GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tom Brady grew up in San Mateo, Calif., looking up to San Francisco 49ers great Joe Montana. After Super Bowl XLIX, Brady now sits eye-level with Montana in the pantheon of all-time great passers. He can look him square in the eye and ask him to compare ring collections.
It’s all even now, after Brady conducted the largest fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl history, rallying his team from a 10-point deficit, to shepherd the Patriots to a pulsating 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. One of the best Super Bowls ever was won by the best quarterback ever.
The 70,288 in attendance and billions more watching on television bore witness to Brady taking a jack to his historical pedestal and cranking it up a few notches by winning his fourth Super Bowl title, joining Montana and Pittsburgh Steelers great Terry Bradshaw on the Super Bowl summit.
This was the essence of Brady’s career — beating the odds, refusing to quit, staying calm under pressure, and delivering when it mattered most. The 37-year-old quarterback everyone said was in decline after a disastrous Monday night in Kansas City in September lifted the Patriots back to the top of the football world in February one pass at a time.
No one has won more with less or done it more consistently than TB12, who dropped the boom on the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom secondary in the fourth quarter, going 13 of 15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns. His 50th and final toss of the night was a 3-yard pass to Julian Edelman with 2:02 left that put the Patriots up for good and gave him a Super Bowl career-record 13 TD passes.
Finally armed with a defense that could close the deal, Brady captured his first Super Bowl in 10 seasons and won his third Super Bowl MVP award, tying Montana.
“It’s great. It’s just another one under his belt,” said Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis. “He is going to go down as the greatest quarterback to ever play this game. He is clutch. He is Michael Jordan. He is Tom Brady. You put him in that category of Magic Johnson, all of them, man. Go down the list. He is one of the greatest to ever do it.”
This had been a tough week for Brady. He had a cold. He was dogged by the allegations that he had something to do with the deflated footballs the Patriots played with in the AFC Championship game against the Colts. Even his idol, Montana, pointed the finger at Brady in Deflategate.
The only thing Brady deflated in Super Bowl XLIX was the hopes of the Seahawks, who had humbled Brady’s quarterback contemporary, Peyton Manning, last year in the Super Bowl. The Brady-Manning debate goes into the dustbin of history.
It was clear from the beginning that the Patriots were winning or losing this game on Brady’s gilded right arm. He finished with a Super Bowl-record 37 completions for 328 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions.
The comeback Brady led was in part his own creation.
He threw two interceptions, one in the Seattle end zone in the first quarter. The other led to a Russell Wilson-to-Doug Baldwin touchdown toss that gave the Seahawks and their boisterous 12th Man backers a 10-point lead.
It was seven years ago in this very edifice that Brady had his fingers on the Lombardi Trophy only to see it yanked away by the New York Giants, thanks to David Tyree’s miracle catch.
Brady erased the Seahawks’ lead and the idea that only Super Bowl disappointment could come in the desert.
“I never feel I’m out of the game with Tom,” said Brandon LaFell, who caught one of Brady’s four TD passes. “He’s a guy, and with this offense we got enough weapons, we can make a play. If we’re down, 7 or 14 or whatever, we’re two plays from being back in the game at any time. With that guy Tom with the ball in his hands we’ve always got a chance.”
Saint Thomas of San Mateo led the Patriots on a nine-play, 68-yard march to pull within 3. The key play on the drive came on third and 14 from his 28, when Brady stepped up in the pocket and delivered a 21-yard zipline throw to Edelman. He capped it with a 4-yard touchdown toss to Danny Amendola.
After the Patriots forced a three-and-out, Brady took the Patriots 64 yards in 10 plays, completing all eight of his passes for the win.
This was the third time in the Patriots’ last three Super Bowl appearances that Brady had left the field late with the lead.
Both of the previous times against the Giants, in Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI, he ended up back on the field, chasing victory.
It looked like it could be headed that way again when the Seahawks got an improbable catch from wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. That gave the Seahawks first and goal at the 5.
But inexplicably Seattle eschewed using human battering ram Marshawn Lynch and called a pass on second and goal from the 1. It was intercepted on a slant pass by undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler, a player as far from Brady on the spectrum of the Patriots’ roster as possible.
That’s the thing about history. It’s fickle and often incomplete.
Brady isn’t the Greatest of All Time today without Butler’s play, just like Tyree’s miracle catch in ’08 has nothing to do with Brady’s personal oeuvre.
He knows that.
“I never put myself in those discussions,” Brady said. “That’s not how I think. There are so many great players that have been on so many great teams, and we’ve had some great teams that haven’t won it. I think you just enjoy the moment.”
In this moment or any other, there is no quarterback that has ever played the game better than Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.