Hardwood and Hollywood

GOAT Week: The Greatest Football Player

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Hardwood and Hollywood’s G.O.A.T. Week is a series of posts on various categories to be published in two-week period. Yes, there were so many categories, we had to do two weeks, not one! Here’s the schedule: August 7th – Basketball PlayerFootball Player; August 8th – Drama Film, Ending to a Film; August 9th – Sports Announcer, Sports Cult Hero; August 10th – Baseball Player, Movie Athlete; August 11th – Ending to a TV Series, HBO TV Series; August 14th – Movie Actor, Movie Actress; August 15th – TV Series, Album; August 16th – Comedy Film, Film Franchise; August 17th – TV Actor, TV Actress; August 18th – Musician, One Hit Wonder 

Sonny Giuliano – Tom Brady 

I was sitting at a mostly empty bar with my good friend Weston Hunter two weekends ago enjoying his company, a Camacho Brand cigar and an overpriced Red Bull and Vodka when we got on the topic of the greatest athletes of all-time. We each tossed a few names out there, the usual suspects and a few under the radar choices (I feel as though I made an extremely strong and impassioned case for Roger Federer, but that could have been the vodka talking), and then I made a very bold statement. Take a second to prepare yourself to read something that will likely upset you. Are we ready?

I believe Tom Brady is the greatest athlete in sports history.

So here’s — oh shit, you aren’t ready yet, are you? Ok, take a few more moments to gather yourself.

We good? 

Alright, look, I know this is something that was discussed previously by a bunch of talking heads on the kinds of sports “talk” shows that I don’t watch, but I felt like the general consensus after the dust settled following the Patriots remarkable come-from-behind victory in Super Bowl LI was, “Well let’s cool this for a second. I mean, he’s not MJ.”

No, Tom Brady isn’t MJ, and he’s not a bunch of dudes who are obviously more “measurably athletic” than he is. What Tom Brady can claim to be is the most accomplished player, playing the hardest and most important position, in America’s most popular sport, ever. No Quarterback has ever won Super Bowl’s 15 years apart, or won five Super Bowl’s in total. No Quarterback has been this good, and possibly getting better, late into their 30’s. No Quarterback, or player, has ever displayed such a love for the game of and competitive aspect of playing football, so much to the degree that they’ve talked openly about playing into their mid-40’s. And no Quarterback has ever been as clutch. That’s indisputable.

There was never a point in my life where I was consumed by the totally irrational amount of hatred non-Patriots fans have for Tom Brady, but I haven’t always been his biggest supporter either. Eventually though, Brady’s greatness beat me down and because my favorite football team has been mostly irrelevant for the entirety of Brady’s career, I’ve gravitated towards rooting for the greatest athlete I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching in any sport.

Some would say that makes me a bandwagoner, and if that’s the case, then so be it. I just know that Brady has quarterbacked at a higher level throughout his incredible seventeen year career than anyone else I’ve ever seen, and when he brought the Patriots back from 25 points down in the 2nd half of last season’s Super Bowl, that was a moment that I, someone who loves watching athletes thrive at the highest level imaginable regardless of what the event is or who they play for, could only describe as a borderline religious experience.

Mike Cortez – Randy Moss

If you played Madden and did not use Randy Moss as many times as possible, we are not the same.

The only way to truly measure the greatness of any player is what legacy they leave behind. Moss was such a savage on the football field his last name is now a verb for baptizing cornerbacks. There is no receiver I’d rather throw it up to with the game on the line and no receiver I trust more to beat his man one-on-one.

The best part about Moss was his self-awareness. How else does one explain the confidence displayed in this clip?

That was Moss’ steeze. He won the genetic lottery and did not forget to cash in his ticket. Moss routinely made corners look like they were running with cinder blocks and scored in bunches. He still holds the record for most receiving TDs in a rookie season  (17), receiving TDs in a single season (23) and was youngest receiver to score 100 TDs. The combination of his cheetah speed and bionic bungees there was simply nothing opposing defenses could do.

When he linked up with Tom Brady in New England it was the closest thing NFL games got to feeling like NFL Street. In his first season with New England, the Patriots were a David Tyree catch from perfection. Paired with Brady, Moss dropped that record-breaking 23 TDs in addition to 1,493 yards and 98 receptions. Mind you this was past his prime with the Vikings and his Pats stint also includes a moss on peak Darrelle Revis.

We’ve been spoiled recently with receiving talent, but even guys like Odell Beckham, Julio Jones and Antonio Brown cannot hold Moss’ jockstrap.

