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The New England Patriots play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. That means Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers, for just the second time ever. And with the era’s two most prolific gunslingers in their 19th and 14th NFL seasons, respectively, and still very close to the tops of their games, that means it’s GOAT week.
Really, there should be little argument that Tom Brady is the greatest of all time. The greatest quarterback. The greatest player. The most valuable man in NFL history. Even Rodgers agrees. “He’s got five championships,” the Packers QB said this week. “I think that ends most discussions.”
But Brady? He isn’t so comfortable with the label.
“I don’t think I like it very much, truthfully,” Brady said in an insightful 17-minute sit-down interview with NBC Sports’ Rodney Harrison.
Why Brady doesn’t like the GOAT label
Harrison’s question, specifically, was about how Brady feels when he hears his name mentioned as “the best ever.” That’s what elicited Brady’s response. And he had a full explanation.
“It’s almost more uncomfortable for me because I never see myself like that,” Brady said. “I’ve always been the underdog.”
Harrison, Brady’s former teammate in New England, then brought up a 2003 conversation between the two, in which Brady referred to himself as a sixth-round pick, despite being four years removed from the draft and already a Super Bowl champ.
“I still feel that way,” Brady told Harrison 15 years later. “I was a backup quarterback on a 0-8 freshman high school team. I didn’t even play. We didn’t win a game, and I couldn’t even get on the field. [I was] kinda a late bloomer, recruited to Michigan late, started as the seventh quarterback, had to work really hard to even play. … Got drafted in the sixth round. No one thought I’d make the team.”
Harrison: “So that drives you?”
Brady: “Yeah, it still does.”
Brady’s thoughts on NBC’s Michael Jordan promo
NBC has been trying to push the GOAT conversation as a debate to hype up Sunday night’s matchup. One of the ways in which it’s done so: With a commercial featuring Michael Jordan, who says, “A lotta talk going on these days about who is the greatest ever. … It’s a tough call. … Maybe the best way to play it out is head-to-head.”
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) October 29, 2018
Brady said he’d seen the commercial while being treated by his trainer, Alex Guerrero, last Sunday night. “I heard Michael Jordan’s voice – I was laying there, looking up at the ceiling. I hear this commercial … What’s MJ talking about?” Brady recalled. “Who’s playing? LeBron and who?”
Brady wouldn’t answer the “LeBron vs. MJ” question, though. He gave the political response, despite Harrison’s urging. “I love ’em both,” Brady said.
Brady dishes on the other greats
Brady is either being political, or he’s just never been one for GOAT debates. He says he’d never engage in them with friends throughout his childhood. “There was a lot of great quarterbacks at the time,” he told NBC. “[John] Elway, [Joe] Marino, Joe [Montana]. And then Steve Young was a little bit younger. … I thought they were all great.”
In the backyard growing up in California, Brady said, he was Montana and Young. He was a San Francisco 49ers fan. He had both QBs’ jerseys. “They were both my heroes,” he said.
Brady also considers Rodgers one of the greats. And Peyton Manning. “When I played Peyton Manning, I absolutely wanted to raise my game. I looked over there, and said, ‘This guy, he’s gonna bring it, I’m gonna bring it, and let’s see where it goes.’ … These are the games you remember. I remember all the games against Peyton Manning. I remember the game I played against Aaron in 2014.”
Speaking of which …
Brady compares and contrasts himself with Rodgers
Brady and Rodgers, despite being in the league together for 14 years, have only faced off one time as starters. Being in different conferences, the Packers and Patriots only meet once every four years. But in 2010, Rodgers missed a trip to New England because of a concussion. In 2006, he was still stuck behind Brett Favre. So without a Super Bowl meeting, Green Bay’s 2014 win was the only Brady-Rodgers matchup.
Brady says he has watched plenty of his Sunday counterpart, though. He has studied the Packers’ offense. “I think everybody looks at him and tries to emulate things that he does, even though a lot of them are impossible to do,” Brady said. “The velocity of the ball, the ability to run and throw on the move. He can get the ball into places nobody else can get them into. That’s a unique player.”
His first memory of Rodgers is a preseason game between the Patriots and Packers in Rodgers’ rookie year. The first eye-opening moment, though, was when Favre unretired. And as Brady recalls, the Packers “were like, ‘No, Aaron’s the quarterback.’ That was when I first really started to pay attention, like, Wow.”
Brady, in the NBC interview, called Rodgers “spectacular” multiple times. He mentioned his pocket presence and peripheral vision. He also pointed out the main attribute that separates the two.
“I don’t have, instinctually, any thought of running,” Brady said. He remembers a conversation with Rodgers in which the younger of the two QBs told the elder that he’ll often decide to run immediately upon seeing a coverage. “Man, that thought has never gone off in my head one time,” Brady said.
Brady also explained what he meant when, earlier in the week, he called Rodgers an inspiration. “When I watch him play, the style of play, the way I watch him move and throw, it makes me want to get on the practice field and try new things” – different throwing mechanics, different angles, and the like.”
Brady doesn’t like to look back on success
Harrison asked the 41-year-old Brady if he ever reflects on how much he has accomplished in his life. “Do you ever sit back and say, ‘You know, I did OK for myself’?” Harrison asked.
Brady said he didn’t – perhaps another reason he doesn’t like the GOAT label, because he feels he isn’t done. Brady said he was in mile 21 or 22 of a metaphorical marathon (26.2 miles). And “if you’re in mile 21,” Brady said, “I’m not going, ‘Man, that was a great 21 miles I ran.’ You’re still thinking, I’ve still got four or five miles to go. I gotta make those my best miles. If I don’t, I’m letting myself down.”
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