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Let me start off by saying I like Tom Brady. I really do, and what's not to like? In three seasons as a starter, he not only has become the toast of Boston, but the darling of a nation. He is young, rich, good looking, talented and...oh ya, has two Super Bowl titles. Tom Brady is a lot of things. But Tom Brady is no Joe Montana.
The similarities between Brady and Montana have been regurgitated time and time again. Both have had overwhelming success early in their careers. Montana won two Super Bowls in his first five seasons (one of those included the strike shortened 1982 season) and Brady did it in 4. Both relied on a strong defense for their first Super Bowl title. Both had master minds as head coaches. Both have seemed magical on the field, while humble off. But to compare Brady to Montana so early in his career is more atrocious than booting a kickoff out of bounds with a minute to go in the Super Bowl. The media is quick to award the label of "Next Big Thing", and while it is fun to examine how great each athlete is, these comparisons are often overblown.
It is foolish for anyone to believe they can compare two quarterbacks from such different generations. The game has changed by leaps and bounds since Montana last stepped onto the football field a decade ago. While it is unfair to hold it against Brady, Commissioner Tagliabue has achieved his goal of parity in the NFL and teams are watered down. While Montana was searching for Dwight Clark in the end zone in 1981, he had Hall of Famer Randy White and perennial All-Pro Ed "Too Tall" Jones breathing down his neck, while Tom Landry, Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett watched from the sidelines. With all due respect to the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers, I hardly think their teams stack up.
Excluding the strike shortened 1982 season, Montana guided the 49ers to the playoffs nine straight years from 1981-1990. Not only did the 49ers win four Super Bowls during this time frame, but they also went to the NFC championship game six times. Only one other quarterback in NFL history has guided his team to 6 conference championships, Terry Bradshaw. As starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Montana only failed to reach the NFC Championship game 3 times. Montana also went to the Pro Bowl 8 times, won two Associated Press MVP awards and has a career regular season passer rating of 92.3, the second best in NFL history. While Brady is off to a good start, the real test will be longevity. But championships aren't won in the regular season; the Super Bowl is where legends are made.
While Brady may one day own a few Super Bowl records of his own, Montana wrote the book. Not only does Montana own an un-human 127.8 passer rating in four Super Bowl games, but he also has thrown more touchdowns (11), gained more yards (1,142) and completed more passes (83) than any other quarterback in Super Bowl history. However, the most impressive stat of all is that in four Super Bowl games, Joe Montana never threw an interception. With a minimum of 40 attempts, only one other quarterback has achieved that feat (Jim Plunkett). But Plunkett only played in two Super Bowls compared to Montana's four. While Brady's career is far from over, his statistics don't come close to comparison.
But statistics only tell half the story. While both are cool under pressure and great competitors, their attitudes are far different. When Montana threw a touchdown pass he was calm and cool. Photographers' light bulbs would flash as Montana would raise his arms in the air with a confident smirk on his face. Brady races to the end zone and tackles his teammates in praise of the great play. Brady brings a noticeable fire to the game, Montana was cool. Neither style is the right one; both quarterbacks got their job done. But they are different.
While Brady doesn't deserve to be grouped in Montana's class yet, he does deserve to be put in a special category. Think back to all the great quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl. Marino, Tarkenton, Kelly, Blanda, Fouts. Through three seasons as a starter, Brady has already won two. And he's done it with the class and dignity.
The sky is the limit for Brady and it will be fun to see where he goes. Maybe twenty years from now we'll debate the next "Big Thing" and I'll be forced to tell the world how he's no Tom Brady.