Finding the greateast of all time an impossible task

First Posted: 2/7/2015

The New England Patriots’ skill and Seattle’s inexplicable play call in the final minute decided the Super Bowl.

But that same 28-24 New England win ignited the age old debate about where the Patriots, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady rank among the greatest teams, coaches and players of all time.

In the last week, a quick trip around the internet produced some people arguing that Brady has proved he is the all-time greatest quarterback.

Another place, you could find someone insisting that Joe Montana was the greatest ever. There was even a passionate argument to be found that Terry Bradshaw should be rated above every other quarterback in NFL history.

Whether it is football, basketball, baseball, tennis or croquet, the greatest of all time is a debate that will never really be settled. It’s good to talk about but there is no provable right answer.

Games are settled on the field and the scoreboard. Greatest of all time is just opinion and words.

Long ago, I stopped saying someone is the greatest of all time. The best you can do is to say someone is the best you’re ever seen.

I can compare Willie Mays in his early 30s with Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle before injuries robbed him of his electrifying skills because I saw both of them play at their best. But I can’t compare them to Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb because even I don’t go back that far.

A young Griffey was every bit of Mays, by the way.

I can compare Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James because I’ve seen all three of them play. You can even throw Oscar Robertson into the comparison because I watched him, too, when he averaged a triple-double for an entire season.

Basketball players might be the easiest athletes to rank because I refuse to believe that anyone whose entire career was before 1960, when a two-hand set shot was actually considered an acceptable way of shooting a basketball, could out-play Kobe, Michael or LeBron.

I’ve seen all the modern-era basketball candidates and will argue for Jordan as the best I’ve seen as long as there is a Kobe true believer still left in the house.

Football running back is another question where I will dig in my heels. Even after watching Barry Sanders and maybe Walter Payton, Jim Brown still stands above the crowd as the best I’ve seen.

Maybe that is drawing too much from the reservoir of appreciation for Cleveland’s only championship team in the last 50 years. Maybe not.

People scoff that Brown didn’t have to contend with modern-day players like Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White. That is true. But I imagine 2015 Jim Brown as a fast, tough physical freak 250-pound running back, not a fast, tough physical freak 225-pound runner, as he was in the 1960s. He’d have dominated in either era.

As for the greatest quarterback ever, who really knows?

Montana is the greatest Notre Dame quarterback ever to play in the NFL. Brady is the greatest sixth-round draft pick in NFL history. And Bradshaw was in one of the greatest Super Bowl newspaper headlines I’ve ever seen.

Early in his career, Bradshaw was stuck with a reputation of coming up short in the mental acuity department (i.e. supposedly wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer).

After he led the Steelers to their first Super Bowl win, the headline in the next day’s Dayton Daily News read, “Suddenly he’s smart.”

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