The sports culture is permanent. It’s growing, and it’s here to stay. While many sports are being played worldwide, there are also endless amounts of sports that are being played in only certain regions of the world. Sports come in all varieties. Some will require teamwork, and some will be solely shouldered by one individual competitor. Every single sport is unique to its own culture, and possesses its own set of rules and regulations. While there are many variances between all of the different sports, there is one constant that will be debated through the end of time; who is the greatest of all time? The debate will never end, because there is never going to be a definite right or wrong answer. The criteria that defines someone as the greatest is always going to be different from person to person. Some people are going to view a particular athlete as the greatest of all-time because of their accomplishments, while others are going to use the eye test to pass their judgement. Then, there’s going to be a whole different group of people that are looking solely at career statistics, and the list goes on and on. No matter how you look at it, people are going to disagree, and that’s the best part. The conversations are going to carry on until the end of time. But in the NFL, one person that may be the NFL GOAT over Tom Brady. What’s unique with breaking down the case for Brady or Rice is that they play different positions. In certain sports such as basketball, positions aren’t really a factor because the game is played so freely and everyone has an equal chance to be effective and a part of the game plan. In football however, certain positions are one hundred percent reliant on the another position for themselves to be successful. For example, Jerry Rice is completely reliant on his quarterbacks ability to get him the ball and opportunities in order for him to produce on the field. Whereas a quarterback, on the other hand, gets every snap and also receives the credit from the production of his wide receivers and other pass catchers. GOATS come in all shapes and sizes, and in football’s case, they come in all different positions as well. Below, we’re going to make a case for Brady the quarterback as the greatest ever, but also the case for Jerry Rice the wide receiver for the greatest ever. Two completely different crafts, but both iconic figures to the game.
THE CASE FOR RICE
When it comes to wide receivers, there is no equal to Jerry Rice. The man is in a class of his own. Anyone advocating for Rice as the greatest player in NFL history can bury the opposition with statistics.
RECORDS RICE OWNS
- Touchdowns (208
- receiving TDs (197),
- receiving TDs in a season (22),
- consecutive games with a TD reception (13),
- TDs in Super Bowls (8),
- receiving TDs in a single Super Bowl (3)
- postseason TDs (22).
- Receptions (1,549),
- consecutive games with a reception (274),
- receptions in Super Bowls (33)
- postseason receptions (151).
- Receiving yards (22,895),
- receiving yards in a season (1,848),
- receiving yards in Super Bowls (589),
- receiving yards in a Super Bowl (215),
- postseason receiving yards (2,245)
- seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving (14).
The statistics that Jerry Rice put up after turning 30 — 1,000 receptions for 13,546 yards and 102 touchdowns — would put him in elite company if left to stand on their own. Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter, and Terrell Owens are the only other players in NFL history with career totals on those levels in all three categories. Rice played 303 regular-season games over his first 12 seasons, never missing a game. In 1997 Rice suffered a torn ACL and MCL when Warren Sapp tackled him awkwardly. He bounced back the following year with 82 catches for 1,157 yards and nine touchdowns the following season. On his 40th birthday, Jerry lit the Rams up for 133 yards on seven catches, which was the first of seven different games he recorded over 100 yards receiving as a 40+-year-old. He was able to suit up for all 16 games in 17 of his 20 NFL seasons, which is a remarkable accomplishment. The longevity in which Rice was able to produce at a high level is unheard of for a receiver. Receivers generally start to see a dip in their production as they enter their 30s, as father time is inevitable. Rice, however, is a different monster. His ability to seemingly improve into his 30s is incredible. When former 49ers Offensive Coordinator was asked about his view on the all-time great wide receivers he responded by saying “they may be the toughest guys in the league, the really good ones because they get hit a lot when they do not see the hit coming. One way or another, these guys are going through collisions on nearly every play. You must have tremendous courage and concentration. Not every great athlete can do that.” He has an extremely valid point. NFL wide receivers take a beating game in and game out. Especially, in the era that Rice played. They didn’t have all of the illegal hit rules that are implemented in the game today. No unnecessary roughness penalties, no illegal hits for hitting a defenseless player, no helmet-to-helmet contact penalties. The game was a million times more physical than it is in today’s day and age, which makes Rice’s longevity that much more impressive.
THE CASE FOR BRADY
Even after all of these years, many Brady skeptics will still attribute his success to playing for Belichick and the “Patriots system”. There’s no question whatsoever that Belichick is on a very short list for the greatest coach of all-time, and may very well be the best ever in his own right. However, he’s always been known as a defensive specialist instead of an offensive guru. It’s also worth taking into account that Belichick had a losing record as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in the 1990s, and also had a losing record in his first year with the Patriots in 2000. In his second year coaching New England, the team got off to a 0-2 start with Drew Bledsoe as the starting quarterback. After Bledsoe’s injury, the reigns of the team was in the hands of the 6th round selected kid out of Michigan, Mr. Tom Brady. Brady led the team to an 11-3 record throughout the rest of the 2001 season. In any case, the Brady – Belichick partnership has made both the player and the coach more successful than they might have been without one another. Then there’s this absurd claim that Tom Brady is just a product of the system. The problem with this common claim is that the Patriots system is continually changing. Brady has time and time again adapted his game to fit the team’s needs and maximize their strengths. He’s also thrown touchdown passes to over 70 different players, an NFL record.
You see Tom Brady makes everyone around him better. The majority of the receivers that he’s had at his disposal were not highly regarded before their time spent with Brady. That alone should speak to his greatness. Wes Welker was undrafted out of Texas Tech, and Julian Edelman was drafted in the 7th round out of Kent State. Both of whom are now regarded as some of the best slot receivers ever, and some of the most productive Patriots wide receivers in the Franchises history. Then, you have the critics that want to say the Patriots success is skewed due to the weakness of their division during the Brady era. But, those same critics probably didn’t look at the numbers against the teams outside of the AFC East closely enough. Since 2001 (Brady’s first year starting), New England has by far the best record against (1) non-division opponents, (2) teams that won their division that season, (3) teams that made the playoffs that season and (4) teams that finished with a winning record that season. Their success has been unreal, especially in a league that has changed and evolved so dramatically over the last decade. Brady and the Patriots have adjusted their game accordingly and haven’t lost a beat. In 18 NFL seasons, Brady has competed in the Super Bowl 9 times. 50% of his career he’s played in the NFL’s most sought after prize. That’s insane! Brady and the Patriots have also managed to win it six times, giving him the most Super Bowl victories in NFL history, and more Super Bowl wins than 30 NFL franchises. Brady has the most wins in NFL history, regular and postseason. Below I’ve put together a list of all of the records he currently holds, and all of the records he still can break before he retires.
RECORDS BRADY OWNS
- Regular season wins by a starting quarterback (207)
- Most passing yards, regular season and playoffs (81,693)
- Most passing touchdowns, postseason included: (590)
- Most touchdowns thrown to different receivers (71)
- Division Titles (16)
- Playoff games started (40)
- Playoff wins (30)
- Playoff touchdown passes (73)
- Playoff passing yards (11,179)
- Super Bowl appearances (9)
- Super Bowl wins (6)
- Super Bowl MVPs (4)
- Super Bowl touchdown passes (18)
- Super Bowl passing yards (2,838)
Brady still has a chance to catch Peyton Manning for the most passing touchdowns of all-time. Manning set the record with 539. Brady currently has 517. Peyton also holds the record for the most game-winning drives with 56. Brady needs two more game-winning drives to tie Manning, and three to take the record over for his sole possession. Lastly, he can still Brett Favre’s record for the most games started in NFL history, which Favre set at 298. Brady currently sits at 267 starts. He could break Favre’s record if he plays and remains healthy for two more years.
Both Rice and Brady have broken and set just about every record imaginable for their respective positions. Both have been incredibly durable, and able to sustain their greatness for lengths that no other players have been able to do. However, when comparing two players that hold so many records at their respected position, the tiebreaker for me comes down to how their production impacted the team and helped contribute to team success. Jerry Rice was able to contribute to three Super Bowl Championships, but Brady was able to double him. Double him. That’s the difference. Both had similar careers, as they dominated in their 30s and were still ultra-effective in their 40s. So the difference for me comes down to the success they achieved on the field, and Brady competing in 9 Super Bowls, winning 6, and taking 16 division crowns is the difference for me. Tom Brady is the greatest football player in NFL history, and at 41 years old, he’s not finished yet.