Purple Pennings

By Patrick Buscone

Growing up, I always envied people who got to watch Michael Jordan. I read every book I could find on him. When other kids were reading Harry Potter, I was reading Playing for Keeps by David Halberstram or The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith or countless others. And when I probably should have been doing something “productive,” I watched full games from the Bulls in the ‘90s (thanks to Hardwood Classics and YouTube). You could say I was fascinated by greatness. When I was growing up, no one ever debated that Michael Jordan was the greatest player to lace them up—you would get laughed at. His status as the greatest was so solidified that everyone growing up in my generation—that had never seen him in a Bulls uniform in their memory—knew, almost from birth, that there was no one better. I can’t remember anyone sitting me down and “giving me the talk” that Michael Jordan was the GOAT, but I always knew it. This phenomenon led me to wonder, when did everyone who was watching him in real time realize? Surely, it started with Bulls fans in the middle of his career then spread further and further and by his 6th championship, it became common knowledge.

People are resistant to change, though, and for good reason. In order to be the greatest, you need to be undoubtedly better than whoever everyone thought the greatest was before you came along. In Jordan’s case, he had to surpass Bill Russell’s 11 rings, or Magic Johnson’s amazing versatility, or Larry Bird’s all-around play (for the Boston homers) or even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his unstoppable skyhook. Today, in LeBron James’ case he has to surpass all of them and then Jordan, perhaps too tall of a task and one that might require seven championships. And, if we’re being completely honest, I don’t think I want to see him do it. Strange as it is, even for someone who never really saw him play, my admiration for Jordan is too great for anyone to surpass it on a basketball court.

Interestingly enough though, while I would admire past greatness from the months of March to August, the other months were strictly reserved for appreciating greatness in its time. That is, enjoying the unique pleasure of watching Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. play every Sunday. Now I’m beginning to ask my younger self the same questions that I wondered as a kid. When did I know that Tom Brady was the greatest to ever play? When did everyone else figure it out? And would there ever even be any doubt for the next generation?

For me, I knew Brady was the GOAT during the undefeated season that we usually don’t speak of. From then on, I mostly just wanted him to prove it to all other fans out there, not just us New England homers. Holy Cross was the first time I spent a lot of my time with non-Patriot fans. I was absolutely shocked to hear the universal hatred people had for Brady. To this day, I’ll never understand it. But that’s not the point of this article.

Freshman year, the Brady vs. Manning debate was in full swing (as it had been for a decade at that point). Non-Patriot fans were convinced Peyton was better. Regular-season wise they had a case, but if you add in the playoffs and Peyton “One and Done” Manning doesn’t even stand a chance. Peyton’s embarrassing loss to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl did wonders for my argument. The next season, Brady showed Manning how to beat the vaunted Legion of Boom, with a miraculous fourth quarter comeback against one of the best defenses to ever play.

During the fourth quarter, I thought it would be a real shame if the Seahawks won because then people wouldn’t remember how great Brady was to close out that game. With that in mind, Brady has Malcolm Butler to thank for preserving some of his legacy. After that win, which was sweeter than I could have ever imagined, I knew it was over. There was no more denying it. There was no more debating it. Brady was the GOAT, not just to New England but to the whole country.

Still, as seemingly is always the case, some people held firm that Montana was the best. As I mentioned earlier, tying the greatest doesn’t make you the greatest, you have to surpass them in every way. Dissenters held ever so tightly to the argument that Brady should be penalized for having lost two Super Bowls, for Montana never lost one. It’s an argument that seems logical until you really think about it. Penalizing a quarterback for winning more playoff games and making it to the biggest game of the season is an interesting move, especially when you consider two facts. One, Brady had fourth-quarter drives to take the lead in both Super Bowl losses. Two, Montana failing to reach the Super Bowl many years should not work to his favor. If you’re going to penalize Brady for losing in the Super Bowl, don’t credit Montana for losing in the first round and not making it, as he did four times (in which he threw a combined four interceptions and zero interceptions).

The final argument is the stats. I could cite dozens of relevant stats here and all of them would favor Brady by a large margin. Brady has about 20,000 more passing yards, nearly 200 more touchdowns and roughly the same number of interceptions with just two more seasons of play than Montana (it also stands to reason that Brady should not have his stats discounted because Montana never ate avocado ice cream and played just 15 years).

But what seemed obvious to me did not to the rest of the country. Then February 5th, 2017 happened. And life for NFL fans will never be the same again. Brady took his 10-point Super Bowl comeback and made it look insignificant, upstaging his last performance with a 25-point comeback in which he threw for nearly 500 yards. To say I’ve now seen it all would be an understatement.

Before the game, I felt excited, a little nervous, but excited that in his 17th season I would get to watch Tom Brady play in another Super Bowl. Who knows how many more of those there will be.

At halftime, I was stunned. I knew the Falcons were a great team, but Tom Brady never gets embarrassed, especially not on the biggest stage. I didn’t even want to get my hopes up at the thought of a comeback; we just needed a defensive stop.

But, by the end of the game, I was stunned in a whole different way. As I said before, in order to be the greatest, it isn’t enough to be as good as the previous greatest. In order to truly be the GOAT, you have to do the impossible. Tom Brady has done a lot of amazing things in his 17-year career, but nothing like his fourth quarter and overtime performance in his 7th Super Bowl. Coming back from a 25-point deficit with around 17 minutes of play remaining in the Super Bowl was impossible—until Brady did it. Winning five Super Bowls and four Super Bowl MVPs was also impossible—until Brady did it.

Hopefully, he can continue to play at a high level into his 40’s, which would not surprise me given his lack of regard for what is considered impossible. But no matter what happens, the whole world knows now, that he is and always will be the GOAT.

Someday, when TB12 is long-retired and his name becomes synonymous with “the best” just like Jordan or Ali, one of my kids—if they’re anything like me—will ask what it was like to watch Tom Brady play his whole career. And I’ll just smile looking back on it and say it was too good to even put in words, growing up watching the greatest of all time win Super Bowls for the Patriots from the age of six all the way into my 20s.

So, from my younger self, my current self, and my older self: Thank you, Tom, for showing me the greatness I never thought I would get to see.

Photograph Credits: Daily Snark

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