We have now been hearing a discussion where people are asking: Is Tom Brady the greatest player in an American Team Sport ever? Brady being in his 10th Superbowl has earned him a place in that conversation with 10 trips to the finals in 21 chances. Or to put it another way,
- Tom Brady’s avg of going to superbowls is higher than Ty Cobb’s avg of getting hits.
- Tom Brady’s avg of going to superbowls is higher than the 3 point percentage of any NBA player in history
- The only NFL team that has been to more Superbowls than Tom Brady is the New England Patriots with eleven trips over 61 years to Tom’s ten in 21 years. Nine of those trips were in years they were led by Tom Brady.
- Tom Brady’s as of today has one less playoff win then Maurice Richard has Stanley Cup goals.
That being the case Brady deserves to be in consideration for the best player in a major American Team sport (Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey) of all time. There are two people in that conversation with him. Babe Ruth and Bill Russell.
Babe Ruth in 22 years went to 10 World Series winning Seven and if you look at the Baseball Reference pages over his career led the league in over 200 different categories over his career as both a Pitcher and as a Right fielder.
Bill Russell in 13 seasons in the NBA went to the playoffs every season making it to the finals 12 times and winning 11 titles, two of them as player coach.
Brady has four things in common with Ruth and Russell.
- A Long Career
- Success early and late in a career
- Regular trips to the Finals
- Long tenures in Boston
Brady has one thing in Common with Ruth favoring him over Russell
- Success on multiple teams under multiple coaches/managers
Brady has two things in common with Russell over Ruth
- A high level of play every uninjured season of his career (to this point) (Ruth’s final season stunk)
- Never having cost his team a title with a boneheaded play to lose a series (Ruth inexplicably getting caught stealing in 1926 to lose the World Series)
And Brady has one advantage over Both Russell & Ruth
In a championship season Babe Ruth and his teams had the liberty of having as many as three bad games or three games where the opposing team outplayed them while still being capable of winning a championship. Bill Russell’s margin of error was larger, with a 6 to 9 game margin or error as their series were all best of seven. Or to put it simply if your better team had a bad day you still had the rest of a series games to show the other guy whose actually better.
However Tom Brady , as a football player, had no such margin of error. A single bad game or a single bad move and you are out. Russell’s Celtics & Ruth’s Yanks and Sox could blow a game or two in a series and still win. Brady never had that luxury.
Why then does Brady rank behind Russell? Very simple. While this season it’s been implied that Brady has functioned as a “coach” to the Offense, Bill Russell for two seasons won titles while actually being the head coach as well as the center. He not only had to play at a high level but had to while on the floor manage the team, call the plays and be aware enough to coach the team to the playoffs and to the title. He not only managed to do so, but managed to do so TWICE.
For that reason I give Russell an edge over Brady, at least so far. If Brady goes to an 11th Superbowl (which is entirely in the realm of possibility I may revisit that advantage.
However Babe Ruth has an advantage over Brady that is even more pronounced. He not only won six titles as the most feared slugger in the major leagues but won three titles as one of the top pitchers in the Majors. It would be as if Brady won his first three titles as the top linebacker or Defensive End before switching to Quarterback. Furthermore Ruth fundamentally changed the game of baseball in a way neither Russell nor Brady did in their sports. It’s true that after Ruth started hitting homers other soon followed, but Ruth did it first and the only chemical enhancements he had were hot dogs and beer.
For this reason I consider Babe Ruth the greatest team sport player in the history of sports, over Russell and over Brady. If Brady wins the superbowl this year and perhaps one other then I may revisit these rankings, if not then.
FYI Michael Jordon doesn’t make this list because while he won six titles in six trips all those titles came in the 2nd half of his career all with the same team and system and failed to make the playoffs with the wizards when he came back. LeBron James doesn’t make this list because of only four titles wins but given that he won three titles in three different cities under three different systems and has been to the finals 10 times one more trip will force him to be considered in this company. Kareem fails to make the top 3 because despite the six titles with two teams and titles early and late in his career, he had a very long period without making those finals or more properly if included on this list he is currently 5th with LeBron right behind him. Yogi Berra with 10 titles in 14 years and 3 MVP titles in a league that had Mantle & Williams is the person that Brady edges out for 3rd. Berra might have had better stats but his development was curtailed by a more pressing engagement off Normandy on June 6th 1944 & two months later in the invasion on the southern coast of France. In fact you might even be able to make a case for Berra going all the way to the top.
My top five list as of this moment would run Ruth, Russell, Brady, Berra, & Jabbar in that order with King James knocking on the door and very likely to take Kareem’s spot on this list perhaps as soon as this year.