Column: Brady the greatest ever in SB? Not so fast
PHOENIX (AP) His teammates were mostly showered and gone, but Tom Brady was having trouble even bringing himself to move. He sat in front of his locker in Indianapolis, pulling on a pair of boots with a pained look seemingly etched on his face.
Brady's Super Bowl had ended badly once again, and he was trying to make sense of it all. In a few minutes he would walk down a hallway and tell the media why he had the ball in his hand to win the game with 57 seconds left and couldn't deliver the long touchdown drive every New England fan was expecting three years ago against the New York Giants.
''It always comes down to one or two plays,'' Brady said then. ''If you make them you're celebrating. If you don't, you don't sleep for a week.''
Celebrating or sleepless, Brady knows both well. The first three times he took the Patriots to the Super Bowl he came away with three championship rings.
That there were more Super Bowls to come was a given. Bill Belichick was building a dynasty behind Brady, and the quarterback was just beginning to feel comfortable as a superstar at the age of 27.
But Brady has lost the last two, and the opposing quarterback was the MVP in both of them. Eli Manning outplayed Brady not once but twice, the first time in the very stadium where the Patriots will play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
There hasn't been another Super Bowl championship in a decade now. And there's a real chance that should the Patriots fall again, losing three straight Super Bowls might define Brady's eventual legacy nearly as much as winning the first three.
Greatest quarterback of his era, sure. Brady has won while fighting injuries, and won while his many receivers always seemed to be going through a revolving door in New England.
Just to get to six Super Bowls is a staggering accomplishment no quarterback had ever achieved before Brady and the Patriots beat Indianapolis to return to the big game once again.
And should the Patriots beat the Seahawks on Sunday, Brady would join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, two names long enshrined as greats in Canton, as the only quarterbacks to win four rings.
But where do you put a quarterback with a .500 Super Bowl record in historical context? What do you say about one who won his first three, and lost his next three?
You say he's no Bradshaw, who won all four of his Super Bowl appearances for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Certainly not Montana, who won four in 12 full seasons for San Francisco and might have won at least one more if not for injury.
While Bradshaw was helped by a dominant defense, Montana won in blowouts and last-minute rallies. His quarterback rating of 127.8 is the best ever in the Super Bowl, while Brady barely cracks the top 10 at 93.8.
Here's a stat that even tops that: In four Super Bowls, on the biggest stages of his life, Montana never threw an interception.
Most importantly, Montana didn't need three shots to win a fourth title. He won every time he took the field in a Super Bowl.
Brady was asked several times and in several different ways this week about playing in the Super Bowl six times and what he thinks his eventual legacy will be. He didn't bite, refusing to rank himself while talking in generalities about how great it is to be playing in his sixth.
''It's hard to think about those things,'' Brady said in response to one question. ''Like I said, I've just been fortunate to be on some great teams. Those guys are unbelievable players, they were so great for this league. They were great teams. I was the biggest 49er fan growing up and to watch Joe and Steve Young - who were my two idols - who were just great for the game and great for the sport.''
Brady has been great for the sport, too. He's the All-American quarterback with the supermodel wife who seems to lead the perfect life.
He doesn't get into trouble off the field, and he usually delivers on it, like he did this season when his irritation with his team's play quickly turned around a season seemingly headed nowhere.
Still it will be hard to call him the greatest ever, even with four Super Bowl wins.
Three losses, and you can't even put him in the conversation.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg