I just turned 20 the day Tom Brady and the New England Patriots shocked the world and denied the St. Louis Rams a second Super Bowl. Since February 3, 2002, I have taken every swing at his legend since, but that assault ended last night with the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
The collective thought process was simple: who was Tom Brady and what was he doing stealing the thunder of the Rams, who were 16-point favorites going into that game? Flash forward 15 years, and Brady did it again Sunday night with a rousing "no way" win over the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. Same old story, but even greater than before. Brady wins a Super Bowl, his fifth, takes home the MVP award, his fourth, and silences the critics and haters.
I used to be one of those critics, AKA haters. Let me explain. While ranging close to the critic variety, I found a special appreciation in watching Brady get denied twice by the New York Giants for twice simple reasons; the underdog factor and a love for Peyton Manning. In the world of sports, you have to pick a side, and I routinely picked the one opposing Tom Brady. In beating the Rams, Panthers, and the Eagles, Brady and the Patriots were building a wrecking ball that swung through the NFL and couldn't be stopped. Seeing the Giants defense put an end to that and the Patriots being denied Super Bowl trophy access for ten years was a treat. Now, he has won two in the past three years. Better than ever, and turning 40 before the 2017 preseason begins.
It's not even fair, and that is something Brady has heard plenty of times throughout his miraculous career. The idea of cheating and winning games fair and square. He got behind center on September 23, 2001, and hasn't left the starting role except for a season lost to a knee injury and four games suspended to begin the 2016 season. The suspicions began when the Patriots were caught illegally filming the New York Jets practice during the first week of the 2007 season.
The incident was labeled "Spygate" and cost the Patriots a first round pick in 2008, and separate fines of 500,000 to the team and to head coach Bill Belichick. There was suspicion that it had been going on for years, and may have affected a Super Bowl win or two. It couldn't be proven, but it never seemed to die.
When the Giants beat them in the Super Bowl twice, the fastest words out of the mouth consisted of, "You see, they haven't won anything since they stopped cheating!" Until 2015, when the Seattle Seahawks produced the biggest goal-line gaffe of all time and gave way to a Patriots win that gave Brady his fourth ring. For Belichick and Brady, it was a mic-drop to the entire league.
Spygate wasn't the only time the Patriots were suspected of cheating, because "Deflategate" actually took Brady out of action. It was reported that Brady and the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs before a playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts in 2015. Brady was suspended for four games to begin the 2016 season, but the Patriots still went 3-1 with multiple quarterbacks filling in for Brady.
It's worth noting that the Atlanta Falcons had last night's game in hand. They were up 28-9 going into the fourth quarter, but no one puts Brady and the Patriots in a corner with a full quarter to play. Slowly but surely, Brady picked apart the Falcons defense, which had sacked him numerous times and took an interception back for a touchdown already. Like a punched out boxer refusing to stay down, Brady was determined to come back, and what followed was arguably the greatest game ever.
When it was all said and done, Brady threw the ball 62 times and completed 43 passes. He only threw two touchdowns to one interception, but he passed for 26 first downs and helped the Pats convert a pair of two point conversions, with the second sending the game to overtime. Love, hate or despise the guy, today a heavy load of respect must be given to the guy with enough Super Bowl rings to fill one hand.
For his career in the postseason, Brady has a 25-9 record with 63 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. He has completed passes at a 62.7 percentage, and amassed 9,094 yards. Those stats pale in comparison to the next couple stats though. Brady has led 7 fourth-quarter comebacks and 10 game-winning drives in his playoff career. In the words of the Joker, Brady is a freak and there's no turning back now.
The Brady legend began on my 20th birthday and culminated on the weekend of my 35th. I am done trying. I am fully ready to admit that he is the greatest of all time. The NFL may never see this type of dominance again. Brady and the Patriots have won five Super Bowls in the last 15 years, and played in seven.
Brady shouldn't retire, because he has an easy shot at returning and winning his sixth and seventh rings. Why stop when you are on top of the world? The fact that he looked dynamic last night at the age of 39 only adds to the legend.
Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl title last year with the Denver Broncos, but hindered the team more than he helped. Manning looked ancient, and merely stayed out of the way long enough for the Broncos to prosper. Without Brady, New England doesn't win anything last night.
Forget the cheating. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. It may have been that way before February of 2017, but there's no doubt today.