With the dust beginning to settle on Super Bowl LI, Toby Webb reflects on Tom Brady’s now unprecedented sporting career
The 51st Super Bowl was arguably the greatest of them all. The New England Patriots, down 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons with little more than a quarter to play, produced a thrilling comeback, rallying to an overtime victory of 34-28. This was a feat unparalleled in any previous Super Bowl: the largest deficit previously overcome was 10 points.
Since the match, several explanations have been given for the overcome. As a team, New England’s 4th quarter performance was flawless. Moreover, Atlanta’s Super Bowl naivety was evident: their play-calling in the game’s latter stages was foolish and their aggression in defence was simply unsustainable. However, it was Brady, his ability as a quarterback and a leader of the highest quality, who was ultimately able to exploit Atlanta’s flaws.
Brady’s post-game interviews have been fascinating: he maintained that he, as well as the team, never believed they were beaten. Head Coach Bill Belichick added that the halftime message was the “Same thing we told them in the first quarter and the second quarter — just kept coaching and just kept trying to get better.” It is difficult to believe doubt hadn’t entered the minds of the New England players, with the unprecedented scale of the comeback task they faced. However, anyone who has watched the Patriots over the years will understand that Brady and Belichick have unwavering belief in both their own ability and each other’s. This shone through in the Patriots commitment to their game-plan, and their subsequent victory.
Brady’s performance set new records for QB’s in the Super Bowl: Championship game records for most passes (62), completions (43) and passing yards (466) were recorded. It was extremely fitting that these records were set in the game where Brady surpassed Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the most successful QB in Super Bowl history: Brady now has five Super Bowl wins, to Montana and Bradshaw’s four. I, for one, was delighted that Brady surpassed the record. It is now indisputable evidence that he is a player of the highest calibre, and true testament to the level of consistent excellence that he has demonstrated over his 16-year career.
While Brady’s achievements are unparalleled, his beginnings offered no indications of the career he would have. Unlike Peyton Manning (drafted first), Brady’s main QB advisory throughout his career, Brady was selected 199th in the NFL Draft. New England really stumbled upon a diamond. Initially serving as back-up QB, Brady only became a starter in his second season, 2001, when the starter Drew Bledsoe got injured. Brady secured his first Super Bowl that year, illustrating his capabilities and leadership qualities. Brady would go on to lead the Patriots to Super Bowl victories in 2003 and 2004.
Two of Brady’s best season statistically, 2007 and 2011, ended in harrowingly narrow Super Bowl defeats to the New York Giants, led by QB Eli Manning. In 2007, Brady amassed 4806 passing yards and threw for 50 touchdowns. Brady benefitted from having Randy Moss, a Hall of Fame-level receiver, to hit. Analysts have argued that his 2007 season was one of the best ever produced by a quarterback. However, despite having a 16-0 record, the Patriots were unable to cap off the perfect season, narrowly beaten 17-14 in the Super Bowl. In 2011, Brady amassed 5,235 yards passing and 39 touchdowns.
2011 was about Rob Gronkowski, the juggernaut Tight End that Brady has formed a fantastic footballing relationship with. While 2007 was about offense, 2011 is considered by most to be the most archetypal Patriot season, killer in all phases of the game. Again, however, Brady and the Patriots were defeated by Manning in the Super Bowl, this time 21-17. Joe Montana won all of the Super Bowls he played in. Having won 5 and lost 2, Brady is player that has experienced both the glory and the despair.
Super Bowl losses have provided greater fuel for his drive and determination to be successful, despite being nearly 40. Super Bowl losses have made him a more complete player. 2014, Brady’s other Super Bowl victory, consisted of the Patriots taming the mean defence of the Seattle Seahawks. In similar style to this year, the Patriots completed a 10 point comeback in the 4th quarter. Brady has accumulated a magnificent repertoire of Super Bowl victories, the latter two, 2014 and this year undeniably made sweeter by the defeats in 2007 and 2011.
While blessed with talent, Brady’s consistent level of excellence is down to his sheer dedication to his craft. Even following Super Bowl winning season, he rarely takes more than two weeks off, desperate to get back and begin preparing for the new season. An example of his dedication is his diet. He follows a strict 80% alkaline, 20% acidic diet; in a 2014 interview, he described it as providing “balance and harmony through my metabolic system”.
Despite his unrivalled dedication, the single most important reason for Brady’s success has been Bill Belichick, his head coach throughout his playing career. Brady and Belichick have a true symbiotic relationship: Brady’s consistency marries perfectly with Belichick’s system. Together, they have reached 7 Super Bowls while largely lacking the amount of star players other teams have had. Brady and Belichick’s respective successes cannot be divorced from each other’s. Ultimately, they have formed an unrivalled dynasty, comparable to the one Alex Ferguson and the class of ’92 achieved.
Brady, in partnership with Belichick, has the quality that all sportspeople crave. By whatever means, they win. They have winning in their blood. In Super Bowl LI, Brady immortalised himself. He is the greatest QB ever.