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I began watching professional football when I was about 10 years old. That was around 1956. I watched legendary players who paved the way for other men who make millions of dollars a year playing a game that began with young men who loved the game and never dreamed of an opportunity to become wealthy beyond their imagination. I was hooked.
After my first love, professional baseball became a joke as the ‘team concept’ disappeared with
‘free agency,’ I no longer cared about my once beloved Los Angeles Dodgers, and later the San Diego Padres, after moving to California’s most southern city.
Around the same time, the NBA followed baseball’s example, and I abandoned my loyalty to the Los Angeles Lakers. There were no more “teams.” Instead, individuals had replaced the concept of loyalty to a group of men who I revered for most of my younger years.
The NFL is slightly different. Football could not exist without a team effort. However, that “team effort” has changed over the last 60 years. Rule changes, combined with the financial reimbursement for individual players, have altered the game. It is closer to flag football today. This has become an enormous change in the way the game is played and how we must evaluate players in 2021 and those who played in the 1950s and ’60s in an entirely different way.
Throughout the game’s history, the quarterback has been the key player and the reason teams are successful or not. Yet, if you watch the games today, all you hear from the announcers, most of whom never saw the game played in the mid-20th century, is about 44-year-old Tom Brady. They refer to him and the GOAT, the “Greatest of All Time.” This is ludicrous.
Brady is a good quarterback with a great arm and was fortunate to play for the greatest coach of all time, Bill Belichick. However, he would not have been competitive in the 1950s or ’60s.
Bobby Lane, Sammy Baugh, Y.A. Title, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, and others had greater responsibility. He had to be far more physical than any quarterback in the game today. The closest to the greatest quarterbacks of the past was Peyton Manning. Manning called many of his own plays; he was a “coach on the field.”
In the beginning, quarterbacks were forced to memorize the playbook. Plays were not radioed in from the sideline, and they were required to evaluate the defense and call what hopefully would be the most effective play to gain yards. Unfortunately, not one man playing today’s game is capable of performing in the same manner.
Quarterbacks were not protected in the ’50s and ’60s: they had to be part of the team. There were no restrictions about physical contact. If they were on the field, they were fair game.
I am not advocating violence. However, I am fairly comparing the game of today with the game played 60 years ago. To claim that Brady is the GOAT is a joke. He cannot be compared to Johnny Unitas, whose physical and mental abilities far surpassed anyone on the field today.
One last observation. As a member of the New England Patriots, Brady often left the game with a clean jersey. He had a longer period of time to throw the ball than any other QB in history. When Brady is pressured by the defense and knocked down or sacked frequently, his accuracy decreases to 50 percent. He does not like physical contact. This is how the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints defeated him this season. Watch the games, and tell me I’m wrong.
Op-ed by James Turnage
CBS News: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sports Illustrated: The Inside Story of Tom Brady’s Departure From New England; by Seth Wickersham
Featured and Top Image by Jonathan Satriale Courtesy of WEBN-TV’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Janeen’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License