Tom Brady’s biggest problem isn’t two straight Super Bowl losses, Eli Manning, his advancing age (next stop, 35), his Stand By Your Man supermodel wife or a couple of “What was he thinking?” passes Sunday in Indianapolis. His biggest problem is something he’s powerless to do much about: Joe Montana.
Montana ruined it for all quarterbacks, probably forever, with his near-flawless performances in four Super Bowls with the 49ers. QBs aren’t supposed to be as infallible as Joe Cool was in SBs 16, 19, 23 and 24. In the most pressure-filled game of the year, with 220 million eyeballs trained on them, even gods have to be granted a certain margin for error – the occasional interception, perhaps, or the once-every-46-years intentional grounding penalty in the end zone that results in a safety.
Problem was, Montana didn’t succumb to any of that. Not one of his 122 Super Bowl passes was picked off – and 11 went for touchdowns. His passer ratings were 100, 127.2, 115.2 and 147.6. Naturally, his team won every time.
Steelers great Terry Bradshaw also went 4-0 in the Super Bowl, of course, and also posted four passer ratings of 100 or higher (108, 122.5, 119.2 and 101.9). But quarterbacks didn’t carry nearly as much of the load in the ‘70s as they do now. Consider: Bradshaw averaged 21 passes in his four Super Bowls; Brady has averaged almost twice as many in his five – 39.4.
So Brady’s real competition is Montana. And who’s ever going to measure up to him? About all Tom can do is try to out-volume Joe – reach the Super Bowl six or seven times, maybe win No. 4 and stake his claim as the greatest of all time that way. “OK, so I wasn’t a perfect 4-0 like Montana,” he could say. “But I got my team to more title games than any quarterback in NFL history.” (The record he’s shooting for: six by Bart Starr of the ‘60s Packers and Otto Graham of the ‘50s Browns).
Even so, Brady’s Super Bowl stats stack up pretty well against just about anybody else’s: 197 attempts, 127 completions, 1,277 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs, 93.8 rating (not far from his career regular-season rating of 96.4). Yes, Troy Aikman went 3-for-3 in the Super Bowl and had a combined rating of 111.9; but the Cowboys ran it more than they threw it in those games (89 runs, 80 passes). In Brady’s last two Super Bowls, the Patriots have had a run-pass ratio of nearly 3-to-1 (99/35).
Aside from that, though, we seem to have forgotten how many Hall of Fame quarterbacks have had disastrous NFL title games, far worse than any Brady (lowest Super Bowl passer rating: 82.5) has had. Some of the more notable crash-and-burns:
● Graham, 1953 vs. Lions: 15 attempts, 2 completions, 15 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 13.3 rating (in a 17-16 loss).
● Y.A. Tittle, Giants, 1961 vs. Packers: 20 attempts, 6 completions, 65 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs, 1.0 rating (in a 37-0 loss).
● Johnny Unitas, Colts, 1964 vs. Browns: 20 attempts, 12 completions, 95 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 32.3 rating (in a 27-0 loss).
● Fran Tarkenton, Vikings, SB 9 vs. Steelers: 26 attempts 11 completions, 102 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 14.1 rating (in a 16-6 loss).
● John Elway, Broncos, SB 24 vs. 49ers: 26 attempts, 10 completions, 108 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 19.4 rating (in 55-10 loss).
● Jim Kelly, Bills, SB 26 vs. Redskins: 58 attempts, 28 completions, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INTs, 44.8 rating (in a 37-24 loss).
Judging from all the “Is Tom Brady overrated?” talk this week, you’d think he’d had a game like one of these in his last two Super Bowls (instead of throwing just one interception in 99 attempts). OK, so Brady hasn’t been as scintillating (and unbeatable) in the Super Bowl as Montana was. But just remember: The Patriots are still young in plenty of places – including tight end, where Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (both 22) roam. They’re also sitting with two first-round picks and two seconds this year.
In other words, it’s entirely possible Brady isn’t done yet – done, that is, going to Super Bowls and collecting rings. Heck, he might not even be done bumping into Eli.