The argument about the greatest quarterback in NFL history takes on different shapes, depending on what people prefer.
Some want numbers, others lean on championships, others like using the eye test. Many believe in talent, arguing that someone like Dan Marino or John Elway would have been even better than someone like Joe Montana had they switched teams.
Regardless of what criteria you use, two of the undisputed greatest quarterbacks ever will be facing off for the first time in the playoffs on Sunday, with a spot in Super Bowl LV on the line. Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday for the NFC championship, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
It’s hard to argue against Brady’s incredible accomplishments, especially since he had a big season after leaving the New England Patriots. For those who believe Rodgers’ talent is transcendent, a win on Sunday would bolster their argument.
Tom Brady’s success might never be topped
It’s peculiar why Brady isn’t universally considered the best quarterback ever.
Brady has won six Super Bowls and played in three others, setting NFL records. Sunday will be his 14th conference championship game, and no other quarterback has appeared in more than seven. He is a three-time MVP. He’s first in all-time passing touchdowns and second in all-time passing yards, and he’ll likely pass Drew Brees (if Brees retires) next season. If we’re judging a player solely on his resume, Brady is the GOAT. Many would agree.
Others push back. Perhaps its Brady’s humble beginnings, as the 199th pick of the 2000 draft, and the misguided notion that he’s not as talented as other great quarterbacks. Most candidates as the greatest ever in other sports — Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Mike Trout, Barry Bonds, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux — were superstars before they ever turned pro. They had precocious talent and lived up to it. We like our greatest athletes to fit in that box. Because Brady wasn’t drafted until the sixth round, there’s a lingering notion that he was carried along by the Patriots’ system. His great season at age 43 with the Buccaneers should eliminate that thought, not that it was valid in the first place. But there is a lot of contempt over the Patriots’ success through the years. Some will never give Brady his due.
A seventh Super Bowl ring, at age 43 with a franchise that has very little history of success, would be one of the most remarkable accomplishments in sports history. To get the chance, he has to go through Rodgers first.
Aaron Rodgers is a special talent
When people parse out most accomplished quarterback vs. greatest quarterback they’ve seen, it opens the door for players like Rodgers.
Rodgers can’t match Brady’s championships but he has some numbers that are better than Brady, especially when it comes to efficiency. He has a better completion percentage, touchdown percentage, interception percentage and quarterback rating through his career. Rodgers spent most of his career with Mike McCarthy, who nobody would take over Bill Belichick. He’s about to match Brady with his third MVP award. He has made ridiculously athletic throws that very few other quarterbacks through NFL history could make.
Rodgers’ highlight plays are more impressive from a physical aspect than Brady’s best plays. Even Brady supporters would have a hard time arguing against that. That’s why some prefer Rodgers — or Elway, Montana, Marino, Johnny Unitas or Peyton Manning — over Brady. Even Rodgers himself thinks it’s hard to limit the conversation to just one player.
“When you’re talking about best players ... there’s way too many people labeled the GOAT, or this guy’s the GOAT of this or this guy’s the GOAT of that. It used to be, greatest of all time is one person, right?” Rodgers said on “The Pat McAfee Show” in December. “But now, because there’s way too many GOATs, I think you have to break it out into specific categories. Best winner of all time. Person who has won the most championships. Best player, which involves talent and ability and what you did with it. Most talented player. Best thrower of the football. There’s different ways you can break that out. When it comes to those? With most people I’m in the conversation.”
The argument can be unfair at times. For Rodgers, having just one Super Bowl is a knock against him. He can change that conversation in the next few weeks. Brady can lift his legacy to an even higher level by the end of his postseason. No matter which quarterback you prefer, we’ll be seeing two of the greatest ever with a Super Bowl berth on the line Sunday. It will be a game for the history books.
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