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Steiner: The Golden Boy still shines (March 5)

Peter Steiner | Monday, March 4, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a 12-part series discussing the defining sportsman (or woman) of this century. In this installment, Peter Steiner argues for Tom Brady. Join the discussion on Twitter by using #DefiningSportsman.

The transformation of Tom Brady is quite remarkable. Near the beginning of the century and with most of the nation behind him, this sixth-round draft pick led his team to an improbable Super Bowl victory by orchestrating a last-minute drive over the 14-point favorites St. Louis Rams.

Two MVPs, three Super Bowl victories and 12 years later, Brady is one of the most respected, but largely disliked players in sports. His ascent to the top of the NFL and stay there, coupled with his polarizing stature has made him the defining sportsman of the 21st century.

One of the best benchmarks for a defining sportsman is to imagine how the trajectory of a sport would have changed without that athlete. The question then becomes, which athlete’s absence would have changed the landscape of the sport the most?

When looking at the history of the NFL over the past 13 years, the answer is pretty obvious – Tom Brady.

With the help of Bill Belichick, Brady has established the Patriots as the NFL’s most consistent powerhouse of this century. He has led his team to 10 division championships, a perfect regular season and five Super Bowl appearances. And over the past decade, even casual sports fans knew the Patriots were the team to beat.

Along with his team’s success, Brady is also arguably the best individual player in the NFL since the turn of the century. Two regular season and two Super Bowl MVPs, the single season passing touchdown record and eight Pro Bowls are the accolades at the top of his list. In addition, Brady has been at the forefront of the evolution of the passing game, mastering the no huddle offense and the newest offensive schemes that many teams now employ.

However, the biggest way Brady has shaped the landscape of the NFL is the role he has played in America’s biggest game. Three Super Bowl rings places Brady in elite company, as he is tied with Troy Aikman, and needs one more ring to join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw on top.

In terms of championships, Brady has also defined another NFL team by playing the antagonist in the story of the New York Giants. The Giants overcame Brady twice in dramatic fashion to win Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012.

Of course, Brady and the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since 2005, which hurts his current legacy in the ‘What have you done lately?’ sports world in which we live. But the goal is to identify the century’s defining sportsman and the thinking suddenly changes if you flip Brady’s career from back to front and you start his career with the most recent loss in the AFC Championship game. Suddenly, he becomes an athlete who overcame a slew of playoff losses to finally win the big game three times in four years. The exercise serves as a reminder of Tom Brady’s dominance, not just in the past five years, but also especially during his greatest stretch.

The name Tom Brady typically invokes feelings of dislike shared by many sports fans outside of New England. While he began as an underdog to cheer for, his success and aura of superiority transformed him into the player to beat in both the eyes of players and fans.

But love him or hate him, you have to respect the player that is Tom Brady. His successful career has spanned the entire 21st century and he is one of sports’ most recognizable figures.
Tom Brady has shaped America’s most popular sport and, as a result, is the defining sportsman of the 21st century.

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.