I surrender. No more old guy lobbying for Ted Williams, Bill Russell, and/or Bobby Orr.
Tom Brady is the greatest Boston athlete of all time.
Many of you are probably thinking, “Obviously, heigh-ho. Everybody knows Brady is the best of Boston.’’
Not everybody. Not old-timers like me. Some of us remember things that happened before last weekend. We cling to the past and are reluctant to yield.
I am still bothered when 21st century Hub sports fans talk smack about David Ortiz being better than Teddy Ballgame. It’s not even close, people. Big Papi won those three championships, delivered in the clutch, and stood up for our city when tragedy struck in 2013, but he can never be a star the magnitude of Williams.
Look it up. Williams generated more news in 20th-century Boston than any individual other than John. F. Kennedy. He was the greatest hitter who ever lived, served in two wars, pioneered fund-raising for the Jimmy Fund, and kept seven newspapers in business with his colorful persona.
He spawned 800-page biographies and multiple documentaries. Without winning a single championship, he managed to be larger than life in every way. And his hitting numbers will never be matched. Look ’em up.
But Brady has surpassed The Kid. In 21st-century New England, he is bigger than Ted was in the 1940s and ’50s.
He is bigger than Russell.
I give up. Even though Brady had a rather pedestrian game Sunday night, he has vaulted ahead of his three fellow gods on our sports Rushmore.
What Brady just did — win a sixth Super Bowl at the age of 41 with a team that was not necessarily the best in the NFL — puts him over the top.
What about Russell, you ask? Big Bill won 11 championships in 13 seasons. He changed the way basketball was played. He practically invented the blocked shot, and he was smart enough to keep those blocks in play to help start the fast break.
He was a running center who did not need the ball to will his team to victory. He rebounded. He scored when he needed to score. And he regularly bested Wilt Chamberlain, a physical marvel who once averaged 50 points per game over a single season.
Russell also was an agent of change. Red Auerbach made Russell the first black coach in the history of American professional sports, and Russ delivered for Arnold. He won two championships as player/coach of the Celtics, then abruptly retired while at the top. He is the greatest winner in the history of American sports. No one is going to match 11 of 13.
Similarly, no one is likely to singularly dominate any sport the way Orr dominated hockey when he burst on the scene in 1966. When he was healthy, Orr was the best player on the ice in every game he played. A non-fan could see it.
Orr was a defenseman who scored. He skated better than the rest of the players. He came along after Gordie Howe and before Wayne Gretzky, but was better than both. The greatest hockey player who ever lived. To this day, he remains the most humble and charitable superstar our town has known.
But Brady has surpassed even Childe Bobby as our greatest athlete. Brady’s résumé has simply become too much to comprehend.
He never had the sheer talent of Ted, Bill, or Bobby. He’s not going to win more championships than Russell. And he’ll never dominate the entire football field the way Orr owned every sheet of ice.
But it’s everything. He is a leader. He is clutch. He plays at MVP level in his 40s. And on nights when he struggles — such as Sunday in Atlanta — he still wins because he can find a way to beat you.
Super Bowl LIII was a 3-3 rock fight early in the fourth quarter when Brady took over and won the game. He completed four consecutive passes, moving the Patriots from their own 31 to the Rams 2 in a matter of seconds. After he feathered a throw over coverage into the arms of a diving Rob Gronkowski (the last catch of Gronk’s career?) at the 2-yard line, he handed the ball to Sony Michel for the game’s only touchdown.
And that was that. Six Super Bowl wins. Six decisive scoring drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Tom Brady simply wins. He wins championships 17 years apart. He wins in a sport that is designed to bring winners down. He wins in an era of parity and salary caps. He wins with great weapons and with undrafted free agents and with anonymous linemen. He is the leader of a team that is now even more popular than the Orr Bruins or the Larry Bird Celtics.
It hurts a little to write those words, but it is true. Patriot Nation is a global superpower. The Patriots are bigger than the Red Sox, Bruins, or Celtics ever were. And Brady is the on-field leader. The greatest NFL quarterback of all time.
Boston’s greatest athlete of all time.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org