Bloody hell. Just as I was about to launch the Smith versus Brady comparative road test to determine which used play-maker presents the best value, Smith pulls himself off the market (retires after no les than 430 games)! When one examines both athletes and the two sports they have excelled in it is still an interesting question. Which of the two old, beaten and battered vets is more likely to rise above the rigors of their sport and lead their team to glory in 2021? Retirement or not, read the comparison anyway. Some of the stats are revealing and interesting.
At their prime they were the best in their class… but twenty years down the track do they still perform? Do one, or the other, or both, offer value for money into the future or do their advanced years (and way too many kilometres on the clock) mean that buyers should avoid them like the plague. I test drive the 1983 model Storm hooker and the 1977 model Bucc quarterback, rate their present-day performance (relative to how tough their role in their sport is likely to be), and considers the likelihood of them providing a satisfying driving experience into the future. Is one a better buy than the other? Is one more likely to win future championships than the other? Don’t consider buying a Cameron Smith or a Tom Brady without having read my road test comparison report first!
Some questioned the wisdom of the two turbocharged superstars playing on last season. Brady and Smith proved the naysayers wrong this time. But what about the future? The doubters will be out in force again. I consider the relative rigors of the NRL and the NFL (two of the toughest sporting leagues in the world, in their own way) and assess whether Smith or Brady are likely to provide punters with bang for their bucks.
Weight: 90 kg
Weight: 102 kg
Speed, Agility and Athleticism
Different quarter backs in the NFL and different hookers in the NRL bring different things to their roles. Neither Smith nor Brady are known for bringing speed, agility, and athleticism to their respective sports fields. Way back in my days as a 135 kilo tight head prop for the Athens 1st fifteen I would have kicked the arses of these two over fifty meters (even with my dodgy hammy and big gut). Smith has been known to skite about his lack of athleticism and considers his pedestrian sprint capabilities as a badge of honour. He was surprised in 2002 that a “slow hooker” like him would make an impression in Rugby League and nearly twenty years later he is still surprised. Back when Brady was 38 (still a young fella) he was pointing out to critics, who believed that he was getting too old and too slow, that at 38 he was way stronger and faster than he had been at 20. That may be true. And it may still be true now. But let’s face it, just over twenty years ago Tom wasn’t exactly as fleet as a cheetah. In fact his sprinting skill was closer to sumo wrestler then footy star. Nup. Running fast and fancy footwork are not the things that Cam and Tom are paid the big bucks for. And while both may have claims to being stronger and faster than they were several decades ago they are both still slugs in the athleticism stakes. As speedsters they finish with a dead heat… at dead poor!
Speed stars: *
Speed stars: *
Play-making and Passing Ability
As primary playmaker for the Melbourne Storm, Cameron Smith, and primary playmaker for first the Patriots then the Buccs, Tom Brady, have been without peer in their two sports for two decades. Both have exceptional short and long passing games in terms of vision and accuracy and both are lightning-fast decision-makers who can unload the ball to an attacking team-mate in a good position with the kind of speed that leaves defences lagging. With Brady earning seven super bowl rings and Smith winning five NRL championship rings (two, through no direct fault of Smith, stripped) both have broken records in their sports that have won them accolades as (arguably) greatest player of all time. Unlike many other veteran players, Brady’s long passing game actually improved as last season progressed, much to the annoyance of his most vocal critics.
Play-making and passing stars: *****
Play-making and passing stars: *****
Many playmaker athletes achieve offensive greatness through their possession of multiple threats. They taunt offences through being able to take on the defence personally as an alternative to their passing game. There are plenty of hookers and half-backs in the NRL and quarter backs in the NFL who can dazzle defences with their speed and footwork. This is not true of Smith and Brady. They both have managed to achieve their greatness despite lacking any appreciable personal offensive talent. Smith’s two weapons are his passing game and his kicking game. Brady intelligently uses diligent running backs to keep rushing defences honest as an alternative to his sublime passing game. Yup. Smith and Brady will occasionally lumber over the line for a try or a touch down but, in most games, both players will not trouble the yardage statistician.
