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Thursday Morning Brews (2/19/15)

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One of the great debates in sports - and there are a few of them - is who the greatest NFL player of all time is. It's a weighty claim to stake, as there have been a lot of dominant athletes who have entered the League and re-written part of the record books during their time there. It's a relevant conversation to Michigan fans, partly because the goal of the program is to produce that kind of excellence, and also partly because of Tom Brady.

Brady, in six Super Bowl appearances, has now won more Super Bowls than any other quarterback in history, save two. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw also possess four Super Bowl victories, with each going undefeated in the biggest game. In an era of offense, Brady has surpassed either of those two gentlemen statistically. He's currently fifth all-time in passing yards and touchdowns thrown.

Most yards, touchdowns in NFL history
#1 Brett Favre 71,838 x #1 Peyton Manning 530 age 38
#2 Peyton Manning 69,691 age 38 #2 Brett Favre 508 x
#3 Dan Marino 61,361 x #3 Dan Marino 420 x
#4 Drew Brees 56,033 36 #4 Drew Brees 396 36
#5 Tom Brady 53,528 37 #5 Tom Brady 392 37

Looking ahead of him on this list, Brady has some work to do to catch up to some of those ahead of him - but he stands a reasonable chance to pass Dan Marino on both lists. That, though, never mattered to Tom Brady. He wanted to do two things: play and win.

Brady's best chance to add to his legacy will be through his longevity. If he is able to compete for three, four, or even five more years, and also continue making the postseason, Brady will have an interesting claim. After all, his Patriots have been dominant across two decades, and were the AFC representatives in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2012, and 2015. He is already the most accomplished postseason quarterback of all time. And like so many others who have risen to the top, he worked in conjunction with other Hall of Famers to build a legacy.

But, it will take a lot to make a better career than Lawrence Thomas. Or Jim Brown. Or Jerry Rice. Over the next few months, the Brews will take a look at a few players who have the best claims at Greatest Of All Time. It starts with Jerry Rice, who has the perhaps the most consensus as the Greatest Ever. Interestingly, his best attribute - his longevity - is something Brady seems manically determined to emulate.

The Legacy of Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice, the son of a brick mason, grew up in the deep south of Mississippi, in the middle of nowhere. As a child, he chased horses, learning without realizing it how to run a route tree. When his father needed help at work, he caught bricks from his siblings to lay them for his father. And along the way, he met an innovative college coach, Archie "Gunslinger" Cooley, and played for two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. It was a perfect storm.

He wasn't the fastest. He wasn't the tallest, or the strongest. He had football speed. Once, a commentator asked Chris Spielman if he could run a 4.4 forty back in his day. And Spielman, an all-time great Buckeye linebacker, said he couldn't ever run a 4.4, but he caught up to a lot of people who could. Jerry Rice was like that.

Fourteen 1,000-yard seasons. Three Super Bowl wins, four appearances. He had a 1,200-yard season at 40, and holds the NFL record in yards by almost 7,000 yards. He has 22,895. Terrell Owens has 15,934. Randy Moss has 15,292. And he played in an era when passing wasn't as much a part of the game.

*** Jerry Rice: A Football Life ***

"He had some crazy knack to be able to get behind you," said Joe Montana. "Singled up, he's almost impossible to cover... He did a very good job of reading coverages, knowing where the holes were.... You knew, if he saw the ball up in the air, he was going to go get it because it was his."

His career finally ended at 43, just two years removed from an 869-yard season. And with that, he retired gracefully into the shadows. A revolutionary at the position, Rice is still somehow a quiet legend. Outside of NFL circles, Rice's accomplishments aren't as well-known as someone like Mike, or Mickey Mantle, or Babe Ruth. Even inside NFL circles, players admit that they don't really know who Jerry is.

Former teammate, and rival, Deion Sanders had this to say about him. "That's the mystery of Jerry Rice. We don't even know Jerry, really! .... I think Jerry's probably the best football player to ever lace 'em up. But I don't know if Jerry has the relationships that made the game fun. He didn't enjoy the ride... He didn't enjoy the ride."

In truth, he did. Rice needed to prove himself, to find his best, and find his way outside of rural Mississippi. He did it in outstanding, if still quiet, fashion.

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