The NFL is a hundred years old, although it began life as the American Professional Footballers Association, before adopting its present nomenclature in 1922. Over the years, there have been many great players, although, because of the nature of the sport, individuals tend to shine in certain key positions on the field – quarter-back, wide receiver, and running-back.
Historians will argue over whose has the best statistics when it comes to metrics like the number of touchdowns, passes thrown or intercepted, yards covered and other yardsticks of performance, whilst names like Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Dan Marino and Brett Favre will all figure in any discussion of whose is the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time).
However, arguably the best player of them all is a man still playing the game at the age of 43, and that is Tom Brady.
The quarter-back has now moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it is for his 20 seasons with the New England Patriots that will be remembered.
Brady played college football with the University of Michigan, but was by no means viewed as a future star, and was only picked up by New England 199th out of 200 in the 2000 NFL draft. Most expected him to be cut from the Patriots’ roster, but he fought his way through to become their starting quarter-back for the 2001 season.
With Brady at the helm, New England won the divisional title in each of his seasons with the team. They also won nine out of seventeen AFL Championship games reaching nine Superbowls, of which they won six. Brady is the only player in NFL history to have six Superbowl rings.
Arguably the match for which Brady will be best remembered is Superbowl LI played in Houston, Texas in 2016, when the Patriots met the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta were leading 28 – 3 midway through the third quarter, before Brady inspired a stunning comeback. The Patriots tied the game in normal time and then won it in overtime, the only time in the entire match that they had led. Brady threw 43 completed passes, passed for 466 yards, and was voted MVP in a Superbowl for the fourth time.
Ironically that season had begun with him forced to miss the first four games due to suspension after an incident which showed the other side of Brady. It came in the 2014 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, after which Brady was found guilty of having the balls deflated to make them easier to grip in icy conditions.
Whilst some argue that such behaviours devalue his achievements, his supporters will argue that it shows how far he is prepared to go to win for his team. And the fact that Tampa Bay are still willing to offer him a multi-million-dollar contract at his age shows what those inside the sport think of him.