Is Tom Brady the Greatest Individual Player in Any Sport?
Mark Everett Kelly
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2020
As the world handles the outbreak of COVID-19, the NFL signing period surrounds one of the biggest free-agent signings in pro sports history.
According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finalized a deal worth $30 million per year.
How will Brady fit in with his new surroundings is a discussion taking place around the league and that I will address in a later article. Having left New England and coach Bill Belichick, the only team and coach he has known in his 20 NFL seasons, I am very intrigued about how he will perform.
One thing that prognosticators can point to is his accomplishments. Any argument about whether Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL is moot at this point. He is. Bar none.
The next discussion we need to have is this: Could Brady, historically, be the greatest player of all-time in any of the four major sports? In case you need to be reminded of his qualifications, here are some reasons why I am making that suggestion.
Brady owns 30 playoff wins in his career. Only three teams in the Super Bowl era have more playoff wins than he does: the Pittsburgh Steelers (36), Dallas Cowboys (35) and San Francisco 49ers (32).
He has 14 more postseason wins than the next quarterback on that list, Joe Montana. Brady has 13 game-winning drives in the postseason. Next on that list is John Elway with six. Brady has nine fourth-quarter comebacks in the postseason. Joe Montana is second with five.
That isn't just being better—that's complete domination. Brady has gone 219-64 during the regular season, good enough for a .777 winning percentage. That's nearly 100 points higher than No. 2 on the list, Peyton Manning, who went 200-92 (.685 winning percentage).
What about players in other sports? Who can we compare to Brady in that conversation? Here are a few names.
MLB - Babe Ruth
Due to batters and pitcher's differences in deciphering their excellence, I decided to take a player who excelled in both.
Babe Ruth is such a legendary name that people might forget that he played for 22 seasons.
Ruth spent the majority of his four seasons pitching, not hitting, for the Boston Red Sox. Ruth averaged 20 wins with an ERA of 2.05 and WHIP of 1.08 from 1915-18 (ages 20-23).
Upon his trade to the Yankees in 1920, Ruth played the outfield and no longer pitched, a process the Red Sox started the prior season. From 1919-34, Ruth provided offensive numbers never seen prior in MLB history. Over those 15 seasons (24-38), Ruth averaged a .351 BA, 44 HR, 134 RBI, 132 Runs & 1.201 OPS.
While those numbers are staggering both pitching and batting, Ruth suffered a steep decline in his final two seasons. From 1934-35 (age 39-40), he averaged a .271 BA, 14 HR, 48 RBI, 46 Runs & .953 OPS.
Ruth appeared in ten World Series and won seven championships from 1915-32.
NBA - Michael Jordan
One can make an argument for Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, etc. However, there is one GOAT in the NBA.
Jordan is at the top of everyone's list when it comes to the greatest ever. His six NBA titles, six NBA Finals MVPs, scoring records, and legendary playoff performances are well known. However, Jordan did take nearly two seasons off in his prime that prevented him from possibly winning two more NBA titles. When he came back to the NBA the second time with the Washington Wizards at age 38, he was clearly a different player.
Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG and shot 43 percent from the field with the Wizards from 2001-03 at age 38 and 39. From 1991-98, he averaged 30.3 PPG and shot 50 percent.
Jordan won his NBA titles over eight years, starting at age 27 in 1991 and ending at 34 in 1998.
Yes, Jordan could have won two more NBA titles if he didn't leave the NBA to play baseball. But he did. Should've and could've doesn't matter.
NHL - Wayne Gretzky
"The Great One" joined the NHL in 1979 and destroyed every conceivable scoring record there is. By himself, Gretzky finished with four seasons of over 200 points. No other player in NHL history has done that once. Gretzky is the all-time leader in points, goals, assists, short-handed goals, and hat tricks. He has 936 more points than anyone else in NHL history.
Gretzky won four Stanley Cups in his NHL career, but none after leaving the Edmonton Oilers. He won his first cup at age 23 and his last one at age 27. Despite his dominance, Gretzky started to decline at age 34. After averaging 54 goals and 164 points per season from 1979-94 (ages 19-33), he averaged just 18 goals and 80 points per season the last five years of his career (ages 34-39).
My argument for Brady revolves around the consistency in which he has played. Starting with his first season in 2001 going through this season, he has stayed at a very high level.
If you look at Brady by how he did in his 20s, 30s, and 40s, he is the only athlete to post better statistics in his 40s than his 20s.
Judging from the charts, Brady has improved with age, unlike Ruth, Jordan & Gretzky, who all slowed down significantly as they aged. Brady has yet to see that decline, which is remarkable. Along with his play staying dominant, Brady has also continued winning titles. Gretzky won his last title at 27, Jordan, at 34.
While all players had exceptional years in their prime, Brady is the only one to play beyond prime years and continue to post impressive numbers.
Considering all those factors, Brady is historically the greatest player to play any of the four major sports.