Patriots

Where Tom Brady fits in pantheon of Boston's greatest athletes ever

Patriots

It's happened. Tom Brady's left. He's off to continue his career somewhere else, something that seemed unfathomable to so many for so long because of all he's accomplished over the last two decades in New England. 

Just how do we put it all into perspective? And, yes. This is a "we" conversation. We know what that means. New Englanders, we're a provincial bunch. 

The national points of view are all well and good, but they don't know Brady like we know Brady. They don't understand what's happened here the way we do. 

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That's why the best way to frame how Brady sits in our collective conscience is to slot him in his proper place among the pantheon of local greats. Our guys. Athletes we watched grow and develop into all-timers. Players our parents and grandparents had to see, to whom they felt a connection. 

Of course Brady sits near the top of the list. The only question is whether or not he's No. 1...

THE GREATEST WINNER OF ALL-TIME

What Brady has done to help carry the Patriots to an unprecedented decades-long run of success from his sport's most important position is no doubt one of the greatest athletic achievements we've ever seen up close.

We've still never seen anything like Bill Russell. Eleven championships in 13 years. Nine as a player. Eight in a row. Two more as a player and coach. Russell would've won Finals MVP more often than he didn't had the award existed at the time. Now it's named after him. He might've been the greatest teammate of all time, too, doing whatever the Celtics needed to end seasons as the last ones standing. Rebounding. Defense. Zipping outlet passes to spark of the game's most dominant fast break.

 

And Russell deserves to be here even if you don't include his sterling record prior to his time in Boston. He won Olympic gold. He won two national titles at the University of San Francisco. When it comes to team sports, it's hard to envision anyone ever approaching Russell's résumé of winning.

Not just in Boston but anywhere.

THE GREATEST FOOTBALL PLAYER OF ALL-TIME

This discussion ended in February of 2017.

It wasn't Joe Montana or Jerry Rice, despite their rings and records. It wasn't Johnny Unitas or Jim Brown or Lawrence Taylor or Otto Graham. Tom Brady was the game's greatest player.

What he did in New England defied every rule that annually brought the NFL's best teams back to the mean. The league wanted parity and Brady wouldn't allow it. He tailored his game to his team, to the rules and the demands of the game's greatest coach.

With championship defenses Brady managed, hitting clutch throws when needed. When surrounded with Hall of Fame talents, he showed that he not only was on their level but made them better. When the league went pass-happy and required great teams to have great quarterbacks, Brady put together some of the best years the sport had ever seen.

And he maintained. He won an MVP at age 40 and a Super Bowl at 41. Of all the great athletes to ever pass through New England, only Russell's accomplishments outweigh Brady's. Really, when considering the best of the best from the four major team sports, the argument could be made that our area witnessed the careers of two of the top five.

Russell, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Babe Ruth all have arguments to be placed ahead of Brady. After that? He's at least in that near-mythical conversation.

FILLING OUT RUSHMORE

There are two obvious names who deserve to be mentioned in the next tier of Boston's best.

Bobby Orr won three straight Hart Trophies as the NHL's MVP, eight Norris Trophies as the league's best defenseman, two Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Trophies in Boston. You can dock him for his career flaming out relatively quickly due to injury, but he changed the way people looked at the sport — especially in this area — and altered views on what was possible from his position.

Ted Williams, meanwhile, never won a championship but he can't be too far down this list. He has an argument as the game's best hitter after Ruth, who was in his own world statistically. Williams had a superpower when it came to hitting a baseball (thanks in part to what was almost superhuman vision) and cemented himself as one of the greatest baseball players ever. There's no doubt he's one of the best Boston and the New England region have ever seen. He just has to rank behind the three ahead of him. Championships matter. 

 

Larry Bird and David Ortiz have to check in a tick below the rest here. They were all-timers, clutch performers, champions and icons in their own right. But they aren't also in the conversation as the best ever to play their respective sports like the four names listed ahead of them. 

Below that pairing you might have Carl Yastrzemski, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek. Pedro Martinez isn't far off. Ray Bourque and John Hannah never won titles here, but there's no question they should be considered among the best of the rest. Paul Pierce and Zdeno Chara deserve credit for helping bring championships back to their proud franchises. Rocky Marciano, for those who prefer individual accomplishments in these discussions, could probably vault a number of names here.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder in conversations like these. No matter the beholder, though, Brady's name should be near the top of the pantheon of great New England athletes. Right behind the greatest winner of them all.