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There Are No GOATs

by on February 08, 2018 4:45 AM

Every season, as Tom Brady makes yet another Super Bowl appearance ,New England fans and a fawning media refer to him simply as the GOAT — Greatest of All Time. Make no mistake Tom Brady is as good as it gets but there is no way to prove that he is the GOAT. No way, unless he shows up with hair, horns and starts lactating milk that makes delicious and pricey gourmet cheese.

But the GOAT wasn’t always such a coveted title. In years past the goat was the guy who blew the big game; mighty Casey striking out, the golfer losing the Sunday lead at Augusta or a guy who missed the game winning field goal.

But thanks to technology, GOATs have been elevated from a place of disdain to the most exalted title in all of sports. Over 925 million living goats could not be happier (yes that is the actual number).

How did this happen? In a world where “LOL” or “TTYL” have taken the place of actual communication G.O.A.T. became short for “Greatest of All Time.” Now a versatile domesticated animal that has been used for its meat, milk, skin and for the wool made from its hair serves an even greater purpose in the sports world.

But GOAT is a purely mythical title with the debate coming around after every season. The GOAT discussion is almost always present-day-centric, involving someone current or in the very recent past. It is human nature to always believe that we live in the best of times.

After the stunning game-ending play in the Vikings win over the Saints some said it was the greatest game-winning play of all time in an NFL Playoff game. Better than the Immaculate Reception? No.

The GOAT debate even crosses sports. Before the Super Bowl the argument was whether Tom Brady or Michael Jordan was the greatest winner of all time.

But somewhere Bill Russell must scoff at the attention spans of fans who cannot remember that sports were played before ESPN went on the air. Russell had 11 NBA titles as a player, the last two when he was both a player AND the head coach of the Boston Celtics. He has as many titles as Jordan and Brady COMBINED. Joe DiMaggio has nine World Series titles even after missing three seasons during World War II.

What about Belichick and his five titles as a head coach? Vince Lombardi won six NFL titles. In fact his teams lost just 1 playoff game in his entire career (to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960). If you want to talk about all sports, Phil Jackson racked up 11 NBA championships as a coach and Red Auerbach had nine. And don’t forget Scotty Bowman coached his teams to nine Stanley Cup titles.

The games change and times change. Today’s players have better medicine, get paid a lot more money and fly on chartered jets from game to game. In college football, a coach like Nick Saban can finish the regular season ranked No. 3 or No. 4 and still have a chance to win the national championship because of a playoff. How many more national titles might have been won by Paul Bryant or Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno if there had been a four-team playoff?

But the debates make for great arguments on sports talk radio, and they give people things to write and talk and argue about.

The debate ends here: there are no GOATs. There are simply a group of coaches and players that can and should be put into a category best explained as “None Better.” And that is because it is impossible to quantify greatness in one era versus another.

Baseball wasn’t always integrated and was never as international a game as it is now. So how does one measure the greatness of Babe Ruth versus the great hitters of today? Basketball in Bill Russell’s day had fewer teams, meaning the game’s best talent was concentrated into the rosters of fewer teams. But today the whole world is sending their best players to the NBA. And what about hockey before the Iron Curtain fell and the best Eastern Bloc and Russian players came to play in the NHL?

Closer to home there is debate with some saying that Saquon Barkley is the GOAT of all Penn State running backs. Fans argue that Saquon ran the ball, caught passes and returned kicks. Larry Johnson, Blair Thomas and Curt Warner all did that as well. But then again Lenny Moore did all that AND played defensive back in every game.

All can rightfully say that there was none better. Each generation has its dominant players and coaches and all of them would be great in any era. You could say that they may be the Greatest of Our Time, but somehow GOOT doesn’t have the same ring to it.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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