Before we send Tom Brady off on another victory lap and complete his canonization in American sports, let’s pause once more to fully appreciate what he has accomplished in a way that hasn’t been considered.
After making his 10th Super Bowl appearance and winning his seventh Super Bowl championship on Sunday — both ridiculous numbers — Brady hasn’t merely produced a Hall of Fame career, he’s produced THREE of them.
That’s THREE. 1-2-3.
If you break his career into three seven-year periods, each would stand alone as a Hall of Fame career. And each of those seven-year periods is equal to or better than what three first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks accomplished in their entire careers — Troy Aikman, Dan Marino and Joe Montana, who are widely rated among the top 10 quarterbacks in history.
Here’s how it breaks down:
During the first seven years of his NFL career, from 2000 to 2006, Brady equaled Aikman’s 12-year career, despite the fact that Brady threw only three passes during his rookie season.
Brady won five divisional titles, Aikman six. Brady won three Super Bowl titles, Aikman three. Brady won two Super Bowl MVP awards, Aikman one. Brady had a regular-season winning percentage of 74.4%, Aikman 57%. Brady had a playoff winning percentage of 86%, Aikman 73%.
In the second seven-year period of his NFL career, from 2007 to 2013, Brady surpassed Marino’s 17-year career, despite the fact that Brady played in just one game (actually, 15 snaps) in 2008 because of an injury.
In the middle seven-year phase of his career, Brady won six division titles, Marino five. Brady made two Super Bowl appearances, Marino one. Brady was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player twice, Marino once. Brady had a regular-season winning percentage of 80.4%, Marino 61%. Brady had a playoff winning percentage of 50%, Marino 43%.
In the third seven-year period of his NFL career, from 2014 to 2020, Brady surpassed Montana’s 15-year career (16 if you count an entire season Montana missed with an injury).
Brady won six division titles, Montana four. Brady made five Super Bowl appearances, Montana four. Brady won four Super Bowl titles, Montana four. Brady won one MVP award, Montana two. Brady had a regular-season winning percentage of 76% (which is also his career winning percentage), Montana 71%. Brady had a playoff winning percentage of 84%, Montana 50%. (Brady joined a new team near the end of his career and marched through the playoffs and won another Super Bowl; Montana joined a new team near the end of his career and lost in the first round.)
Brady’s 21-year career is actually 19 years since he essentially didn’t play in two of them, and yet any of the seven-year phases of his career measures up to, or exceeds, the careers of the most successful quarterback careers, even that of Montana, who was the measuring stick for all quarterbacks before Brady.
Furthermore, the results would be the same if you took any of Brady’s three seven-year phases and compared them with the entire careers of almost any quarterback. Even in his worst seven-year period — the middle one — he appeared in two Super Bowls and won two MVP awards.
Brady could have quit after any of those phases and still would have ranked as one of the all-time greats. He has played at an incredibly high level for two decades. No quarterback — and very few athletes in any sport — has ever sustained such a high level of play, period, yet alone over such a long period of time.
The results were the same when he was in his 20s, 30s and 40s. He won Super Bowl titles in three different decades. In this year’s playoff run, at the age of 43, he beat three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks — Drew Brees in New Orleans, Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and Patrick Mahomes.
There simply has never been another quarterback who can match him.