Tom Brady grew up idolizing Joe Montana. He wanted to be just like him, and in many ways that's exactly what happened. Then came New England's game against Houston. A blowout. It was Brady's 17th postseason win, the most for a thrower in NFL history. Brady passed Montana's 16. He had passed his hero.
In typical Brady form, he downplayed the significance of the mark.
"Well, I hope I'm around for a few more years," he said. "I know this was an important win for our team, and that's always the number one goal for me."
Montana would have downplayed it the exact same way.
Brady's formidable accomplishment led to a rash of Brady vs. Montana comparisons with some -- if not many -- saying Brady had equaled or surpassed Montana in one key category.
The category of clutch.
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As great as Brady is, as elite as he is and as special as he is, no quarterback and no player in history was better than Montana when it came to clutch. No one. There is Montana and then a significant gap between him and the next quarterback (and that would be Johnny Unitas).
How do you define clutch? This is clutch..
And this is clutch.
Michael Jordan was the greatest clutch player of all time, and Montana is right there with him. Montana's motto: ABC -- Always Be Clutching.
Remember, one of the best plays in NFL history is "The Catch," his last-second touchdown pass in the 1981 NFC title game. His touchdown in the final minutes of Super Bowl XXIII came at the end of a 92-yard drive.
There was a now infamous scene in that Super Bowl. Before that game-winning drive started, during a timeout, Montana looked into the stands and spotted an actor. "There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp," Montana told tackle Harris Barton. "Isn't that John Candy?"
It was. Candy got to witness the King of Clutch live. That comeback would be one of Montana's 31.
Clutch is like pornography -- you know it when you see it. You can also see different levels of it. Montana was the epitome of it. Brady is clutch. Peyton Manning ... not so much.
As time drones on and attention spans shorten, we forget the greats and just how special they were. It's easy to look at Brady's incredible feats and forget the men who came before him, even forget just how cool Montana was under pressure.
Some punish Montana because he played with elite talent like Jerry Rice, but Montana made Rice as much as Rice made Montana.
It's quite possible there will never be another quarterback whose coolness matches Montana's talent level and throwing accuracy. Not even a player as great as Brady.
Top five clutch of the clutchity clutchiest of the clutcher club not named Montana:
4. Troy Aikman. Dominated the 1990s. The Cowboys atomized teams in Super Bowls.
3. Otto Graham. Led the Browns to 10 consecutive title games.
2. Tom Brady. Hurt by two Super Bowl losses but still one of the most clutch players in sports history.
1. Unitas. Maybe the second coolest customer to ever master the position and won what is considered the greatest game ever played, the 1958 NFL Championship.
Top five non-clutch. They couldn't close a door:
5. Peyton Manning. Greatest regular season quarterback of all time but 9-11 in 20 career postseason contests and 0-4 in outdoor playoff games when the temperature is below 40 degrees. Clutch knows no thermometer.
4. Fran Tarkenton. Winless in three Super Bowl tries.
3. Jim Kelly. Ditto.
2. Donovan McNabb. Once threw up in a huddle. So, there's that.
1. Tony Romo. Bigger the spot, bigger the interception.
2. Extremely interesting blog from medical expert Dr. Ben Wedro about medicine shortages in the United States. How does this relate to the NFL? One of those drugs is Toradol. The generic name for Toradol is Ketorolac. Wedro says it was added to the FDA watch list on Jan. 8.
Toradol, of course, is used as a painkiller in football, and used quite a bit. Luckily, it's the end of the season in the NFL, otherwise this could have been a tremendous problem.
3. I'm told future Hall of Fame corner Champ Bailey remains despondent -- a word used to describe him by a source -- over getting torched by Baltimore's Torrey Smith. There are some people (including me) that practically worship Bailey and were utterly stunned at how easily he was getting beat. It was as if someone flipped a switch and he was suddenly old.
Some people will claim they saw this coming but anyone who does isn't being truthful. I spoke to Bailey extensively this past summer, as well as teammates, and there was no hint of a drop-off.
So what does Bailey do now? Bailey is a 12-time Pro Bowler and lock for the Hall, but -- at least for the moment -- I'm told he has no immediate plans to retire.
4. Carolina's Cam Newton is back at Auburn taking classes towards finishing his degree. Good for him.
5. The number of NFL underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft continues to grow year after year. Just two years ago, the number was 56. Last year that number grew by nine to 65. The number this year, as of early Tuesday (which was the deadline) it was 74. The explanation for the larger number is really simple: mo' money, mo' money, mo' money.
6a. Champ of the week: Brady. We continue to almost take his greatness for granted.
6b. Chump of the week: The Detroit Lions, if they allow defensive lineman Cliff Avril to enter free agency. Yes, this is a preemptive Chump of the Week, but allowing Avril to leave would be huge mistake. He's a good player on the field and good guy off of it and we all know the Lions need a bunch of both.
7. There are some defensive assistant coaches who believe that Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is better than the injured Rob Gronkowski in the passing game. They believe Gronkowski is more hyped, but not more talented, and think Hernandez is a better weapon. The more I watch Hernandez, the more I think this might be true.
8. There are players on the Ravens convinced Ray Lewis isn't going to retire.
9. People around the league are amazed at the reasons for the rapid development of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Not as talked about is how Kaepernick has become a major weapon without utilizing the 49ers' best receiving threat -- tight end Vernon Davis. He's gone all but invisible from the passing game just as Kaepernick has become a great passer. No one can pinpoint exactly why and the reason goes beyond the emergence of Michael Crabtree and a deeper receiving group. Or the switch from Alex Smith, who favored Davis. There's some other unknown factor at work.
10. I want you to look deeply at the following number. According to Newsday, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, 43.2 million people and one-quarter of all American homes were watching the Atlanta-Seattle playoff game. They were watching at the beginning, before the game even got good, in what superficially wasn't a sexy game. It was a divisional round matchup, not the Super Bowl, and still one-quarter of every American home was watching. The NFL to every person in the country: You will be assimilated.