Running game stars: **
Running game stars: **
This is a tough one! Tom doesn’t have to defend. There are one or two quarter backs (reserves) in the NFL who have the occasional run at defensive roles for their teams… especially on special teams (Taysom Hill from the Saints is one of the best gunners against the kick return in the NFL). Not Tom. Without being unkind, it’s doubtful whether Tom would be fast enough to show any significant defensive talent even if he were called upon to play a defensive role. Not saying he couldn’t do it. He is strong, tough, and smart as hell so he would give it a good crack. But it’s hard to see him being a great defensive player. But that’s not his job. What the Buccs need is his offensive smarts. His decision-making ability. His efficiency with the ball in hand. Take that snap, get rid of it as fast as hell and give it to the right player. Nup. Tom is no defender… but he doesn’t have to be. The days are long gone when players on the offensive team also had to double up as tacklers as well. That suits Tom’s game just fine.
Cam Smith isn’t afforded the same luxury. In the NRL… as in basketball or Rugby Union or Australian Football… every player is expected to fulfil defensive duties. Being the primary organizer around the ruck, the Rugby League hooker has an especially difficult defensive role to play. Some of the best defenders and tacklers in the NRL are hookers. Cam Smith may not be the best hooker defender. There are faster and bigger hookers who might manage more tackles per game than Smith, but when push comes to shove, he is still one of the top, all round defenders, in the NRL. He may not rack up the same total tackle numbers as Cook or Koroisau but when the chips are down, and his team needs a pair of old legs to get to the right place at the right time to save a try from being scored, they know they can rely on Smith as much or more than any other player in the team. Even at 37, defensively Smith is a freak.
Defensive stars: ****
Defensive stars: NA
Ability to be MVP again next year… and again the year after that
Let’s call a spade a spade here. American football… well, for the average quarter back… is not (significantly) a game of aerobic endurance. Yup. Brady is 43. Going on 44. But, as a bloke who is way fitter now than he was twenty years ago, the effort of playing a game of footy is not going to kill him. Tom receives the ball from a snap around sixty times per game. Nearly half the time he hands off the ball to a running back. That takes less than two seconds. Also, nearly half the time he passes to a receiver. That takes him around two and a half seconds. On rare occasions he has a gallop with the footy (rushes) himself. Even more rarely, he is sacked by the defence. Given his ordinary (shall we say piss poor) rushing ability these unusual excursions are usually over within the blink of an eye. So, overall, he is actively involved in the game for around three to three and a quarter minutes per game. His required energy output is not one-hundredth of that of, say, Lebron James, who has to carry his enormous frame around the basketball court at top speed for around 35 minutes per game. In the super-bowl Tom Brady logged up a total running distance of 37 m (no criticism intended here…. it is a mark of his extraordinary efficiency that he can achieve so much while doing so little). Like I said, the effort aint gonna kill him.
I asked a mate who happens to be one of the UK’s best doctors (and who is a sports guru) about the likelihood of Brady’s arm going bung this coming season, thus limiting his great passing game… given that he is not getting any younger. Ralph explained that “it depends”. If his shoulder has had a rough history and all that muscle and connective tissue is getting a bit rough around the edges then his passing strength could diminish. But given that throughout the last season (which included yet another Superbowl victory) his arm strength, passing yardage increased, and length of individual passes increased as the season progressed, there seems to be little chance of chronic shoulder injuries causing a sudden failure of the throwing arm. If Brady has the motivation and mental fortitude to continue to train his shoulder (in terms of strength and flexibility) and to keep the rest of his body fit and strong then overuse injuries should not be a problem… in the next few years, anyway.
Probably the biggest risk to Brady’s future is the possibility of his suffering a massive traumatic injury during a game. Brady’s teammate, the enormous Ndamukong Suh (6’4’ and 145 kg), annihilated Brady’s quarterback opponent, Patrick Mahomes, several times in the Superbowl game and one could imagine that, despite Brady’s undoubted fitness and strength, it could take just one awkward hit from a bloke like Suh to suddenly end Tom’s career. At the Superbowl, the brilliant work of the Buccs offensive line meant that Brady was pressured no more than four times in the whole game and was sacked just once. Poor old Patty, on the other side of the grid iron, looked like a seal being chased around by a pack of great whites in a feeding frenzy! He was beaten to a pulp time and time again throughout match. That’s just fine for a young bloke like Mahomes, whose body can quickly recover from thorough beatings, but if Brady’s offensive line ever let him down badly and allow him to be bullied and butchered in a game (in much the same was as Mahomes was), Brady could be in trouble.
