Tom Brady: 'I don't agree' with assessment he's NFL's greatest quarterback ever

New England Patriots fans would freely say it, and unbiased NFL fans would probably say it, and nearly every statistic bears it out: Tom Brady is the best quarterback the league has ever seen.

And in a new story, ESPN writer Ian O’Connor asserts Brady’s last athletic challenge is to overtake Michael Jordan as the greatest athlete in major team sports (those of us at Shutdown Corner think Bill Russell and Wayne Gretzky would like to have a word).

Brady, who rarely gives interviews outside of his regular team requirements, spoke with O’Connor for 45 minutes, and touched on a variety of topics, including one of the questions Brady discusses most –how long he’ll play – as well as his admiration of Jordan, his belief that he’s not better than childhood idol Joe Montana, and thoughts on the man who stole his Super Bowl jerseys.

Tom Brady has held up Lombardi five times in a career that is showing no signs of letting up. (AP)

Like many athletes and even non-athletes of his generation, Brady loved watching Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s.

“I was in awe of Michael Jordan,” Brady said, “and I still am in awe of what he was and what he meant. … He was such an effortless player. He put a lot of effort in, but there’s an art and a beauty to the way he played the game. That was a very inspiring thing.”

In case you haven’t heard, Brady will celebrate his 40th birthday on Aug. 3. Despite being at an advanced football age, even for a quarterback, he still maintains his goal is to play into his mid-40s, and doesn’t shut down the idea of playing longer than that.

“I always said my mid-40s, and naturally that means around 45. If I get there and I still feel like I do today, I don’t see why I wouldn’t want to continue,” Brady said.

Asked if he could still be on the field at 50, he responded, “That’s a great question. If you said 50, then you can say 60, too, then 70. I think 45 is a pretty good number for right now. I know the effort it takes to be 40. … My love for the sport will never go away. I don’t think at 45 it will go away. At some point, everybody moves on. Some people don’t do it on their terms. I feel I want it to be on my terms. I’ve got to make appropriate choices on how to do that, how to put myself in the best position to reach my long-term goals.”

A California Bay Area native, Brady grew up rooting for the San Francisco 49ers and idolized Joe Montana. In saying that he still doesn’t believe he’s better than Montana, Brady also intimated that he’s still driven by the slights of his past: languishing on the Michigan bench and having to fight for playing time even after he established he was better than hotshot recruit Drew Henson, being chosen 199th overall in the 2000 draft.

“I don’t agree with [the argument he’s surpassed Montana] and I’ll tell you why,” Brady said. “I know myself as a player. I’m really a product of what I’ve been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I’ve been very fortunate. … I don’t ever want to be the weak link. …

“I was the backup quarterback on an 0-8 team in my freshman year of high school,” Brady continued. “I got to Michigan, I was seventh [string], and I had a hard time getting to be No. 2, and when I finally got to No. 1 there was someone else they wanted to be No. 1 (Henson). I got to be a sixth-round pick behind a great player, Drew Bledsoe, and then I got an opportunity, and I’m still trying to take advantage of it. Part of who I am now is very much who I was, and that was cultivated growing up.”

As O’Connor writes, however, the newest Madden cover star knew this year’s version of the incredibly popular game is called the “G.O.A.T. Edition,” so Brady tacitly approves of the notion he is the best ever.

As for Mauricio Ortega, the Mexican journalist who brazenly stole Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey out of the Patriots’ locker room, Brady said, “absolutely not” when asked if Ortega should get jail time because he inherently dislikes conflict.

O’Connor’s full article on espn.com also has quotes from the first coach to put Brady in at starter, his sophomore year at Junipero Serra High, and a high school teammate who is done saying “you’re crazy” when Brady and his lofty goals are the topic.