Tom Brady wins even if he’s the biggest loser

Dan WetzelColumnist

ATLANTA — On Sunday, Tom Brady could win a sixth Super Bowl, setting the record for the most by an individual player. Also on Sunday, Tom Brady could lose a fourth Super Bowl, tying him for second all-time behind three players who all lost five, mostly with Buffalo.

There is, quite amazingly, a school of thought out there that Brady’s numerous Super Bowl losses somehow affects his legacy built on all those Super Bowl victories. His final game record currently sits at 5-3.

While no one is saying he isn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer or anything like that, there is a school of thought out there that the important game losses are important game losses and he should be dinged for it.

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After all, Joe Montana – Brady’s boyhood hero – never lost in the Super Bowl with San Francisco, going 4-0. Same with Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw.

This is … ridiculous, of course. Completely ridiculous.

“I hate that argument,” said Nate Burleson, who played 11 seasons in the NFL and now works for CBS and the NFL Network. “That is the stupidest argument of all time.”

At the risk of giving the stupidest argument of all time any oxygen or legitimacy by arguing it, well, here’s the argument against the stupidest argument of all time.

Is it somehow better to lose earlier in the playoffs, or not even make the playoffs, than in the Super Bowl?

“Alright, so you are going to knock a guy for making it to the big game more often?” Burleson said.

Brady is in his 19th season in the NFL. He appeared in just one game as a rookie and one in 2008 when he injured his knee in the opener. In the other 17 seasons, he quarterbacked the Patriots to the playoffs 16 times. He has won at least one playoff game in 14 of those seasons, reached 13 AFC championship games and has an all-time playoff record of 29-10 (.744 winning percentage).

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Montana played 15 seasons with San Francisco and Kansas City. He played just one game as a rookie and half a season in 1986 due to injury. He also appeared just once in 1992 when Steve Young beat the then 36-year-old out as the starter. Montana appeared in 11 NFL playoffs, four times his team went one-and-done and he has an all-time record of 16-7 (.696 winning percentage).

Bradshaw played 14 seasons in the NFL. He had multiple injury-limited seasons. He reached the playoffs nine times, failed to advance in three of them and finished with a playoff record of 14-5 (.737).

Brady, of course, is in his ninth Super Bowl against the other guys’ four. He has also reached 13 conference title games (9-4 record) to Montana’s seven (4-3) and Bradshaw’s six (4-2).

Tom Brady is 5-3 in Super Bowls, including a loss against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. (Getty Images)
Tom Brady is 5-3 in Super Bowls, including a loss against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. (Getty Images)

“We don’t talk about the other years when Montana didn’t make the playoffs or his team wasn’t as good,” Burleson said. “Yet we want to put some kind of asterisk on the Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl because they don’t win?”

The entire concept of losing in the Super Bowl somehow tarnishing Brady’s legacy is based on the concept that the truly great player finds a way to will his team to victory. And thus, by reaching the precipice but not finishing, the argument they are a truly great player is somehow diminished.

It’s a nice theory, but this is a team game.

New England has lost three times in the Super Bowl – after the 2007 season to the New York Giants (17-14), after the 2011 season to the Giants (21-17) and last year to Philadelphia (41-33).

In each of those, Brady left the field during the fourth quarter of each game with New England in the lead. The defense then gave up a late drive that determined the outcome. On the flip side, without a good defense, Brady would be 0-8 in Super Bowls. That’s how it works.

Or put it this way, is Brady at fault for the loss to Eagles when he threw for 505 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions? A player can always play better, but …

Some of this stems from the endless Michael Jordan-LeBron James debate that spans the generations. Jordan went 6-0 in the Finals. LeBron is 3-6. In some cases LeBron can be forgiven for dragging vastly inferior teams to the Finals, but his first season in Miami the Heat did lose to Dallas. Plus, basketball is the rare sport where a star plays both offense and defense and can stay in for every moment of the game.

Regardless of the MJ-LeBron argument (which can be settled elsewhere), this nonsense doesn’t need to spill over to the NFL.

The goal of every team in every season is to win the Super Bowl. After that, it is to get as deep into the playoffs as possible. No one has done that better than Tom Brady, with just a couple of early playoff defeats and that 9-7 non-playoff season in 2002, his second year as a starter.

Brady wants a sixth ring, of course. He certainly doesn’t want a fourth defeat. But it hardly matters in terms of his legacy. There is nothing that can be lost at this point. He’s 41 and still here – for the third time in three years, no less.

At 41, Bradshaw and Montana and the like were at home, having called it quits as a player.

Do they get credit for not losing any Super Bowls during retirement?

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