Debate: “Greatest Athlete of All Time”?

Stefan Collins, Staff Writer

Tom Brady, the “Greatest Athlete of All Time”?

If you have logged into social media or tuned into a sports station since February 8th, 2021, you will be aware that the team that Tom Brady plays for (The Tampa Bay Buccaneers incase they didn’t mention it) won the Super Bowl. Brady has now hoisted the Lombardi trophy seven times, two more than any other player in NFL history. He was already considered by the majority to be the greatest Quarterback of all time because of the number of Super Bowl rings he has won. But the latest addition to his envious collection of championship rings has sparked a new debate. “Is Tom Brady the greatest athlete of all time?” A quick Twitter search would see this mentioned by several verified accounts including the following:

“It’s a simple question… Is Tom Brady the greatest athlete of all time?” – @TheAthletic

“Is Tom Brady the Greatest Athlete of all time?” – @PFF (Pro Football Focus)

“With his seventh Super Bowl win, Tom Brady is now the greatest Pro Sports athlete of all time. I don’t think there is an argument for anybody else any longer” – @ClayTravis (Fox Sports Radio)

These tweets made me want to bang my head against the wall because Brady is not athletic. Let alone the greatest athlete of all time.

Brady isn’t athletic?

In the 2000 NFL draft, Brady was selected 199th overall. Surprising right? No, it isn’t surprising at all. He was drafted so late because he wasn’t particularly athletic or gifted coming out of College. Brady also had a notoriously unathletic combine performance.

According to “NFL Combine Results” Brady ran the 40-yard dash in 5.30 seconds and recorded a 24.5-inch vertical jump. For reference, I am a Division III athlete, I can run the 40-yard dash in under five seconds, and I have a vertical jump of 29 inches. Brady’s numbers are terrible! His college film at Michigan also showed his struggle to pass the ball deep and with velocity. That is why he was drafted 199th overall.

Brady excels when his offensive line protects him like their lives depend on it and his receivers gain multiple yards of separation. They have done for most of his career. This does not require exceptional athleticism. Just a great football IQ and luck. To call him the “Greatest athlete of all time” is not only ridiculous but also disrespectful. Surely, the title of “Greatest Athlete of all time” should go to somebody like Decathlon or world record holder, Kevin Mayer? Or perhaps an Olympic champion whose power, and cardiovascular endurance are vital to their success such as Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt? Not a player that ran a 5.30 40-yard dash, whose entire claim to being the “GOAT” is playing on seven Super Bowl-winning teams.

Can an NFL player be considered the “Greatest Athlete of All Time”?

If any NFL player, past or present, has earned this title it is Deion Sanders. Sanders is widely regarded to be the best Corner Back (The most difficult football position to play from an athletic standpoint) in NFL History. His speed set him apart from the rest. Sanders ran his 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds, over a full second faster than Brady. I said in my “100th anniversary NFL team” article that “His athleticism, combined with his knowledge of the game and his opponent, made him the best cover corner there has ever been.”

One of the reasons I say that he is the greatest athlete in NFL history, and maybe the greatest athlete of all time, is because during his NFL career he was also a professional Major League Baseball player. Sanders, to this day, is the only athlete to ever appear in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. In 1992 as a member of the Atlanta Braves, he had a batting average of .304 and lead the league in triples with 14. Not bad considering he was also an All-Pro as a corner and a return specialist in the NFL that year.

I will not go as far as to say that Sanders is the greatest athlete ever, but he is definitely a better athlete than Brady. Not that that’s much of an achievement because the majority of professional athletes are. Surely what people mean when they make the claim that Brady is the “Greatest Athlete of all time” is that he is the greatest player in the history of team sports? At least that has some merit.

Is Brady the “Greatest Player in the History of Team Sports”?

            I have plenty of material on why I think Brady is overrated as a Quarterback. “Divorce of a Dynasty part II” goes into the most detail. So, it goes without saying that I do not believe that Brady is the greatest team sport player ever, nor do I think he is the greatest Quarterback ever. His entire claim to being the “GOAT” is winning the most Super Bowls. Even though he only led his offense to 13 points in both Super Bowl’s XXXVI and LIII, whilst his defenses allowed only 20 points in those games combined.”This proves that the best team wins, not the best Quarterback; but he is still worshiped by both fans and the media for those games “because of rings.”

Brady does not hold any NFL single-season records and he has not won the most League MVP awards. However, he does hold records such as “Most playoff wins” or “Most career touchdown passes.” All records that are either team accomplishments or volume stats for appearing in the most games. Therefore, they do not conclude that he is the “GOAT” in his own sport. Let alone, team sports in general.

Who is the Greatest Player in the History of Team Sports”?

To me, it is the man that was so good at his sport that even before he turned professional, he was nicknamed “the Great One.” The NHL’s all-time leader in both points and goals scored by a wide margin, Wayne Gretzky. Both Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr may have come close to Gretzky’s records had injuries not limited their careers. However, that wasn’t the case, so in this context, “The Great One” is the greatest.

To put in perspective how unbelievable Gretzky was statistically, he recorded 2,857 career points between 1979 and 1999, the most in NHL history. In second place is Pittsburgh Penguins legend, Jaromir Jager with 1,921. Jager has played in 246 more games than Gretzky and he still trails him by 936 points. If Gretzky never scored an NHL goal, his 1,963 assists (which count as points) would still place him 42 points ahead of Jager. That is a jaw-dropping stat.

Gretzky’s Records

Most career goals: 894

Most playoff career goals: 122

Most goals including playoffs: 1,016

Most goals in one season (1981–82): 92

Fastest 50 goals from the start of the season (1981-82): 39 games

Most Hart Memorial Trophies: Nine (League’s Most Valuable Player to a team)

Most Ted Lindsay Awards: Five (Most outstanding regular season player)

Most Art Ross Trophies: 10 (Leading the league in points at the end of the regular season.)

 

Watching Gretzky appear to glide so effortlessly on the ice at a rapid pace, making plays that most would need eyes in the back of their head to make, was poetic. Gretzky constantly ensuring that he was in a position to either outclass the goal-tender with his unrivaled skill or set up a teammate to do so was remarkable. Gretzky set individual records at a pace that no other player in the history of team sports has ever done. Not only that, but he is so far ahead of everybody else statistically that if you were in second place, you would need a telescope to be able to see him. The same can not be said for any other player in the history of team sports.

One record that Gretzky doesn’t own, however, is most Stanley Cups. Gretzky did win four Stanley Cups in five years as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, where he was the driving force of a team that was rich in talent and depth (the real reason teams win championships.) But Henri Richard won 11 Stanley Cups. Richard, who played the same position as Gretzky, averaged 0.83 points per game compared to Gretzky’s 1.92. Nobody in their right mind believes that Richard is better than Gretzky. Why? Because NHL fans rightfully believe that judging a player’s greatness on team accomplishments like rings, is idiotic. Yes, you read that correctly Clay Travis! The argument that winning championships in a team sport makes you the greatest player of all time is moronic. If Tom Brady is the Greatest player in sports history for playing on the teams that are in the most ideal position to win seven championships, then Henri Richard is better than Wayne Gretzky at Hockey!

 

References:

Tom Brady NFL combine stats. Retrieved from: https://nflcombineresults.com/playerpage.php?f=Tom&l=Brady&i=4732

Deion Sanders NFL combined stats. Retrieved from: https://nflcombineresults.com/playerpage.php?f=Deion&l=Sanders&i=25827