Tyler Birss – Tom Brady 

Tom Brady and Joe Montana are regularly debated as to who is the best quarterback ever, but that debated should’ve been squashed by now and a new one should exist – is Brady the best player ever? He has been the most successful individual at the most important position in the game, he has more Super Bowl victories than any other QB, his longevity of greatness is unmatched, and he still remains one of the best performers even though he just turned 40.

What stands out concerning Brady is his most meaningful attribute – the ability to improve the play of others around you. Over the course of his time with the New England Patriots, Brady has succeeded with a range of misfits and outcasts to go along with certified stars. It seems like no matter who is lost to injury or which newcomers are in the mix, Brady and the Patriots have a chance of winning the Super Bowl every year. That assumption alone speaks to his greatness.

Take his last three years, for example, to help frame this discussion – 33 touchdowns/9 interceptions, 36 touchdowns/7 interceptions, and 28 touchdowns/2 interceptions. WHAT IN THE WHAT?! Those are stats posted when a quarterback is supposed to be in his retired/deteriorating/backing up a younger QB days. For Brady, it speaks to his masterful ability to maintain a level of stardom that no player in NFL history has accomplished. Brady long ago became the best QB ever – now he’s also become the best player ever on top of it.

Dennis Velasco – Jim Brown 

All due respect to Tom Brady, and even Barry Sanders whom I was considering for this position of GOAT, but I’ll have to go with Jim Brown. He’s a player that I’ve never seen play live, and had to resort to YouTube videos and hard numbers. So while I didn’t see him, mouth agape and amazement level on 11, run back 20 yards for an 80-yard gain like Sanders, as the saying goes, “Numbers don’t lie.”

In only 118 games, spanning nine seasons (the NFL only played 12 and 14 games a season, respectively, while Brown was active), Jim Brown rushed for 2,359 yards in his career, retiring as the all-time leading rusher. He led the league in rushing 8-of-9 times, and in Rushing TDs five times, finishing fifth best in a career with 105. Brown made the Pro Bowl all nine years, a First Teamer in eight of those years, and was a three-time MVP. His Browns teams went to the Championship three times, winning once when he rushed for 114 yards on 27 carries with three receptions for 37 yards.

Now, the regular season numbers are impressive, for sure. However, the postseason numbers are not as amazing as Brady’s. There’s no argument there. But, the post-postseason number can’t be beat, and that number is one. As in the number of fingers Brown gave Browns owner at the time, Art Modell. Okay, Brown was classier than that, but effectively that’s what he did after Modell gave him an ultimatum to report to Browns camp, which was in conflict with The Dirty Dozen film shoot was delayed repeatedly and out of Brown’s hands.

However, the act of the ultimatum is what pushed Brown over the edge. At the time, Brown had already began other pursuits to stimulate his mind and his race, such as forming the Negro Industrial Economic Union, as part of his well-known efforts in African-American activism. So, while Brown was obligated to play for Cleveland, having one more year left on his contract, he wasn’t obligated to play football. Below is the letter he wrote to Modell before announcing his retirement to the public a few days later:

Dear Art:

I am writing to inform you that in the next few days I will be announcing my retirement from football. This decision is final and is made only because of the future that I desire for myself, my family and, if not to sound corny, my race. I am very sorry that I did not have the information to give you at some earlier date, for one of my great concerns was to try in every way to work things out so that I could play an additional year.

I was very sorry to see you make the statements that you did, because it was not a victory for you or I but for the newspaper men. Fortunately, I seem to have a little more faith in you than you have in me. I honestly like you and will be willing to help you in any way I can, but I feel you must realize that both of us are men and that my manhood is just as important to me as yours is to you.

It was indicated in the papers out of Cleveland that you tried to reach me by phone. Well, I hope you realize that when I am in my apartment I never refuse to answer my phone. The only reason that I did not contact you before I knew the completion date of the movie is that the date was the one important factor. You must realize that your organization will make money and will remain successful whether I am there or not. The Cleveland Browns are an institution that will stand for a long, long time.

I am taking on a few projects that are very interesting to me. I have many problems to solve at this time and I am sure you know a lot of them, so if we weigh the situation properly the ‘Browns’ have really nothing to lose, but Jim Brown has a lot to lose. I am taking it for granted that I have your understanding and best wishes, for in my public approach to this matter this will be the attitude that will prevail.

The business matters that we will have to work out we could do when I return to Cleveland. I will give you any assistance I can and hope your operation will be a success. You know the areas that I can be helpful and, even if you do not ask this help, my attitude will be one that I will do only the things that will contribute to the success of the ‘Cleveland Browns.’

Your friend,
Jim Brown

Kill them on the field. Be kind off of it. Control your own destiny. I don’t know any better meaning for being a GOAT than that.