PHOENIX — Say it isn’t so, Joe.
That’s what Tom Brady must be thinking after his boyhood idol, San Francisco 49ers great Joe Montana, said at the Super Bowl on Thursday that Brady is behind the Patriots playing in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts with underinflated footballs.
“If I ever want a ball a certain way, I don’t do it myself. So, somebody did it for him,” said Montana. “But I don’t know why everybody is making a big deal out of trying to figure out who did it. It’s pretty simple. If it was done, it was done for a reason. There is only one guy that does it. Nobody else cares what the ball feels like.”
Not cool, Joe Cool. Perhaps Montana didn’t see that Brady posted a photo on his Facebook page earlier in the day of him as a child in 1983 dressed in a Montana uniform. This is Hall of Fame-on future-Hall of Fame quarterback crime.
Before Patriots fans put Montana on the enemies list, know that Montana didn’t speak with resentment. He was very matter-of-fact. He said the football inflation rule shouldn’t exist. The legendary QB also said lots of flattering things about Brady too, including that he belongs in the “greatest-to-ever-play” category.
Still, it has to be like guzzling sour milk for Brady to see his hero side with the conspiracy theorists in Deflategate.
Add it to the rock formation Brady has on his right shoulder. He internalizes every slight.
Brady can join the elitist of quarterback clubs on Sunday with a victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, tying Montana and Pittsburgh Steelers great Terry Bradshaw with four Super Bowl titles.
People will speculate that provided some of the motivation for Montana, who never lost a Super Bowl, to express his opinion that Deflategate wasn’t an accident or a scientifically explainable occurrence.
The fourth Super Bowl looked like a fait accompli when Brady won three titles in his first four years as a starter. Brady could have gone all LeBron James and started ticking off titles.
TB12 was reflective on Thursday, saying he appreciates the degree of difficulty of hoisting hardware more now than when it seemed like his birthright.
“It’s pretty cool. I think just from my experience, when I was so young that I didn’t understand what this was all about and how challenging this is because everything happened so fast at such an early part of my career,” said Brady. “I think over the years we’ve gotten some tough losses, and obviously we made it in 2007 and ’11, those were challenging games. They came down to the wire and we lost. I don’t think those things discouraged me at all.
“They just re-emphasized how hard and challenging it is to get to this point and how challenging it is to win this game. I have such an appreciation for it now. That’s why I’m hoping we can accomplish and finally finish it off with a great win on Sunday. It would mean an awful lot.”
Montana’s comments have to be a little more Super Bowl heartbreak for Brady before he has even had a chance to take the field for his record sixth Super Bowl start.
Before he was Saint Thomas of Foxborough, the iconic quarterback of the Patriots, he was simply Tom Brady Jr. from San Mateo, Calif., diehard 49ers fan.
Brady grew up idolizing 49ers quarterbacks Montana and Steve Young. He was in attendance at Candlestick Park when Montana threw his famous pass to Dwight Clark to propel the 49ers to victory in the 1981 NFC Championship game, a play known simply as “The Catch” in football lore.
A three-time Super Bowl MVP and arguably the most clutch QB ever, Montana is the gold standard Brady has emulated.
Et tu, Montana?
“I mean it’s easy to figure out who did it. Did Tom do it? No, but Tom likes the balls that way, obviously, or you wouldn’t have 11 of them that way without him complaining because as a quarterback, you know how you like the ball,” said Montana. “It’s a stupid thing to even be talking about because they shouldn’t have the rule anyway.”
Montana said the rules governing how teams and quarterbacks handle footballs have changed a lot over the years.
But he intimated taking air out of the football would help a quarterback throw in wet conditions, like the ones Brady faced in the AFC title game at Gillette.
Montana, who spoke to reporters following a promotional appearance for Papa John’s pizza, shied away from direct career comparisons with Brady.
“The guy is a great quarterback,” said Montana. “There is a category that people like to say, ‘the greatest to ever play,’ he is definitely in that category. But I think it’s hard to put anybody up there no matter who it might be. Go back and watch Otto Graham and Sammy Baugh. If you haven’t seen any footage, it’s ridiculous the things those guys did back then. I think it’s really hard to compare, but Tom obviously is having a tremendous career.”
Only in professional sports do 37-year-old men like Brady have legacies to cement. Most 37-year-old men just have résumés, life experiences, and accomplishments. You can still hit the backspace button on their epitaph.
The idea that one game will determine whether Brady is the greatest of all time or just in the animated discussion is premature declaration.
Montana said Brady’s legacy is secure.
“Can it get any better? The guy is already playing at the top of the level of anybody else. I think a win is great for him, but I think if he loses I don’t think it matters to his legacy at all. The guy has won three and been here six times.”
That was the last question Montana answered. He’s still good for a comeback.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.