New England Patriots

For today, at least, no talk of power struggles. No talk of tomato cans. No talk of Pittsburgh’s ineptitude, of Tom Coughlin’s secret elixir, of pliability, of concussion water, of Tom vs. Time and the “warrior spirit.”

This week, Tom Brady will be playing in his 12th AFC Championship Game. That’s right. His 12th. That’s an even dozen now. Brady has played in so many conference title games that we really should start labeling them with Roman numerals.

TB XII.

Look, I’ve been in this business for almost 30 years now, all of it here in Boston, which makes me one of the luckiest SOBs on the planet. What has been most extraordinary during this time – beyond Boston’s astonishing and unprecedented run of success as an American sports city – is that we rarely lack for the next story. And make no mistake, that’s what those of us in this business want more than anything else. The story. Which is to say we want to see something unexpected or something we’ve never seen before, like that wildly improbable, breathtaking finish in the NFC divisional playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Now that was something.

But Brady? Let’s be honest. Saturday night’s 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans might have been one of the least dramatic events of the 17-year period that has defined the timeline of Brady and Belichick. Are you happy? Of course you are. But before you even remotely start examining plays from that game – I especially love the analysis wasted on whether Tennessee was offside as the Patriots lined up to punt late in the second quarter – please stop. Just stop. The Titans were outclassed in this game, plain and simple, and they weren’t going to win because they’re not even remotely in the same class as the Patriots.

So now the Patriots march on to another AFC Championship game, which brings me back to Brady and that incredible number that he wears on his front and back, the same number he has emblazoned on his own personal logo.

12.

Tom Brady of the New England Patriots reacts before the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady of the New England Patriots reacts before the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Here’s some perspective for you: In the Super Bowl era, Brady has more championship game appearances than any quarterback in NFL history, which is saying something unto itself. But then there’s this: Brady’s 12 appearance in the conference title game are one fewer than Joe Montana (seven) and Terry Bradshaw (six) combined, which is an absolutely mind-blowing fact given that, until last year, those two men each had as many Super Bowls wins (four) as Brady had.

In the end, I guess here’s what I’m saying: last year, with his record fifth Super Bowl title, Brady entered the rarified Air of Jordan – as in Michael, the greatest basketball player ever and one of the handful of greatest athletes in world history. The truth? He might be even better. Brady’s 12 trips to the conference title game make someone like Jack Nicklaus a far better comparison, regardless of whether the Patriots defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars this weekend, regardless of whether he wins a sixth Super Bowl.

As we all know, Nicklaus won 18 major championships during his career, a record Tiger Woods was challenging when Tiger … well … you know the story. But what many fail to add is that Nicklaus finished second in majors a whopping 19 times, a fact that did not merely make him the greatest golfer of all-time and perhaps the greatest winner.

It made him the most unrelenting competitor in perhaps the history of sports.

So it is now with Brady.

Twelve Strong.

— By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub