Joe Montana is considered by many as the greatest quarterback of all time. Quarterbacks above all other positions are judged on wins over individual statistics. Montana's record as a starter was 117-47, four of which are more important than the others. Terry Bradshaw and Montana are the only quarterbacks to have won 4 Super Bowls. Unlike Bradshaw, Montana has 3 Super Bowl MVPs in those 4 wins.
With a win on Sunday, Tom Brady would join Bradshaw and Montana as having the most Super Bowl wins as a starting quarterback with 4. Brady has, however, started in more Super Bowls than any other quarterback with 6.
More Wins, More Important Wins
If the Patriots were to win Super Bowl XLIX, Brady will be in a three-way tie for most Super Bowl wins by a starting quarterback but finds himself alone at the top with most Super Bowl appearances. Why are appearances important if rings only matter? Just making it to the Super Bowl means that a quarterback has won more important games during the season. Brady currently holds the NFL record for most playoff wins for a starting quarterback with 20. Consider his career winning record 160-47, which places him 3rd all time behind Brett Farve and Peyton Manning and 43 more wins than Montana.
Tom Brady plays in an era in which individual quarterback stats have skyrocketed. TD passes per season record has been broken 3 times since 2004. Prior to that, the record set by Dan Marino in 1984 of 48 TDs stood for 20 years. The record for passing yards per season that was also made by Marino in 1984 stood for 27 years was broken 5 times from 2011 to 2013.
These recent jumps in passing stats can be attributed to a set of measures from 2001 to 2010 to ensure player safety for the quarterback and wide receivers. Measures that have ultimately favored the two positions and subsequently elevating them as well.
Modern era quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have become the benefactors of these rule changes and recent TD and passing yard numbers reflect that. Can these modern era changes be accountable for more wins/Super Bowl wins for a quarterback? If Joe Montana were to be playing today, would he have more than 4 Super Bowl wins?
Although these rule changes may boost the overall number or passing yards and TDs, they would not have an effect on win/losses. This is because each and every quarterback in the league will benefit from theses rules and these changes that may help an individual quarterback also help opposing quarterbacks. Each era has its own unique features but when it comes to winning and being a champion, each quarterback is competing against other teams who are playing within the same parameters as all the others, thus win/losses are normalized among different eras.
Doing More with Less
Football is the ultimate team sport and Super Bowl championships are won by teams not individuals. A great quarterback elevates his teammates. The greatest of all time would ideally be a player who could find a way to win with the least available to him.
Montana had arguably the greatest WR of all time at his disposal. Jerry Rice played with Montana for 7 seasons and had 3 Super Bowl wins together. The only wide receiver that Brady had that could ever be considered comparable to Rice would be Randy Moss, who only played with Brady for 2 full seasons.
When Brady did have a hall of fame level receiver at his disposal for two seasons he posted 86 TDs, 10,095 passing yards, 28-8 record, league MVP, and a Super Bowl appearance. Imagine if Brady had Moss 7 years instead of just two.
A Legacy Tarnished?
How much does the recent deflategate controversy and spygate affect Brady's place among the best? Brady had not taken any personal blame for spygate and his brand was not affected much. Deflategate is a much different situation due to his proximity to the process and will follow him in a way spygate never could. Even if the NFL finds him innocent of any football tampering, the jury would be out in the court of public opinion.
You hear the word cheat and you automatically want to discredit accomplishments. But there is a fine line between cheating and getting a competitive edge sometimes. Technically, cheating occurs in every single game on any given Sunday. Any time a player commits a penalty that doesn't get flagged (such as offensive holding), that team has gotten away with something that breaks the rules and could effect the outcome of the game. There is no perfect game where every single person perfectly follows all the rules and we should consider the severity of each offense when condemning someone's entire career.
Consider Barry Bonds and his home run records being nearly negated because of steroids. Air pressure being released from footballs is nowhere near as bad as something like taking steroids but baseball fans have found a way to forgive Bonds over time. In the scope of football history, Brady will too find himself absolved in the eyes of the public in regard to cheating accusations.
If the Patriots win Super Bowl XLIX, Tom Brady will be tied for most Super Bowl wins, 1st in Super Bowl appearances by a quarterback, most post-season wins, and 3rd most wins by a quarterback. If a premium is held on wins by a quarterback, then Brady is the preeminent player in that department. Joe Montana find himself at the top currently because he is the ultimate winner, going to 4 Super Bowls and winning all of them. Brady could not only reach that level after Super Bowl Sunday, but could very well surpass him when considering that Brady will have matched Montana with Super Bowl wins and then raise him with two more Super Bowl appearances, more playoff wins and total wins. Despite what people may think about deflated balls, Tom Brady greatest of all time following a win on Sunday.