On the precipice of winning his seventh Super Bowl title, the football world has anointed Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady as the “Greatest Quarterback of All-Time.”
Over 21 seasons, Brady is set to make his 10th appearance in the Super Bowl and his first with Tampa Bay, who are set to face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
After a storied career with the New England Patriots and six Super Bowl victories, including a dramatic 34-28 overtime victory over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, Brady signed with Tampa Bay. He helped to change a 7-9 team into a title contender in one season.
Brady, after passing Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, is the undisputed greatest quarterback of the modern era of the NFL.
If he wins his seventh title, he will tie former Cleveland Browns great Otto Graham, who played from 1946-55.
Graham went to the pre-Super Bowl era championship game 10 years in a row for the legendary coach Paul Brown. Graham died at age 82 in 2004.
They called him “Automatic” Otto as he never missed a game while passing for 23,584 yards and 174 touchdowns. His record for 105-17-4. The Browns were a dynasty in the 1940s and ’50s with teams that included Hall of Famers Marion Motley, Dante Lavelli, Lou “The Toe” Groza and Bill Willis.
Graham wore No. 60 and No. 14 and played most of his career without a face mask.
“It is really a much more quarterback-centric game than when Otto Graham played,” said CBS analyst Boomer Esiason, who played for Paul Browns’ Cincinnati Bengals. “I remember Paul Brown telling me stories about the great Otto Graham and what he brought to the team.”
Esiason went to the Bengals in 1984, and Brown died in 1991. Brown regularly attended practice and shared stories about Graham with Esiason and Ken Anderson.
“What he brought to his team in Cleveland was leadership,” Esiason said. “It’s something that we always talk about when it comes to quarterbacks. Nobody is ever discounting how great he is or what he accomplished in Cleveland with all of those championships, but in the Super Bowl era with the way the game has changed so much and so many big moments and so many big moments that Tom Brady has performed, it’s hard to discount the fact that he is the greatest of all time to play our position.”
When Brady landed in Tampa Bay, there was talk about who deserved most of the credit for the success of the Patriots. Was it all Brady or was it coach Bill Belichick? While the Bucs went 11-5, the Patriots sank to 7-9 this season and didn’t make the playoffs.
Graham played in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), and the Browns won the championship in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949 before entering the NFL in 1950. The AAF was considered a weaker league, but the Browns and Graham continued to dominate in the NFL.
They made the championship game from 1950-55, with losses in 1951, 1952 and 1953.
Just playing without a face mask should get Graham some extra toughness points. He eventually was the first player to wear a face mask.
Graham was a five-time Pro Bowler and seven-time first-team All-Pro selection. He was in the original Pro Football Hall of Fame class in 1965.
“There are all these different things we can look at,” Esiason said. “All I know is that when I see Tom Brady on the field playing at the age of 43 and he’s getting ready to go to his 10th Super Bowl, that tells he has a lot to do with the success that’s gone on around him. That’s one of the easier ones when determining when the guy is the greatest of all time from my perspective.”
CBS studio host James Brown was a bit more diplomatic.
“The only thing that I would add to that about Tom Brady … is the wisdom of Red Auerbach, who said and I’ll continue to say, ‘arguably the best quarterback,’” Brown said. “The championships make him undisputed. But in terms of a great player, a great player in any era is a great player, period.”
Phil Simms, a two-time Super Bowl champion, acknowledged Graham’s greatness.
“I’ve seen all of those old films of Otto Graham throwing the ball and two things come to my mind,” Simms said. “He looked big. I don’t know what his size was, but he looks like a giant on the field. He was throwing a dang Rugby ball back then. That thing was big and round, and he could really throw it.”
Simms appreciated the hat tip to Graham because he said most players today can’t remember the greats from 10 years ago.
“He’s a guy that gets lost in history because history is not part of our game anymore,” Simms said. “It was great (to) bring Otto Graham into this conversation. From what I could see and what little knowledge from what they show us on TV ... he was a tremendous quarterback.”
After last season, the Bucs elected not to re-sign quarterback Jameis Winston. He threw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns, but he also tossed 30 interceptions.
Brady helped to change the Bucs’ fortunes. There were some bumps in the road and things were looking bleak with a 7-5 record after 12 games.
But things started to click for Brady and the Bucs, and they won their final four games, including two wins over the Falcons.
Brady tried to fit in with new team from the beginning. It helped that tight end Rob Gronkowski, a former New England mate, came out of retirement.
“He wants be coached hard,” Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “He wants you to let him know when he’s not doing the right things. That’s the easy part for me. You want to put the players in the best position to have success.”
Brady, Leftwich and coach Bruce Arians worked on game plans until they found the right mix for the 43-year-old quarterback.
“It was tougher earlier because we didn’t have an opportunity to go through a lot of these things that we normally would have gone through (in the offseason),” Leftwich said. “But we got halfway through the year, and we learned each other. We had the ability to learn each other and put us in position to play in this game right here.”
Arians, who’s worked with Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, has enjoyed working with Brady.
“His knowledge of the game, his understanding of the game, more importantly, his work ethic, separates him from a lot of quarterbacks that I’ve been around,” Arians said. “He handles it just like he’s a regular person.
“He’s very polite when he’s off the field. He can laugh at himself if he trips and falls. He has a great personality and a great work ethic that helps him be the great quarterback that he is.”
When Brady is finished, some contend he’ll pass the torch on to Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“I think that’s more of a long-term thing than a short-term thing,” Mahomes said. “You have to focus on, for me, trying to find a way to repeat, find a way to win a second championship and find a way to do whatever I can to win with this team.”
Brady’s rise to the pinnacle of the sports slow and steady.
“As far as my (career) – becoming an NFL player then transitioning to a starter and then someone who was kind of a ‘QB1,’ I think that happened over a period of time,” Brady said. “I started in college, I went to a big college. There was a lot of expectations at that big college (Michigan). I got to the pros and wanted to be a consistent, dependable player and every year just tried to improve my game a little bit.”
Brady has no plans of slowing down.
“Next year is going to be a lot better than this year,” Brady said. “I feel like I’ll be in a much better place mentally. I’m going to train a lot better – physically next year I’ll be in a better place. I know as soon as this game ends, we’re on to next season. We’ll get ready for this (game) then start thinking about next year.”
The Greatest of All-Time, with a hat tip to “Automatic” Otto Graham.
Falcons’ 2021 draft position:
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks released his Mock Draft 1.0 and has the Falcons selecting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. He has Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields going second overall to the New York Jets.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
2. New York Jets - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston) - Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
4. Falcons - Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
5. Cincinnati Bengals - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
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