There are only two players with three Super Bowl MVPs: Joe Montana, a four-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers; and Tom Brady, a four-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots.
There’s a lot riding on Super Bowl LI. The Atlanta Falcons are looking to win their first ever championship, something they failed to do during their previous (and first) visit to the big game 19 years ago. Matt Ryan and his high flying offense, supported by an underrated defense, are expected to put up a lot of points. But win? It seems most people are counting on the Patriots, led by Bill Belichick and Brady for the last 16 seasons, to win championship number five, all since their partnership, which was a bit of a lucky stroke, began.
Whether Brady is an actual cheater or not hardly matters at this point. Put the Tuck Rule, Spygate, Deflategate, and any other grievance you have with the Patriots behind. None of it will matter but to a vocal few if he wins his fifth Super Bowl, which would likely also come with a fourth Super Bowl MVP award, setting himself apart from Montana and everyone else. Terry Bradshaw also won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but no one ever mentions him among the best QBs of all time.
Each full decade in the Super Bowl era had its team. The 1970’s were about the Steelers. 80’s were all 49ers. The 90’s were the Cowboys time. The Patriots however, look like a team capable of owning two consecutive decades, revolving around two who might be the greatest in NFL history at what they do. The Pats won 3 Super Bowls in the first decade of the new millennium, also losing in one. They’re in their third Super Bowl in six years, hoping to become the first team this decade to win the big game twice.
Championships, whether it’s fair or not, give a player’s legacy a massive boost. Brady, even with all the talk about his greatness having more to do with Belichick than his own undeniable talent, will put chatter about players like Montana, Peyton Manning and who knows who else to rest. He’ll be the only player with five Super Bowl rings. Unless Matt Ryan and co. can do something about it. Maybe Brady is already the best. He’s tied for most accomplished in what many consider is a more difficult era to repeat and maintain success.
There’s a matter of team legacy. The Pittsburgh Steelers have six Super Bowl titles. The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers have five. Next in line are the Patriots, Giants and Packers with 4 each. The Niners are the only other team to pick up their titles so quickly. The Patriots can go from a mostly obscure franchise with very little influence on the national chatter and the overall NFL scenery, to arguably the most successful franchise of all time in the National Football League. It’s difficult to comprehend at times, because the team’s history, or the good parts of it, are attached to the same two names, happening in a relatively short timespan.
Personally, I don’t think Brady is the best quarterback of all-time. I put Montana ahead of him. I think Manning was the better quarterback too. But it probably doesn’t matter. The numbers will help make that decisions in the future, and Brady is 60 minutes of football before he can finally set himself apart from everyone else. A lot of non-Patriots fans might not be too happy about it, but the ‘Patriots Way’ has led him and Belichick to so much success, it’s hard to imagine an alternative ending to their Super Bowl clash with the Falcons, who can play a huge part in reshaping, or at least delaying history.