The Moments that Define the Legacy of an All-Time Great

by Jim Singletary
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It’s a pretty fascinating dynamic that more than any of the hundreds of touchdowns or thousands of yards or theatrical late game comebacks, the legacy of Tom Brady, like many other all time greats, can be argued to be largely defined by two unheralded players making improbable plays in moments where Brady himself sat on the sideline.

The spectrum of Brady’s potential legacies swings from inarguable GOAT, to fiercely debatable GOAT, to good-but-never-sniffing-GOAT … and this hypothetical spectrum exists independent of any change to any single down Brady himself ever played.

Every yard he’s thrown for, every touchdown and interception, every snap he’s taken in the NFL could be 100% unchanged – and but for the actions of Tyree and Butler, 2 guys who couldn’t get into the hall of fame without a ticket, we consider his legacy wildly differently.

If Tyree doesn’t make that miracle helmet catch – Brady could have 5 Superbowl rings on 6 appearances, and a perfect season under his belt, all in a salary cap era. In that context it would be tortured logic and sentiment only that would be able to argue for anyone over Brady in quantifying GOAT QBs.
If Tyree makes that catch as he did, but Butler fails to jump that pick route, then Brady is now 0-3 in his last 3 Superbowls – 3 for 6 overall, and almost no one outside of New England would hold him over Montana.

As it stands both those guys made their respective plays and so we have a situation where Brady is unanimously in the conversation – but the debate is far from settled and everyone will continue to argue competently for either Montana or Brady.

And again – this spectrum exists independent of anything Brady himself has done.
The dude’s almost always been excellent when he needed to be – and had they lost this Superbowl he still would have thrown for 4 TDs and over 300 yards including erasing a 10 point 4th quarter deficit against the most elite defense in generations, with a superbowl record number of completions. But he’d still be the guy who lost Superbowl 49 and relegated to “another SB winning QB vanquished by the Seahawks”.

Just kind of a thing we do in Sports – we use facts and stats and contexts to assess individual games with a level of scrutiny not unlike monkish exegisis … but then we throw all that contextual scrutiny and statistical analysis out the window when trying to quantify the legacy of a potential GOAT .. and we count rings, and yards like they were accumulated in a vacuum.

It’s a fascinating, frustrating, hilarious, thing we do … but really – is Tom Brady somehow a better quarterback if the coefficient of friction between David Tyree’s helmet and the football was slightly more amenable to Rodney Harrison’s efforts to dislodge it? Is Tom Brady any worse today if Butler fails to jump a route and secure the INT?

No, of course not … but such are the things that define the legacies of all time greats, particularly in team sports.

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THE CATCH

THE CATCH

David Tyree's miraculous catch over Rodney Harrison in Superbowl XLII, resulting in a 32 yard gain for Eli Manning and the NY Giants. This play is largely credited with robbing the New England Patriots of a Superbowl title and a perfect undefeated 2007-2008 season.

THE PICK

THE PICK

Rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, jumps the route in the closing seconds of Superbowl XLIX, and intercepts the pass from Russell Wilson at the 1 yard line to preserve the win for the New England Patriots. The questionable call to throw the ball in this spot aside, this play proved to be the crucial event in delivering Tom Brady and the Patriot's their 4th Superbowl title in 14 seasons.

THE LULZ

THE LULZ

Sorry Richard ... this is what happens when you talk shit.

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