’s moments were more memorable and he was more beautiful and and more thrilling to watch ala Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and although like Brady, a pocket passer, Joe was actually a better runner and more mobile and elusive compared to Brady and played in a not so pass friendly offense era unlike today even though defenses are tougher today at least Joe proved how really great he was when qb’s and offenses were not protected as much with more rules and regulations compared to today. Montana is the man for me. Sorry Brady


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