Leading up to Super Bowl XLVI there was endless talk of legacy. How will Belichick, Brady, Coughlin, and Manning be remembered? How will the last two Super Bowl meetings place each man in the history of the sport? Will a loss by the Patriots drop Brady and Belichick to a lower level of greatness? Will a lot of people question their greatness completely given the recent struggles in big games? Will Eli and Coughlin punch their Hall of Fame ticket with a victory?
Initially, I was going to write about how Tom Brady's past success was team oriented. He was surrounded by great players, and was the beneficiary of a lot of their skill.
Those teams created an ungodly amount of turnovers. In the three Super Bowl wins, the Patriots defense racked up 25 turnovers, while giving the ball away only 5 times. That's going to win you games.
Since 2006 the Patriots have played in 13 playoff games, turned the ball over 24 times, and only forced 19 turnovers. These are the things that people did not remember when they woke up Monday morning after a tough Super Bowl loss.
They don't remember the leads that have been given up by the defense in the fourth quarter of games.
They don't remember the 4th and 16 where Brady maneuvered in the pocket and breathed life into the team, giving the Patriots that last ditch Hail Mary effort.
They don't remember that an unknown named J.R. Redmond caught a huge screen pass in New Orleans to set up Vinatieri's game winner against the Rams.
They don't remember David Patten making an unreal catch in the Super Bowl against the Rams.
They don't remember Troy Brown's punt return against the Steelers in Heinz Field.
All we remember as fans is the here and now, for better or for worse; that's the truth.
As I began thinking about Brady's legacy, the comparison always seems to be Montana. Now, people will no doubt scoff at you if you make that claim. They will say, "Montana won every Super Bowl he played in. Brady has lost twice, and he still doesn't have as many rings."
One thing fans are very good at doing is forgetting. I went back, looked at the numbers, and dug up some truth about this comparison.
First I wanted to see what types of turnover differentials those 49er teams had when they won Super Bowls. I wanted to see if Montana threw a lot of interceptions. Did his defense bail him out of some games? I found some interesting things.
The first thing I found amazing was that the 49ers won in spite of 6 turnovers during the NFC Championship game against the Cowboys. Montana threw 3 interceptions, but one catch by Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone was all it took to erase those mistakes.
Two years later, the 49ers won the Super Bowl. If you look at Montana's numbers in those three playoff games, you would be shocked they won. He threw 5 interceptions in the divisional and championship games combined. His QB ratings were 82.1 and 60.0, respectively. His defense allowed 10 points total in those two games, including a shutout. Montana did have a great Super Bowl, torching the Dolphins for 3 touchdowns and 321 yards passing. But he made it to that game in spite of himself.
Following that Super Bowl, Montana did the unthinkable; he lost three straight playoff games. Three in a row! Does anyone remember that? Does anyone talk about it? Of course not.
We don't remember Montana's QB ratings of 65, 34, 42. Montana's great performances, like 6 straight playoff wins from 1989-90 with 19 touchdowns and 1 interception, made us forget about them, and so did the progression of time.
So Montana had bad playoff games; he won some of them because of a defense that could hold off good teams. He also lost some of them, because that's what happens when a quarterback has a bad game. They win some and they lose some.
The second thing I noticed while perusing the 49ers records during Montana's career was was the lack of success he had against one very specific team. I'll give you a moment to think about what team that might be. Ready?
The New York Giants.
Joe Montana and those great 49er teams lost
all his last three playoff games against the Giants in the 1980s (2 on the road, one at home), and was knocked out of two of them. That makes Brady and Montana 2-5 against the Giants all time in the postseason. The scores of those three 49ers losses? 17-3, 49-3, and 15-13.
You might be thinking that this comparison is stupid; it was 20+ years ago, there is no connection between the Giants, 49ers, and Patriots. However, if you begin to look at the strengths of those Giants teams and look at the men stalking the sideline, we may begin to wonder if Montana might have been lucky that he wasn't in the AFC. Had he been, he could have run into the Giants in a Super Bowl instead of divisional round or NFC Championship games, and therefore not tarnishing his perfect Super Bowl record.
Those Giants teams were called "The Big Blue Wrecking Crew." They got after the quarterback, dominated time of possession, had a quarterback in Phil Simms who turned into a big game player and took care of the ball. Sound familiar?
On the sideline was Bill Parcells. He was the head coach, and his assistant in 1985? Tom Coughlin, who then built a team in similar fashion that ended up beating Tom Brady and the Patriots in two Super Bowls. We all know the Parcells coaching tree reaches far and wide across the NFL, including his longtime defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick. However, can this connection between those Giants teams that stymied the 49ers and the ones that beat the Patriots really be ignored? I don't think it can.
Looking back and remembering great athletes doing great things is so easy. We remember the greatness; either they broke your heart by beating you or they made you stand up and high-five a perfect stranger because you both happened to be rooting for his team. With time we remember the highlights and forget the lowlights.
With Brady, the lowlights right now are in our immediate rear view: two Super Bowl losses to the Giants, two straight home defeats in the playoffs, a shaky performance against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, and no Super Bowl wins in the last 7 years.
Looking back and remembering great athletes doing great things is so easy. With time we remember the highlights and forget the lowlights.
Montana had a similar stretch. Three straight losses, three losses to the Giants, two 3-interception games, six games with a QB rating under 80.
We remember Montana for his greatness, of which there is no doubt. Possibly the greatest. But doesn't it make you wonder, what if he played in the AFC? What if he ran into the Giants in the Super Bowl? The NFC was dominant in those years; they won 13 straight Super Bowls from 1984-1997. Greatness comes with a bit of luck, who you play, who plays on your team, who makes plays on your behalf (Tyree, Dwight Clark, John Taylor, Adam Vinatieri will be forever linked to Brady, Manning, and Montana).
So before we start to rip apart Tom Brady, make sure to look back at the past of others. Dig up a bit of their dirt. And also make sure to look back at what made those players great. Brady led teams to victory, but he needed others. Troy Brown, David Patten, J.R. Redmond, Kevin Faulk, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, and the list goes on.
Everyone in history has their foil, their nemesis. Brady and Montana had the Giants. Montana was just lucky enough to not have to face them in the Super Bowl.
Fan Hub Action
Jeanne-Marie Jansen Lowell May 23rd
Greatest relief pitcher EVER! Someday we can all tell our grandchildren we got to see him pitch. A true legend!
Charlie Lobosco May 23rd
Ask Craig; I’ll say it again; not the best relief pitcher ever; the best MLB player ever. Yes, that includes everyone.
Jim Lowell May 23rd
Great tribute to a great player, a great Yankee, and a great man.Thank you!
Frank Lowell May 23rd
Great job, Ryan! As a life-long Yankee hater since the 1950’s in the closing days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, I can only sit back and…
Tiffany Riddle May 23rd
Love the article, and I completely agree!
Michael T Carr May 16th
Another good article, Craig Lowell.
Charlie Lobosco May 1st
This is a very compelling story because Mr. Collins is a very passionate, tough, intelligent, athelete taking on some additional responsibliity to help others as…
Scott Cohen May 1st
Charlie.. very well said.. he does have guts
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