Shumann's Super Bowl blog: Joining the elite

January 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Patriot quarterback Tom Brady is trying to join an elite club. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history who have lead their team to four Super Bowl victories. Brady will increase the membership in this exclusive club to three if the Patriots can pull off a victory over the Giants Sunday. With Joe Montana reaching the status of local legend, and Tom Brady nearing the same category, the comparisons are inevitable. Both are cool under pressure. Both have a knack for putting the ball where only their receivers can make the catch. Both are thin and rangy, and both have become part of our pop culture. There's more: both went to college at midwestern schools -- Joe at Notre Dame, Tom at Michigan. Both were not chosen high in the draft-- Brady in the 6th round, Montana in the 3rd. And now that I think of it, both played for coaches named Bill.

Their playoff stats are also similar. In 23 post-season games, Montana completed 63% of his passes. Brady has completed 62% in his 16 games. Joe averaged 250 yards passing to Tom's 230 yards. Joe had 45 touchdowns to Tom's 25. But Super Joe threw 21 interceptions to Tom's 12. Their post-season records: Joe is 16-7. Tom is 14-2. This is where Tom has an edge.

But let's talk supporting cast. Joe's first Super Bowl victory in 1982 was probably the least talented of the 49ers Super Bowl teams. I was on that team; case closed. We had a bunch of no names. I bet you couldn't name the starting backfield for that team. Give up? It was Ricky Patton and Johnny Davis. The wide receivers: Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon, not bad. And we didn't play much three and four wideouts back then, so as a result, Mike Wilson and yours truly were not that involved in the offense.

Despite the West Coast Offense being relatively new, we won with defense. Ronnie Lott, Fred Dean, Hacksaw Reynolds, Keena Turner and Eric Wright carried that team. As we all know, defense wins championships.

By contrast, the 1984 team was perhaps the best ever fielded by the 49ers. They went 18-1 that year, defeating a young Dan Marino and his Miami Dolphins at Stanford stadium for their second title. This team had it all. Running back Roger Craig upgraded that position and the defense was three years older and was more experienced, shutting down Marino's cannon of an arm.

Joe won two more titles, adding future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice to his Super Bowl recipe, along with John Taylor, who caught that infamous pass to beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. Then, in Super Bowl XIV, Joe threw four touchdown passes, nailing down his third Super Bowl MVP.

Joe had an advantage in his first two Super Bowl victories in that the league had not quite figured out how to defend this new West Coast Offense that Bill Walsh had perfected. So he took advantage of defenses that were not as sophisticated as they are today. The West Coast Offense used the pass to set up the run, something other teams were not used to seeing. So the element of surprise was key to the 49er success. So combine Joe's talent with his supporting cast, and don't forget his Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, that is a pretty good recipe for success.

Tom Brady has traveled a similar path. He hasn't had the greatest receivers, until he got Randy Moss this season, and has not had a great group of running backs. But he had what Joe had, a great defense. And Brady had the advantage of four and five wideout formations, which is tougher to defend. I think both offenses and defenses are more sophisticated these days, but football is still blocking, tackling, throwing, running and catching.

Brady and Montana were both quiet leaders, doing most if it with their actions on the field. Both were quiet off the field and enjoyed their privacy. One difference I do notice is the way their throwing motion affects the trajectory of the football. Joe put the ball right on your number, every time it seemed, so you could either protect yourself or run after the catch without worrying about being set up for a kill shot. I played with some good ones in my day: Bob Griese, Jim Hart, Neil Lomax and Doug Williams, and none of them put it on the money like Montana. Brady throws a nice ball and usually on the numbers, but his delivery sends the ball out with the nose down, so a lot of times you see his receivers having to bend down to make the catch, which is a tougher grab to make. I know, we are nitpicking, but it does make a difference, ask any NFL wide receiver.

Tom grew up a 49er fan and Joe was his hero. So just the fact he is being compared to Montana would probably be enough for Tom, as he is so humble and probably will always put Joe on a pedestal. He probably still has Joe's poster in his room at home in San Mateo.

Finally, I brought this subject up at a sports bar recently and the biggest argument against Tom Brady was that he had not taken his team down for a game winning touchdown drive. He took his team down for game winning field goals by Adam Vinatieri several times, but never the likes of that John Taylor game-winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XXIII or Dwight Clark's grab to beat Dallas. I don't think you can compare era's in sports, but I do think Joe Montana could have played in this modern era, and Brady could have played back in the day.

I still think John Unitas is the best ever. He called his own plays and was tough as nails in an era when they didn't protect the quarterback. If Tom Brady does in fact win his fourth Super Bowl Sunday, and also nabs the game's MVP, there is no way you can keep him out of the top three greatest quarterbacks ever to play this game.

I think the old school will always claim Montana is the best while the youth of today would go with Tom Terrific. Either way, we can call both of them our local heroes, and not too many places in the nation can lay claim to that. Good luck to Tom and his family as he tries to join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as four time Super Bowl champions.

Mike Shuman, Super Bowl XVI Champion