While I was watching the game Sunday night, I found myself focused more on Twitter than the game, as the game was resoundingly disappointing and unspectacular. What was more interesting was what people were talking about. I found tweets emerging from Twitter’s algorithm inquiring as to whether the Bucs were the greatest team ever assembled and laughed at the absurdity of such a statement. Clearly the 2007 Patriots put together the best assortment of talent and had the most impressive run of results, excluding their loss in Super Bowl XLII to potential Hall of Famer Eli Manning. But more prevalent were the tweets hailing Tom Brady as the single GOAT of athletics, which begs the question — what is a GOAT?
GOAT is an acronym for Greatest of All Time. As I will be using the term, the GOAT of any given institution is whoever resides at the pinnacle of the discourse regarding GOATness, the measuring stick for immortality in the collective unconscious. Many wars have been waged, literally and figuratively, in the name of GOAT discourse. Some sports are polyGOATistic. I would say that association football is one of them. Because of the vast scale and variety of contexts in which soccer has been played in, there are too many metrics of success to determine a single GOAT. Many point to Pele as the GOAT for his success with Brazil’s national team at four World Cups, while others point towards either Messi or Ronaldo as the pinnacle of their sport. However, discourse surrounding American football, one of our most American institutions, is very centered on one thing: myths of exceptionalism.
People most frequently relay the Myth of Brady as follows: Bill Belichick is having a rough time coaching the New England Patriots. He went 5-11 in his first season in charge of one of the least successful franchises in NFL history. Expectations for the 2001 Patriots are low, and they lose their first game of the season. Then 9/11 happens. Things look bad for Patriots everywhere, and the team loses their first game back from the mourning period. Worse yet, their starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, went down hurt, and Belichick is forced to turn to his backup, Tom Brady. The team only managed to put up a pathetic three points throughout four quarters of football, failing to find the endzone. Things were not looking good for the 0-2 Patriots. Then, something changed.
In a matchup that would go on to become an all-too-common feature of the AFC side of the NFL playoff bracket, Tom Brady’s Patriots beat the hell out of Peyton Manning’s Colts. In his first game as an NFL starter, Tom Brady fails to throw a single touchdown yet leads his team to a 44-13 steering of the Colts. The Patriots rally into the playoffs and proceed to deal a crushing blow to the Oakland Raiders in the famous Tuck Rule Game. The Raiders never recovered and are doing some soul-searching out in the Hamakhaave desert. Brady earns his first of many Super Bowl rings in a game in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
His partnership with Belichick went on to be known as The Evil Empire. Everyone either loved the Patriots or despised them. They repeatedly assembled the best teams available for the cheapest price because all the labor wants to be where the success is — a very American custom. The Patriots went from being the AFC East’s punching bag to the most successful team in Super Bowl history thanks to the Brady-Belichick epoch. The thing that fascinates me most about Brady’s GOATness is the fact that he is by no means the greatest quarterback among his contemporaries, let alone the best to ever set foot on the gridiron.
Tom Brady has never been the best quarterback in the league. His skillset is quite limited; he can stand in the pocket and throw the ball relatively far. People noticed that. His pictures at the 2000 NFL Combine are the stuff of legends. They depict some average white guy, not the pseudointellectual fitness guru he went on to become. No one batted an eye when he got drafted 199th overall. All the records he holds are cumulative, and he will leave behind a colossal oeuvre when he retires, never having set a single-season record.
So, how has he won so much if he has never been the best? You cannot simply assign the blame for his success on his career’s longevity. While Tom Brady has had the second longest career, excluding kickers and punters, plenty of players have had long careers and failed to win many championships. Charles Woodson played in the league for 17 seasons. If all 32 teams in the NFL were assumed to be equally likely to win the Super Bowl any given year, one would conclude that any player, regardless of quality, would have a 53.125 percent chance of winning a Super Bowl through sheer entropy. Therefore, a Hall of Famer like Woodson would probably be able to successfully find a way to win more than one Super Bowl in his career, even given the limitations of contractual labor in the NFL. But he only managed to win one, making him an average player in the eyes of pure reason. But humans are not rational. Heck, life is irrational. Tom Brady exemplifies this fact.
Despite wearing a helmet throughout the season that declared END RACISM in the tiniest font on the back, Tom Brady said something to Tyrann Matthieu last Sunday night that Matthieu says he won’t repeat. Touchdown Tom portrays himself as a very nice guy. He smiled for the cameras, brought well known scientific health facts to the masses and shook every hand presented to him, all while being the face of THE EVIL EMPIRE, the New England Patriots. How did he manage this feat?
Brady attributes much of his success to his sports psychologist, Greg Harden. In an interview on Howard Stern’s radio show last April, Brady cried as he sang the praises of the man who taught him not to be “a victim.” That contempt for personal victimhood may be the key to his success. Brady is the GOAT because he has hacked the discourse, not because of his individual greatness. When every loss your team experiences is a learning experience rather than something completely out of your control, one would assume that people and teams lose because they had been inherently lesser in the moment, which is the rational conclusion. But the universe is deeply irrational. If the point of life is to live, why do living things die? Why do atoms, supposedly the most basic units of existence, consist of constituent parts that each have their own corresponding constituencies? Why is Tom Brady the GOAT? Because of his context.
Tom Brady and I are from the same neck of the woods. We both hail from Silicon Valley, the center of modernity. It would be safe to assume Brady came from a well-to-do family, considering the regularity with which he was able to attend San Francisco 49ers’ games. He did not choose to be born into this family, let alone be born at all. There is very little to be learned from birth that is helpful to winning at sports, so, Touchdown Tom failed to internalize its most important lesson: there are things that exist beyond our control.
Therefore, I would like to come to this conclusion: not only is Tom Brady the GOAT of American football, he is the GOAT of America. If Karl Marx is held to be the embodiment of the specter of communism, Tom Brady is a golden god of capitalism that will do everything in his power to stop communism, whatever the heck that means. My favorite part about this conflict between communism and capitalism is that both sides think they want the same thing: freedom. America loves imposing its view of freedom on the global stage, an act which is inherently violent! And violence is literally the opposite of freedom. It is imposing one’s will onto others. Like America is a deeply white state built on the labor of systemically oppressed African Americans as well as other minorities. Tom Brady is a deeply white man whose legacy is built on the labor of systemically oppressed African Americans and other minorities, from Randy Moss to Aaron Hernandez; people who were criminalized in society by factors beyond their control. Tom Brady is the banal face of the Evil Empire, yet people who hate him are simply “jealous.” Tom Brady is America, and therein lies his grandeur.