Monday, February 6, 2017

A Change at the Top

For the last 30-years or so, I have maintained that Johnny Unitas is the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL.  Unitas was revolutionary in the way the position was played.  He retired with nearly every NFL passing record--many of which stood into the 1990's and the 2000's--despite playing in a run-heavy era where defensive backs could hit receivers as far downfield as they wanted and when offensive linemen couldn't use their hands to block rushers.  Unitas pioneered the seven-step drop for passes in the pocket and invented the two-minute offense.  He also called his own plays--which set him apart from today's quarterbacks who need to call a timeout and head to the sidelines when the speakers in their helmets go on the fritz and they can't get the play from the offensive coordinator--who double checked with the offense quality control coach and the head coach after consulting a play sheet that looks like a 24-hour truck stop menu.

But after last night's unbelievable performance, I am ready to acknowledge that Tom Brady has replaced Johnny U as the greatest of all time.  Even when it was 28-3 early in the 3rd quarter, I stayed with the game only because it was Brady at QB for the Patriots.  You just expected that he would at least will the Pats back to a one-score game late--maybe with possession of the ball and needing to go the length of the field to win or tie.  And that is exactly what happened. 

At any point in the furious rally did you think "This is where Brady throws the killer interception to seal New England's fate"?  I think most of America was in shock that he threw a Pick 6 near the red zone in the first half.  And when the Patriots won the toss to receive the ball to start overtime, you have to admit you knew Brady was going to march them right down the field again and end it with a touchdown--and not a weak field goal to give Atlanta a final chance.

Brady will not retire with any NFL passing records.  He won't catch Peyton Manning's yardage or touchdown marks--and he certainly won't eclipse Brett Favre's interception record.  But he easily outdistances their three combined Super Bowl titles with FIVE of his own.  And Brady has done all of this with no top-line offensive talent around him.  Johnny Unitas played with Hall of Famers like Raymond Berry, John Mackey and Lenny Moore.  I would be hard pressed to name any Patriots receivers or running backs that are on their way to Canton from the "Brady Era" (you could count Randy Moss--but he was in New England for just a couple of seasons at the end of his career and didn't exactly light it up).

Consider that Tom Brady is miracle catches by David Tyree and Mario Manningham away from being 7-0 in the Super Bowl.  Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw can always point to their 4-0 records in the big game--but I don't think anyone can hang the two Patriots losses on Tom Brady's performances in those contest.  So the time has finally come for one of the staunchest supporters of "The game was better back then" to admit the current superstar really is the greatest of all time.

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