Tom Brady > Michael Jordan as single most dominant athlete in the history of team sports

If we’re picking players in their prime for a team, and we’re going to play one game, then for QB I’ll probably pick Peyton Manning. But if we’re going to play a whole season, then for QB I’ll pick Tom Brady. Something about the way he plays makes everyone else on his team a little better. Part of that was Belichick, sure, but that doesn’t explain what happened in Tampa this year.

Did Manning ever do anything in the playoffs as significant as Brady’s comebacks against the Seahawks (one of the all time great defenses) or Atlanta? I’m a Pats fan so of course I know Brady’s career better than Manning’s; maybe I’m missing something.

I can see both sides of this actually.

Like you, I don’t necessarily evaluate QBs on the basis of championships alone; I look at how their presence changed the game. Dan Marino and Dan Fouts, for instance, won zero titles combined, but they took offenses to new heights. They implemented new, daring, and revolutionary styles of play, challenging the conventions of ball-control, “Let’s run 80-90% of the time, and don’t fumble football.” I look at that Monday night game in 1985 in which Marino and the Dolphins embarrassed what had been, and what to this day remains (statistically), one of the greatest defenses ever…that’s a great QB, zero championships or ten.

Yet by that same metric, Brady is arguably still among the absolute greatest. Look at all the different offensive schemes he’s been asked to implement over the years. Also, consider how Belichick built the Patriots. I’d argue that the Bucs team that just won was arguably more talented than almost any team that the Patriots have had in the last 20 years, save maybe the 2007 team, which ironically lost. My point being, Belichick’s method of winning was not necessarily to go out and go big or bust on the free agent market, which is what Tampa Bay did and what other teams sometimes do. Belichick (via Kraft, the owner) builds great teams with good players who do their jobs meticulously. Every player has to work in concert, and on offense, guess whom he depends on to coordinate and implement his designs and schemes: Brady, who did that over and over again, year after year, despite having teams in 2014 that had almost none of the same players he had in 2004.

Actually, IIRC, Manning pulled off a pretty amazing comeback in the 2006-7 AFC Championship Game – against Tom Brady’s Patriots. I think they were down 21-3 at one point (again IIRC).

As for most dominant in history, as a boxing fan, I remember watching Julio Caesar Chavez in the 1980s and 90s. He was pretty damn dominant. He went undefeated after his 90th fight – didn’t even suffer so much as a draw until his 88th fight, though he really did lose that fight to Whitaker, IMO. But boxing is a brutal sport - it’s not a young man’s game. To go for 13 years as a pro and not even come close to losing a fight…is badass.

They’re a PART of it, though, especially when discussing quarterbacks, who have more individual control over a victory than almost any other position in any major team sport. They aren’t everything; I am not going to suggest that Mark Rypien was a greater quarterback than Dan Marino. But it’s part of the equation.

I admittedly don’t have data to back it up at the moment but my sense is that teams’ success is now more dependent on a QB’s ability to pass than ever before. As has been mentioned on this thread and others, the QB’s the guy who handles the ball the most - it’s his decisions that obviously have a lot to do with the outcome of the game.

When I was watching as a kid, as a teenager, and into early adulthood, the conventional wisdom seemed to be all about building a title-contending offense with a QB and a good ball-control, no-fumble ground game. The QB was there to stretch the defenses to ‘keep them honest’ so that they couldn’t just load the box and stuff the run.

But as offenses began to open up, and as offenses that could reliably use a combination of run-pass/RPO, using slot receivers, using tight ends as receivers, and what not - coupled with the changes in rules that discourage roughing the QB as he’s in the act of throwing - the conventional wisdom is that teams need not just a game manager but a QB that can reliably hit his targets 60-65% of the time, with a mix of 15, 20, and 30 yard throws. It helps if he can avoid getting sacked and occasionally scamper for a 1st down or more. It’s hard for “game managers” (i.e. QBs who can go 15 for 25, 200 yards, and toss a short TD or two) to win games.

It would be shocking if that WASN’T true, since more offense than ever before is passing.

In the early 1970s, almost all offense was rushing. In 1973, the average passing yardage per game was 141 yards a game. Last year it was 240,the third highest total ever, and the ten highest averages of al ltime are the last ten seasons. Rushing yards were at just 118 per game; that number has been flat for a long time but was higher in the 70s and prior.

I’m going to throw my two cents in because these discussions are so much fun to have and never lead to a conclusion! So I get to be all over the map without changing the course of the discussion…

My gut feeling is that the discussion shouldn’t be about whether someone is the GOAT, but about whether they are a GOAT. That is, are they, as I recall hearing that a baseball manager once remarked: “I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but I can tell you, it don’t take long to call roll.”

