TORONTO (Reuters) - A sixth Super Bowl win for Tom Brady would perhaps end any lingering debate about who is the NFL’s greatest ever quarterback but Joe Montana, his rival for that title, said comparing players from different eras is too difficult.
Hall of Famer Montana, who was in Toronto this week promoting the online sports streaming service DAZN that will carry the Feb. 3 Super Bowl, said there is just no pure way to compare him and Brady given how much the game has changed since he retired in 1995.
“It’s almost impossible,” the 62-year-old Montana, who went undefeated without a single interception in four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s, told Reuters when asked if there is a way to rightfully crown the greatest NFL quarterback of all-time.
Brady, who at 41 will play in his ninth Super Bowl when his New England Patriots face the Los Angeles Rams in the title game, has rewritten the postseason record book to a point that there is not even a close second to all the major marks he owns.
Montana, nicknamed Joe Cool for his ability to make big plays in the most dire of situations, played in a rougher era before rules were introduced that were intended to protect quarterbacks from brutal hits and stimulate offensive production.
“There’s a different feeling when you have to stand there, know you are going to get hit in the face and then driven into the ground and still stay there and throw the ball accurately,” said Montana.
“Which are two things that are not being done today. So the game at that level becomes somewhat easier for a quarterback, allows you to play longer in your career because you are not taking those kinds of hits consistently, week in and week out.”
Montana admitted the sport he once dominated took a toll on his body and as a result has undergone 21 surgeries, among them four neck surgeries, three backs, six knees and “I don’t know how many shoulders.”
But Montana, who retired at 38, said he definitely would have tried to play into his 40s if the game was showing any signs of evolving into the way it is played today.
“It’s easier for guys playing at that level to play when you know you are not going to get hit (as much),” said Montana.
“I think you are going to see the longevity of quarterbacks continue to get into the upper 30s from now on, maybe into the 40s, because you just don’t take the physical beating that you used to.”
Given Brady’s age, which is well past the point when quarterbacks tend to lose their efficiency, there is always talk of him potentially retiring after every season, especially considering all that he has already accomplished.
Brady, who would become the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl with a victory over the Rams, said just last month he is even committed to playing next season and beyond.
While that may seem crazy to the average person, Montana understands the competitive fire that keeps Brady going.
“If everyone could play one Sunday afternoon you would get it and nobody would ask the question as to why someone keeps playing,” said Montana.
“When you retire you got the majority of your life still ahead of you. And it’s quitting cold turkey ... you can’t go find a pickup game of NFL players after that and find any kind of excitement. I’ve tried, there’s nothing that comes close.
“The only thing I’ve ever found was riding cutting horses ... it’s the closest adrenaline rush I’ve had to playing quarterback.”
As for this year’s Super Bowl, Montana said the keys to the game for the young Rams, who are the first LA-based team in 35 years to play in America’s most celebrated sporting event, will be to stop the Patriots’ run game and get pressure on Brady.
“But I think the Patriots still win, not because of the experience I just don’t feel that moxie with the Rams yet,” said Montana. “They got a pretty good team and are only going to get better but just not sure it’s their time yet.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis