MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T.

No. There’s no such thing. Not in the NFL.

First thing, for those of you who don’t follow such things (and congratulations if you don’t), G.O.A.T. stands for Greatest of All Time.

Second thing, Tom Brady retired on Tuesday at age 44, having quarterbacked seven Super Bowl champions in 10 appearances, which is remarkable and unprecedented; and he holds basically every passing record that matters, though I won’t bore you with numbers, because in this day and age in the NFL, there is no plateau in numbers, because the rules keep changing to make the so-called unbreakable numbers breakable.

Because, they say, the fans love it.

I say too much of anything is just that – too much.

As far as the whole G.O.A.T. thing, all of which found its footing in the current popular culture because of the cultural pox known as ESPN, there is no such thing as a G.O.A.T. quarterback in the NFL because the NFL rules change every other hour. The game you saw this year, particularly penalties, or lack of them, will not be the same game you see next year.

It just won’t be.

I will never say there has been a better NFL quarterback than John Unitas, because there would be no NFL as we know it without John Unitas. He made the NFL; he just did. Look it up. Of course, there was no ESPN when Unitas played, so this is falling on deaf ears (or in this case, eyes).

Conversely, I will never say there has been a better NFL quarterback than Joe Montana, even Unitas. Maybe it’s because he was so much like Unitas. I don’t know; but I just won’t say it. Or believe it.

This is not to downplay Tom Brady’s career and all of his accomplishments and championships, but he was not indispensable to the growth, the well-being or the future of the NFL the way those who came before him were, beginning with Unitas in 1958. The NFL would have gone on with or without Brady. The same cannot be said of the likes of Unitas, Otto Graham before him, Bart Starr, Jim Brown, Dick Butkus and countless others; not to mention Super Bowl III, which really made all of what we’re about to see in two Sundays even possible.

The NFL, you see, was built, was made and became a multi-billion-dollar industry on the premise of violence. The foundation of the NFL’s popularity is based on our (the fans’) primal need to see other humans hurt and damaged. It just is.

The league and its lawyers have gone to great lengths to change all of that, even though they still use it to sell it on us. With new safety and passing rules, it is not as much the case now; though those primal instincts are still there, and it’s still far from easy to make a living at it. And the only reason it isn’t the way it was is the NFL is no different than any other multi-billion-dollar corporation in that it lives with a mortal fear of liability.

The rules changed, for safety purposes and for the sake of more scoring, more accessible scoring and pinball machine-like action, because the NFL plays its fans for what we probably are – shallow and stupid.

That shallow and stupid also applies to how easily we are to buy into the G.O.A.T. we are programmed on from the likes of any 24-hour news-cycle sports network we are likely to tune into.

Tom Brady – friendlier rules or no friendlier rules – has had one of the most remarkable runs and careers in sports, and seems to be a decent person. And good for him.

But he is not the G.O.A.T., for the very simple reason that there can be no such thing as a G.O.A.T.

Not in the NFL.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT