Growing up in San Mateo, Tom Brady was a huge fan of Joe Montana. He was at Candlestick Park to witness "The Catch" and saw Montana play his final game with the 49ers.
Decades later, Brady and Montana sit alone as the two greatest quarterbacks of all time. The debate will go on long after all of us have turned to dirt, with neither side giving an inch even as the apocalypse inches closer. That's just how sports and tribalism work.
But there are no sports and "The Last Dance" has left us all debating hypothetical matchups, top 10 lists, GOATS and who knows what else until we're blue in the face. So, let's take a brief and relatively painless look at why the San Mateo kid -- who once idolized Montana and similarly chose to finish his career on his own terms -- caught and passed the 49ers legend as the greatest of all-time.
Montana's credentials are well known. Joe Cool went 4-0 in Super Bowls and was a three-time Super Bowl MVP. He threw for 40,551 yards, 273 touchdowns and had a 92.3 passer rating. More important than the numbers, Montana was calm, cool and collected under pressure.
With Montana under center, the 49ers were never out of a game. That includes the 92-yard drive to win Super Bowl XXIII. Montana rarely made mistakes when it mattered. In the 1988 and 1989 playoffs, Montana threw 19 touchdowns and only one interception.
There's a reason he was the unquestioned GOAT until recently, but Brady's comeback from the 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI gave him a lead that he won't relinquish.
Brady has gone to nine Super Bowls and won six of them. In those three losses, the New England Patriots defense gave up two game-winning drives to Eli Manning and was torched by Nick Foles. Playing in a passer-friendly era, Brady's stats dwarf Montana's. Brady has 219 regular-season wins and 30 postseason wins. He has thrown 541 career touchdown passes. Brady has also thrown for 11,179 yards in the postseason, besting Peyton Manning by almost 4,000 yards and beating Montana by more than 5,000.
Plus, Brady has done more with less during his career. While Montana got to play alongside the likes of Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark and Roger Craig, Brady got limited time with Randy Moss and has had to win with an average group of pass-catchers -- outside of tight end Rob Gronkowski. Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch were decent NFL receivers, but that's a lot less than a lot of marquee quarterbacks are given to win Super Bowls.
At age 41, Brady threw for 4,355 yards and won the Super Bowl. This past season, with almost no offensive help, he threw for 4,057 yards. The Patriots won at least 12 games 12 times in the Brady era and won the AFC East a whopping 17 times (due to a combination of the Patriots' greatness and the lack of quality opponents in the division).
Heading toward age 43, Brady followed in Montana's footsteps and left the only team he has ever known, choosing to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason. Montana, Manning and Brett Favre are the only legendary quarterbacks to switch teams late in their career and find success, with only Manning winning a title thanks to a vaunted Denver Broncos defense.
Montana was successful during his final run with the Kansas City Chiefs but failed to win a title.
Debating greatness across eras is relatively pointless. Those who watched Montana in his heyday will undoubtedly claim he's the GOAT no matter how many titles Brady wins, just as grandparents everywhere scold their grandkids for thinking LeBron James is in the same conversation with Michael Jordan.
Brady watched Montana and dreamed of doing what his idol did on Sundays. Then, he went out and eclipsed him.
Tom Brady might not say it. But I will.