Tom Sorensen

Tom Brady or Joe Montana? It’s hard to compare players of different eras, but ...

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) has five Super Bowl titles, but does that move him past Joe Montana as the best NFL quarterback ever?
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) has five Super Bowl titles, but does that move him past Joe Montana as the best NFL quarterback ever? TNS

I’ve always considered Joe Montana the best quarterback of all time, and Tom Brady a close second.

Brady has now won five Super Bowls, Montana four. Brady is 5-2 in the Super Bowl, Montana 4-0.

Montana is 60, Brady 39. Montana was drafted in the third round, Brady in the sixth. Montana left the NFL in 1995. Brady was drafted in 2000.

We’re moved by what we saw last, and what we saw Sunday was a cool, cool quarterback leading his poised teammates from a 25-point deficit to a Super Bowl overtime victory.

Comparing athletes from different eras, even when those eras almost touch, is conjecture. I contend that Muhammad Ali is the best heavyweight boxer of all time. My dad insisted Joe Louis was. My young and impressionable children claimed Mike Tyson would beat them both. After watching Tyson snack on the ear of Evander Holyfield, my kids called a meeting, and on a unanimous 2-0 vote, they abandoned Tyson and switched to Ali.

About the Greatest of All Time quarterback debate, Brady’s brilliance Sunday does not mar the brilliance of Montana.

But, man, Brady was good.

So was head coach Bill Belichick. Players say there was no panic at halftime. And when the Patriots’ fell behind 28-3, no overanxious coach or quarterback tried to come up with a 25-point play.

Brady handled himself with class and composure on the field and again when he walked off it. After throwing for 466 yards and two touchdowns, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had to present Brady with the Super Bowl MVP trophy.

Brady could have made the commissioner sweat. Goodell suspended Brady for the first four games of 2017 for his role (real or imagined) in Deflategate. In the playoffs, Goodell twice went to Atlanta to watch the Falcons play. He declined to make the shorter trip from New York to Foxboro, Mass., to see the Patriots.

On Sunday, Goodell could neither run nor hide. New England’s best-known enemy had no choice but to pass the MVP trophy to its favorite son. I suspect most Patriots fans were by then exhausted by their team’s comeback, and had little emotion left to devote to the dramatic handoff of the trophy.

But there was no drama. Brady stripped the presentation of drama. Brady played the role he has since he became a starting quarterback. He was the gracious and humble star. Sunday was a victory not just for his team, but for his sport, and that’s how he responded.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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