New England Patriots: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady the Greatest Duo of All-Time?
Are Bill Belichick and Tom Brady the greatest coach/quarterback duo in NFL history? The New England Patriots tandem vaulted up the list, but names like Lombardi are in the way.
Super Bowl 51 is an occasion to take stock. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have reached a level of greatness perhaps unmatched in NFL history. We’ve had dynasties before and other incredible tandems, but these New England Patriots feel bigger than life.
With coaches and quarterbacks from the Packers, Cowboys, and 49ers standing in their way, are Belichick and Brady the best all-time? Who ranks as the greatest pairing of coach and quarterback in NFL history?
After another year of reaching the mountaintop, are Belichick and Brady the greatest coach/quarterback combination in the history of the league? Here are the top contenders:
1. Belichick and Brady – New England Patriots
Seven Super Bowl appearances and five titles in 16 years together. They have also reached something approaching complete domination of the AFC East in an era where parity and unpredictability have reigned supreme.
2. Tom Landry and Roger Staubach – Dallas Cowboys
At Dallas, these two combined for four conference titles and two Super Bowls. In their 10+ years together, Staubach never had a losing season as the starting quarterback. His worst record was 8-6 in 1974.
3. Don Shula and Dan Marino – Miami Dolphins
They only reached one Super Bowl, but Shula became the winningest coach ever, and Marino became the most prolific passer ever upon retirement. Marino has since dropped out of the top four in passing, but Shula still ranks number one all-time in victories.
4. Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers won four Super Bowl titles in six years. They made the playoffs five other times besides that in the 14 years Noll and Bradshaw were together.
5. Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr – Green Bay Packers
Before the Super Bowl even existed and through the first two versions of it, Lombardi and Starr won seven football titles. The powers that be decided to name the trophy after Lombardi. That is probably relevant to this discussion.
6. Bill Walsh and Joe Montana – San Francisco 49ers
Three Super Bowl rings for Walsh and Montana in San Francisco, as well as one more title the year after Walsh left. The pair also dominated the decade of the 1980’s and reinvented the football playbook.
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For me, the real contenders come down to the Patriots pair, the Packers guys, and the 49ers guys. While Noll and Bradshaw won more than Walsh and Montana, they didn’t revolutionize the way offense is played like the two in San Francisco did with the west coast offense. Yet even the 49ers come up short when compared with the other two groups.
Do you value precedent or degree of difficulty? There is no argument that the league is tougher to dominate nowadays with rules regarding free agency, caps, player movement and all the rest. That matters to me. It also matters that Lombardi and Starr just took the next step from what Otto Graham did in Cleveland. The Super Bowl trophy was named after Lombardi, but we don’t assume that Orville and Wilbur Wright are better pilots than some guy at Alaska Air today. In fact, they surely are not. I’m taking Belichick and Brady as my greatest duo ever.
The issue with picking an all-time NFL quarterback and coach combination is that its a challenge to put proper context to the older generations. While the game of football has certainly changed, I don’t believe dynasties are any less prevalent. Every single star quarterback has dominated on his team. See Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning over the last 10 years.
Do we then simply look at championships, or try to assess dominance within the era? We both are intimately familiar with how dominant the Patriots have been, even when they weren’t winning championships. The fact that Roger Staubach never had a losing season matters. Joe Montana had only one losing season in his entire career in terms of games he started. We can make similar assertions for every duo on this list.
I lean towards championships and bunches of them to pick my all-time coach and quarterback. I refuse to consider degree of difficulty because all of these coaches and quarterbacks are all-time great and all of them dominated the league during their eras. Every decade has had multiple great teams, so it was no easy task for any on our list to actually win the championship.
Brady and Belichick have been special, but they are not currently on top of this list. I put them second as of 2017. They won three of four Super Bowls over a decade ago and now have won two of the last three titles. Reaching the final game seven times is impressive and if they extend this current group of championships, then I will likely have to reconsider. For now they are second.
Separating myth from reality is equally challenging. Tom Landry’s hat and the iconic picture of him on the sidelines makes me want to anoint him, but his numbers with Staubach just don’t hold up in the end. Slightly ahead of them are Montana and Walsh. Because I watched them as a kid, they feel like the greatest duo ever. My memory of Joe Montana is likely larger than life by now, so while I recognize that Brady is better, I have a hard time admitting it. Their 49ers only won three Super Bowls. It’s not enough.
Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr sit atop the list of all-time coach and quarterback tandems. They won seven championships and the first two Super Bowls. Its not simply that they dominated, but they literally put Green Bay on the map. Wisconsin is a rather forgettable state, if not for the Packers. Its a publicly owned team that thrives in the middle of nowhere among a frozen tundra, due in no small part to Lombardi and Starr. This duo is to Green Bay what Brady and Belichick are to the Patriots. They are the face and defined the team. Yet the Packers’ duo also defined the sport of football itself. This was a close call, but seven titles and your name permanently on the trophy wins it.