The goat references are everywhere. Twitter. Instagram. Julian Edelman's children's book, for crying out loud.
People have been calling Tom Brady the G.O.A.T. for a while now, but never more frequently than since he won his fifth Super Bowl title in February. And even though he's agreed to appear on the cover of Madden NFL 18's "G.O.A.T. Edition," Brady said recently that he doesn't agree with the assessment that he's surpassed Joe Montana as the greatest quarterback of all time.
Brady had a long conversation with ESPN's Ian O'Connor that touched on a variety of topics, including how he ranks compared to his childhood idol.
"I don't agree with that," Brady said when ask if he'd concede that he has replaced Montana as the G.O.A.T., "and I'll tell you why. I know myself as a player. I'm really a product of what I've been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I've been very fortunate . . . I don't ever want to be the weak link.
"I was the backup quarterback on an 0-8 team in my freshman year of high school," Brady continued. "I got to Michigan, I was seventh [string], and I had a hard time getting to be No. 2, and when I finally got to No. 1 there was someone else [Drew Henson] they wanted to be No. 1. I got to be a sixth-round pick behind a great player, Drew Bledsoe, and then I got an opportunity, and I'm still trying to take advantage of it. Part of who I am now is very much who I was, and that was cultivated growing up."
It's a diplomatic response. Brady could make a relatively concise argument as to why he's had a better career than Montana. He's won five Super Bowls to Montana's four. He's played in an era when free-agency has made it more difficult for top-flight teams to retain their stars. Montana never lost a Super Bowl, but his titles spanned one decade (1981-1989), while Brady's 16-year run as a starter have been bookended by Lombardi Trophies.
But instead of referencing those points, Brady essentially made the "system quarterback" argument for his detractors by pointing to who he's been around the coaches he's played for.
Brady has a few more quotes of note in the piece, including who he thinks might be the best NFL player of all time if it's not him.
"I don't remember a lot of those guys like Jim Brown playing," Brady said. "I remember Lawrence Taylor, obviously; he terrorized the 49ers . . . I know that I haven't played against a lot of those guys, but I've also played against a lot of guys that when I think of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney and Jason Taylor and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Darrelle Revis -- if those guys aren't the best, then whoever is better than them is only better by percentage points. It's not a big difference. So, like Deion Sanders, for example. I remember watching him play, how spectacular he was. But I can't imagine someone that much better than Revis. If there were, you couldn't complete a ball against Darrelle. So completing a ball against Deion is not much different than completing a ball against Darrelle."
On playing into his mid-40s and potentiall his late 40s: "I always said my mid-40s, and naturally that means around 45. If I get there and I still feel like I do today, I don't see why I wouldn't want to continue."
On if playing at 50 should be in play: "If you said 50, then you can say 60, too, then 70. I think 45 is a pretty good number for right now. I know the effort it takes to be 40. ... My love for the sport will never go away. I don't think at 45 it will go away. At some point, everybody moves on. Some people don't do it on their terms. I feel I want it to be on my terms. I've got to make appropriate choices on how to do that, how to put myself in the best position to reach my long-term goals."
On if Gisele might have some say on when his career comes to an end: "My wife says lots of things sometimes. She makes decisions for our family that I've got to deal with. Hopefully she never says, 'Look, this has to be it.' ... My wife and my kids, it's a big investment of their time and energy, too."
On if Gisele is OK with Brady playing into his mid-40s: "She wants me to do that, too. She also wants me to take good care of myself and still have my energy. My kids have grown up faster than I thought."
On if he's annoyed that Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't been traded: "When you're a member of a team sport, the best guy plays. So I always want to make sure I'm the best guy, and I give our team a great chance to win. But if you're ever not [the best guy], part of being a great teammate is letting the other guy do that, as well. Competition is what has always driven me. I've never been one that was hand selected, to be this particular player. ... In high school, college, professionally, I think the greater the competition, the more that it really allows me to dig deep and bring the best out of me."
On if he'd like to see Mauricio Ortega, the Super Bowl jersey thief, punished: "I really don't like anyone to ever get in trouble. To me, I'm just happy I was able to get it back. ... My reaction then wasn't heartbroken. I thought, at the end of the day, it was a jersey."