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The GOAT and the Death Star

Even after 17 years in the NFL, Tom Brady appears indestructible.

Tom Brady completes a pass against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship game.
Tom Brady completes a pass against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship game.
Image: Charles Krupa/PA Images

WHEN I WAS a kid, I watched the first three Star Wars movies so much that I wore out the tape on my VHS copies of both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. However, I never really cared all that much for A New Hope.

If that paragraph left you in any doubt as to the type of child I was, you’re in for a treat in this one. You see, the reason I didn’t like A New Hope is because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why a great hulking behemoth like the Death Star would have such a glaring weakness — albeit a two metre wide thermal exhaust port — that could blow the whole thing up.

Now, [spoiler alert] the reason for its inclusion has since been explained as deliberate, something put in place so the Rebels would have a chance of taking down the Empire’s greatest weapon.

But last night, as he won a playoff game for the 11th time while trailing or tied in the fourth quarter — only six other quarterbacks have won more than 11 postseason games full stop — I couldn’t help but wonder how Tom Brady, in theory just flesh and blood like the rest of us, could appear so devoid of any fatal flaw.

His numbers are certainly as intimidating as the Death Star’s schematics.

Should he throw for 279 yards in the Super Bowl, Brady will reach 10,000 playoff yards through the air. Among active quarterbacks, only Ben Roethlisberger (5,256) has more than 5,000.

He has now reached the Super Bowl in half of his 16 full seasons — in a league specifically designed to prevent any sort of long-term success — with only three other teams making eight Super Bowls.

Indeed, Brady owns every single playoff record worth holding and, imagine, there are still people out there who argue he’s not the greatest player we’ve ever seen on a football field.

But much like the Death Star needs a massive staff to run it, so too does Brady need a supporting cast. Last night, for example, it was Danny Amendola who caught five passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns in the second half including this one on a crucial third-and-18:

Source: Giphy

And, of course, the game-winning touchdown:

Source: Giphy

He was helped too, of course, by a defence that finally got to grips with the Jaguars’ offence after the break, giving up just six points in the second half after conceding two touchdowns in the second quarter alone.

Now, you could put some of that down to the conservative nature of Jacksonville’s play-calling in the final 30 minutes, but this is the Jaguars’ drive summary from the time they went 20-10 up with 4.49 left in the third quarter:

  • Three plays, nine yards, punt.
  • Five plays, 22 yards, punt.
  • Three plays, -1 yard, punt.
  • Six plays, 32 yards, turnover on downs.

That is an impressive defensive stand whatever way you look at it.

And if Brady is indeed the Death Star, then Bill Belichick is obviously the Emperor upon whose shoulders this entire 17-year spell of dominance rests.

We’ll never know how good Brady would have been without Belichick or vice-versa, but both have helped the Patriots to separate themselves from the rest of the NFL in a way that shouldn’t be possible.

In two weeks’ time, Belichick will coach in his eighth Super Bowl. For reference, no other head coach has been to seven and only the legendary Don Shula has managed six. In total, it will be Belichick’s 11th visit to the Super Bowl as he also won two as the defensive coordinator of the Giants, while he lost one as assistant head coach of the Pats.

But it’s unlikely he’d have those record-breaking numbers if fate and luck had not conspired to see a young quarterback out of Michigan land in his lap at number 199 in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft and sure-fire starter Drew Bledsoe suffer a freak injury in 2001 giving Brady his big break.

And there’s an interesting little coincidence that puts the unfathomable length of Brady and Belichick’s success into perspective.

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Between 2001 to 2004, the Patriots won three of four Super Bowls, beating the NFC West champions, missing the Super Bowl, beating the NFC South champions, and then beating the Eagles.

Source: José Antonio Rodrigues Montalvão/YouTube

If they win in Super Bowl LII in two weeks time, the Patriots will once again have won three of four Super Bowls by beating the NFC West champions, missing the Super Bowl, beating the NFC South champions, and then beating the Eagles.

And the only player from either side still on the roster of either Philly or New England, is Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, they did manage to build a second Death Star, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever see anything like number 12 ever again because, even after this long in the league — and all the information on his game one could possibly hope to acquire (thankfully, without the need for any Bothans to die) — nobody has found a way to stop Brady eliminating all before him.

For sheer force of will alone, few would back against the 40-year-old making it Vince Lombardi trophy number six on the first Sunday in February.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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