I was fortunate enough to spend some time around Michael Jordan during his final Bulls run. Got to know him a little off camera. Got to see what makes him tick, like a bomb, under late-game pressure.
Greatest player -- and clutch performer -- ever. In any sport. End of argument.
I often get kidded on "First Take" that I hold MJ too much in awe, almost like those Chicago Guys in the "Discount Double Check" commercials idolize Mike Ditka.
MJ vs. Alien and Predator? MJ!
So you can appreciate it when I say Tom Brady is the closest I've seen to Michael Jordan under pressure. Yes, the same Brady who, while running his 40 at the combine, looked more like Michael Cera than Michael Jordan. Yes, the same Brady who does commercials for Uggs instead of Air Jordans -- the shrugging, impossibly humble, married-to-Gisele pretty boy who rivals the Dallas Cowboys as a love/hate lightning rod.
Brady shares only this with MJ: The longer the odds and higher the pressure, the more Mr. Nice Guy turns into the sports equivalent of a psycho killer.
This season, at age 36, Brady has been positively Jordanesque, pulling off comeback after astonishingly clutch comeback, against Buffalo and New Orleans and Denver and Houston and Cleveland and even this past Sunday at Miami -- which should have ended in yet another great Brady escape.
Tom Brady has turned what easily could be a 4-10 team into a 10-4 team that easily could be 13-1.
Equally astonishing: Brady has gone MJ this year while losing all his Scottie Pippens and quite a few Steve Kerrs … losing his two-headed monster at tight end ( Rob Gronkowski to injury and Aaron Hernandez to jail) … losing the anchor of his defensive line ( Vince Wilfork), his best linebacker ( Jerod Mayo) and, for stretches, his best cornerback ( Aqib Talib) … losing various offensive tackles and rookie receivers and even the new Wes Welker ( Danny Amendola) and a wide receiver of a running back ( Shane Vereen) for what should've been killer stretches.
Further astonishing: Brady keeps beating the late-game odds with Patriot Resentment at an all-time high, among opponents and perhaps even referees. Is it possible that six years later, Spygate still haunts the Pats -- still lurks in the subconscious of officiating crews still prone to stick it to New England? Although Brady did get a break on a 50-50 pass interference call late against the Browns, he was robbed of chances to win at the Jets and at Carolina and at Miami by highly questionable referee decisions.
Ultimately astonishing: Tom Brady isn't getting nearly the credit he deserves outside Patriot Nation.
Are those who follow or cover the NFL now so spoiled by or sick of Brady that they're numb to his achievements?
If the season ended today, Tom Brady should be MVP. Yes, the same Brady whose 23 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions scream "off year" compared with his record-setting MVP numbers of 2007 (50 to 8, often going deep to Randy Moss) or his MVP numbers of 2010 (36 to 4). Although Peyton Manning almost certainly will break Brady's single-season TD-pass record of 50 as he caps off the greatest regular season ever by a QB, Brady has been more valuable to his team.