Quarterbacks have been enshrined in Canton, Ohio for less than what Tom Brady had already accomplished through his age 30 season: four Super Bowl appearances with three wins, two Super Bowl MVPs, one regular season MVP.
He’d be nothing more than a passing honorable mention in terms of the “Greatest Quarterback of All-Time” conversation, however. What if he’d never gotten hurt would always be Question No. 1 with Brady as he looked up at his contemporaries.
Brady didn’t just make a full recovery from when Bernard Pollard crashed into his knee and injured his ACL in Week 1 of the 2008 season, he ultimately emerged from the injury as an even better version of himself.
With one game left in his age 40 season, Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Brady will now have played in as many Super Bowls after his 30-year-old season as before.
Brady said at his brief press conference on Saturday that he’s never taken anything like this for granted, “this” being, playing in the Super Bowl. All eight of them. Truthfully, he doesn’t take playing in any game for granted, whether it’s Week 1 of the preseason or a Week 17 game with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs already signed, sealed and delivered to Foxboro.
It’s no mistake that Brady’s new series on Facebook Watch, Tom vs. Time, features rhetoric right off the bat in the trailer that “father time is undefeated,” courtesy of ESPN’s Steven A. Smith. In the first full episode of the series, an audio clip of Smith’s co-host on ESPN’s First Take, Max Kellerman, makes clear that “within the next 18 months, he’ll be – at best – middle of the pack” in terms of quarterbacks in the league.
If leading the league in passing yards and being named to the Associated Press All-Pro First Team at age 40 is considered average, Kellerman and countless others just may be on to something.
You know another time Brady led the league in passing yards and was named to the AP All-Pro First Team? His age 30 season in 2007.
For the sake of transparency, Brady threw for more yards in ’07 (4,806) than ’17 (4,577). Not a big deal. His accuracy was down ever-so-slightly for ’07, when he led the league with a 68.9 percent completion percentage. This year, Brady completed 66.3 percent of his passes.
That’s the second-best mark of his career over a full 16 games, right after 2007.
Whether Brady earns the third MVP Award of his career later this week remains unclear (he also won it in 2010 at age 33). What is clear is that Brady looked no different on the field this past season than he did 10 years ago.
According to kicker Stephen Gostkowski, Brady’s last remaining teammate from the historic 2007 campaign, not much else has changed with Brady in the meantime.
“Tom has always been the best teammate,” Gostkowski said. “I don’t think it’s wavered very much. One thing about Tom, he’s usually in a meeting room studying somewhere.”
One of Brady’s newer teammates, center David Andrews, is directly involved every snap that he’s on the field for with Brady – he is the one snapping him the ball after all.
Like Brady once upon a time, Andrews was also passed over in the draft. But at least Brady heard his name called eventually, albeit with the 199th pick in 2000; Andrews went undrafted altogether out of the University of Georgia in 2015. Which is why it still sticks with Andrews how well Brady treated him in the summer of 2015 as he worked his way on to New England’s roster despite being just another face in the crowd at that point.
“I think even from the beginning Tom did a great job of making me feel welcomed I guess,” Andrews said. “He knew my name the first day I was able to meet him. I was blown away by that as an undrafted rookie that this guy took the time to learn my name. It’s been a pleasure working with him, as it is a lot of those guys in that room. I think he just does a great job of welcoming guys and I think it’s become a little bit more comfortable.”
No matter the outcome next Sunday, Brady’s legacy remains intact. Super Bowl LII will be the 37th playoff game of his career; no other player, at any position, has appeared in more than 30.
That’s not to say Brady can’t continue to add to his mystique with a win. Even after winning his fifth title last year, inevitable chatter about Joe Montana or Peyton Manning still being the greatest quarterback of all-time makes its rounds through TV studios and barrooms alike.
Would winning a sixth title, thus equaling the career totals of Montana (4) and Manning (2) combined silence critics once and for all?
Likely not, and that’s okay. Brady’s not done at the age of 40. Barring catastrophic injury similar to the one he suffered just after his age 30 season, he won’t be done at 41, 42 or 43 either. He’s on record as saying he wants to play until he’s 45, and how long can it be before that number, too gets stretched out?
From his debut at 24 to his statistical breakout at 30 to defying the odds at 40, Brady’s desire to win has remained the same. Save for the final 15 games of the 2008 season, Brady has never missed a game due to injury since becoming a starter in 2001. The only other games he’s missed are due to a certain four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season.
Pressed on the matter, Gostkowski could really only think of one thing that’s changed with Brady between the ages of 30 and 40. “He gets better looking every year,” Gostkowski said.