I think that in any sport, there are superb players, hall-of-famers, and a select number of players that rise even higher (“it don’t take long to call roll”). Trying to distinguish further gets into apples to oranges comparisons. And comparing across sports is a fools errand. That said…

I have to sign on to Wilt Chamberlain as “the most dominant athlete” in the sport of basketball. His dominance was underscored when, a couple of years ago, when James Harden was on a tear as a scorer, sports talks show tended to start their “greatest of all time” discussions with “ignoring Wilt’s records…”. Wilt was a man among boys in his games.

Bo Jackson was the most dominant athlete I ever saw personally. Another “man among boys” set of performances, I think he may be the only team sport player that was an all star in two major sports (NFL Pro Bowl, MLB All Star Game).

Tom Brady? Definitely not the most dominant athlete. But bear in mind, he took over a 7-9 team, brought in two “washed up” skill players, and won a Super Bowl in his first year with the team. Looking at his career, I would say he makes mediocre receivers look good, good receivers look great, and great receivers look like GOATs (in 2007, he took a salary cut to bring a “washed up” Randy Moss to the Patriots where they set single season TD reception records and went 16-0 before losing the Super Bowl to a last minute helmet catch- an issue of defense)

Until a few years ago I felt that Joe Montana was the best QB I’d ever seen, but I’m more and more convinced it’s Brady, with the main reason being Brady’s seemingly inhuman ability to ‘see’ where he doesn’t have eyes. He senses the pocket closing on him better than any QB I’ve ever witnessed, and because of that, seems to know when to heave the ball, when to scamper, and how not to take sacks that drop his teams out of FG range.

Similarly, like other great QBs, he has equally good spatial awareness in general. He recognizes what defenses are giving him. He knows where his receivers are even when he’s not looking right at them - it’s like all of this stuff is in his head, and his brain is like this amazing CPU that processes all of this visual data and enables him to know what decision to make in a very short time frame.

I don’t watch a wide range of sports, but Brady reminds me of an extremely good point guard in basketball, who recognizes when teams are giving him zones, man-to-man, or traps. And he can visualize where his teammates are going to be on the court, except that rather than knowing where his 4 teammates and where 5 defenders are now, and where they’re going to be in 3 seconds from now, he has to account for 10 teammates and 11 opposing defensive players. An NFL field is much more crowded, and bigger. More rules to remember as well. More plays to remember. More routes. More more data to process, and oh by the way, if one of the defenders knock the shit out of you, it’s probably not a foul, but just part of the game. A stolen pass in basketball is likely just a 2-point mistake; in football, it’s a potentially game-changing 6 or 7 point error.

See my earlier post on Canada’s Lionel Conacher, whose 1920’s and 1930’s teams won a Stanley Cup (hockey, NHL), Grey Cup (Canadian football, CFL), and championships in baseball (International league), US college football, lacrosse, boxing, and wrestling. (add to that - elected as a member to Ontario’s provincial Parliament and to the Canadian House of Commons).

I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had about statistics with respect to GOATness in team sports. There are some positions/roles where statistics correlate very strongly with skill/value/greatness. And there are some where it’s a lot looser. For instance, a DH in baseball is nearly perfectly described by their stats. You’d have to figure out which stats to use. But basically, the numbers tell you pretty much all of it. Not quite all… there are some very vague intangibles, like, maybe he’s a really great morale leader on the bench or something, or a particularly savvy baserunner in a way not really measured in stats. But basically, the DH is the numbers and vice versa.

That is far less true for many other positions and roles. Sure there are a bunch of different stats that can attempt to measure how good a quarterback is, but they probably don’t tell the full story. I remember reading an article about the Magic vs Bird rivalry, and someone knowledgeable about basketball was commenting on how clear it was that these two guys were the best guys on the court. It’s quite possible that if you looked at stats for those games they weren’t head and shoulders above all the other (obviously very talented) players in any particular statistical category. But they were still in some real but hard to quantify sense, the best. I think quarterbacks (and, obviously, basketball players) fall very much into that category.

(All of that said, I can’t argue against Don Bradman being the GOAT of GOATs when it comes to team sports… his level of statistical outlie is just ludicrous. And I think that cricket batsman is probably a role where stats tell the story pretty well.)

His stats will be greatly dependent on the batting line up. If he has great protection behind him (think Ortiz and Ramirez on the 2004 Red Sox) he’s going to get pitches to hit. If he’s got garbage behind him the opposing team isn’t going to give him anything to hit. He’ll get walks, but fewer hits.

When Barry Bonds was at his hottest, opposing teams would intentionally walk him with the bases loaded rather than pitch to him. If he had better protection they might not have done that.

