The Eagles’ dramatic victory on Sunday did more than enhance Nick Foles’ future earnings and doom the city of Philadelphia to 12 hours of drunken, vomiting mayhem. It reanimated one of the great sports debates of our generation: Tom Brady or Joe Montana?
Team Brady had clearly grabbed the upper hand over the past year, as Tom Terrific shrugged off his four-game Deflategate suspension in 2016 to lead New England to Super Bowl 51, then proceeded to earn MVP honors while executing the greatest comeback in the history of the sport. Brady followed that up by taking home the NFL Most Valuable Player trophy this season.
None of which necessarily convinced Team Montana that their guy had been bumped to the second rung. But let’s just say the choir got a little quieter. It was getting much harder to downplay Brady’s body of work.
But now …
The lingering images from Super Bowl 52 were of Brady on his backside, victim of Brandon Graham’s late-game strip sack, and of No. 12 glumly leaving the field in defeat.
And just like that, Twitter and sports-talk radio and quite possibly your family group text were alive with the old debate. Brady had lost his third Super Bowl, this time getting outdueled by a career backup. Montana was ascendant again.
So let’s wade into the mess. There’s room for just one right-handed matinee idol in this huddle.
Before we begin the earnest comparison, I’m going to preemptively eliminate the dumbest argument on the board — the one that says Montana was better than Brady because he never lost a Super Bowl. The 49ers legend, as you know from your classes at DeBartolo University, was 4-0 in the universe’s biggest sporting event. Brady is now 5-3. Case closed? Not so fast, Inspector Clouseau.
If I live to be as old as the Giants outfield, I will never understand how one can contend that losing in the divisional playoff round, or in a conference championship game, is better than losing in the Super Bowl. It just isn’t. Montana was amazing, but he failed to reach the Super Bowl 11 times. That’s not a feather in his cap.
Another way to look at it: As a football player, your goal is to win the Super Bowl. Brady has done it five times. Montana did it four times. The only way 4-0 is better than 5-3 is if you somehow value “not losing in the Super Bowl” as a major triumph. And if that’s the case, you should be advocating for Jeff Garcia and Tim Rattay and Blaine Gabbert to join the all-time greats, because none of them ever lost a Super Bowl, either.
OK? You with me? Good. Now let’s check some gauges.
PHYSICAL ABILITY: I’m no Mel Kiper Jr., but I’ve seen plenty of both quarterbacks. I think we can safely say that Brady, who is two inches taller than Montana, has a more classic QB build and the stronger arm on deep throws.
On the other hand, Montana was much more mobile, threw better on the run and, despite his everyman build, was better equipped to take a beating. As brilliant as Brady has been over his career, the secret has been out for a long time: If you can hit him, you can beat him. Few teams are able to do it, thanks to his quick mind, quick release and quick-hitting offensive scheme. But when the rush gets to him, as the Giants did in those first two Super Bowl losses, Brady is vulnerable.