But it’s true that in team sports the DH is one of the purest stats-to-value conversions.

Given that quarterbacks do not play defense, it makes little sense to compare them – or any modern football player – in terms of overall domination to players in other team sports (e.g., basketball) who play both and can dominate both.

Baseball pitchers can certainly dominate from the mound, but typically play little (or no role in the AL) in generating offense. Apart from pitchers, it would be very challenging to find a baseball player who “dominated” the game with defense: a history of great defensive plays, perhaps; domination, no.

As far as hockey goes, we remember Mr. Gretzky for his offense, not his defense; and Mr. Orr is generally remembered as a great defenseman because he was really good at offense.

Presumably, the OP thinks Mr. Brady’s seven championships makes him “more dominant” than Mr. Jordan, who “only” won six. By this logic, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Ton Heinsohn, “Satch” Sanders. John Havlicek, Jim Loscutoff (whom I have never heard of), Frank Ramsey and Robert Horry were all “more dominant” players than Jordan because they won more championships, and Bill Russell is the GOAT. Whist I agree championships are a legit GOAT consideration, they are not the main story when it comes to establishing a player’s dominance; teams win championships, and no individual player could ever compete playing 1-on-5 in any sport.

Going primarily by individual stats and records to establish “overall dominance,” I don’t see how anyone compares to Wilt Chamberlain, offensively, defensively, impact on the game, in the bedroom or in Conan movies.

I think if a player came along tomorrow and had stats in today’s NBA identical to Wilt’s, they would instantly rival Gretzky as the most statistically impressive player in major American team sports. But, rightly or wrongly (and I kind of suspect rightly) the NBA of Wilt’s era just isn’t taken seriously. It wasn’t a big money mature league.

That said, I still don’t think that would even come close to Bradman.

I reject this argument on the basis of the fact that Mr. Chamberlain played against numerous Hall of Fame players, including centers, and had to do so far more often than players did in succeeding years as the league expanded and the talent pool was diluted. Note that footage from only a tiny percentage of Wilt’s games has been preserved, a leading cause of ignorance in terms of perception of his domination. I would also point out that players, salaries and commercial endorsements may change, but the fundamental challenges of the game remain generally the same.

Regarding Mr. Bradman, did he also dominate cricket on the defensive end? Has anyone? Among the major team sports, only in basketball, soccer and hockey are the same players responsible for both offense and defense at the same time, making domination of both a more compelling test of overall domination than merely being great at one aspect of a game.

Finally, how many Conan movies did Mr. Bradman appear in?

I’m certainly not sufficiently sports-savvy to really get into the meat and potatoes of this argument. But, because this kind of arguing is fun, I think it’s telling to look at Wilt’s career vs playoffs stats. For points per game, the easiest to digest stat, for instance, he’s at 30.1 for his career, but 22.5 in the playoffs. Compare that to Jordan: 30.1 career, 33.4 playoffs.

The sort of surface interpretation there is that Wilt was a choker while Jordan was a clutch performer. But I think a more reasonable interpretation is that back in the 60s there just weren’t that many good teams. So a lots of Wilt’s ludicrous stats were from crushing noobs. But in the playoffs, facing actually good teams (by the standards of the day) he was far more mortal.

All of that said, this isn’t really something that can be proven one way or the other. I did read an article a while ago in Sports Illustrated claiming that the only sport in which you could transport a star from 5 decades ago to the present and they would still be a star is baseball. It had more time to mature, and pitching and batting just haven’t changed that much. Everything else is unrecognizable. But take that with a grain of salt.

Good question, I have no idea. So I guess if you define “dominate” to include offense and defense (for sports which have both), maybe he wasn’t dominant, by definition. That said, if you did some fancy math and converted Bradman’s cricketing batting into WAR (wins above replacement) I strongly suspect it would be light years ahead of someone who was “merely” HOF-quality on both offense and defense. But… could be wrong.

Batting can be, and is, both attack and defense at the same time (Test cricket particularly). Bradman was capable of both.

It’s debateable whether soccer players are responsible for offence and defence at the same time. Yes they are on the field at the time but striker and defender are very different positions (and skills). Now if it were 5-a-side it might be different.

Strikers and defenders have different skill sets, but usually they both contribute to both ends of the field. Certainly a CB will never contribute as much to the offense as Robert Lewandowski, no matter how wonderful a passer they are, but it does matter. Similarly, in pressing systems, a striker is very important defensively. AFAIK there aren’t good stats for defensive contribution but things like xGChain and xGBuildup do measure offensive contribution of all players on the pitch and it can be substantial for defenders

Sure, you have players like Messi that haven’t contributed meaningfully to defense in years, but that’s not the norm these days.