What about Smith? Smith usually plays for a full eighty minutes in an NRL game. Granted, Rugby League is not as aerobically intense as basketball, soccer, or Australian football but many players run eight or nine kilometres in a game. Smith might not do quite that much travelling, but his work rate would still be up in the 5k range. He also does more than his share of tackling at the Storm. Between thirty and forty tackles per game! He also gets belted in tackles by his opponents, plenty. Granted, there are not many Ndamukong Suhs in the NRL (who could end the career of a bloke like Smith in an instant) but the constant pummeling that a relatively small bloke like Smith receives throughout a game from much bigger men, (in offence and defence), would take its toll. Smith is not the world’s greatest athlete. He is not particularly big, not particularly strong, and certainly not particularly fast but he is fit. I remember, many years ago, tennis commentators used to claim, ludicrously, that Australian tennis star Ken Rosewall, at the age of 43, would be disadvantaged if a match went to five sets. How wrong they were. Rosewall was well aware of the fact that aerobically, and in terms of endurance, he was way more capable than tennis opponents in their twenties. Older athletes suffering from inferior endurance is a myth! People like Rosewall (and Smith) are only just getting warmed up when a match or game is long and hard.
Other than his uncanny football brain, his passing and kicking ability and his mental toughness it is Smith’s fitness and endurance that keeps him at the top level of the NRL. Despite the limitations of his not very impressive physique Smith will be capable of playing on and maintaining his high standards so long as he has the internal motivation to keep up that level of fitness. His age won’t impact upon his footy brain, his toughness, his skill with the football in his hands and his vision but if he gets bored with the whole thing and lets his fitness drop that might draw the curtain on his fabulous career. In other words, it’s a psychological thing. It’s up to him. His body won’t prevent him from playing on. His mind will. If he doesn’t have the interest (and the intense motivation) he will be gone.
Who is the more likely out of Smith and Brady to keep on playing at the top level in their respective sports? Tough call. The path ahead for Smith is tougher. He may be younger than Brady but when you have been playing footy for twenty years it would take some motivation to maintain a level of fitness where completing forty tackles per game plus running, passing and getting smashed for eighty minutes must get harder with each passing year. For Brady, on the other hand, if he wants to play on, I don’t see a problem. He just needs to keep gently working on that shoulder… and keep away from Ndamukong Suhs. It wouldn’t surprise me if both of them played on and ended the 2021 seasons still being regarded as “the best player in the world”. Smith, on the other hand, may decide that he is bored… that he has had enough… that its just too hard… and give it away. Brady might get smashed by an enormous line-backer halfway through the season and break a collar bone. Both would be career-ending scenarios, most likely. But I, for one, hope that they play on and prove just how under-rated old blokes can be.
Ability to be MVP again next year stars: ***
Ability to be MVP again next year stars: ****
If you want to buy a used Storm hooker (Cameron Smith) or a second hand Buccs quarterback (Tom Brady) I would say go ahead. Even after twenty years of peerless motoring these two are still churning out performance figures that make younger players look ordinary. Both are wearing Championship medals for the 2020 season. When I looked under the hood I found nothing to indicate that either would provide anything other than excellent value for money for at least a few more years yet. Ask me to pick one or the other as the greater professional footballer and I will tell you to bugger off. The roles of American football quarterbacks and NRL hookers have their similarities but they also have their distinct differences. Both players can only be expected to do what their team needs from them and both these players do precisely that to perfection. In that sense Brady’s potential future (as a player) seems slightly more secure than Smiths. Despite the constant risk of one career-ending trauma for an old quarter-back in the NFL, the NFL QB still has a slightly better chance of going on with the show than an elderly NRL hooker. The hits are harder in the NFL.. but the intensity and relentlessness of the beatings is not so extreme. Not all professional athletes can maintain the motivation to train hard and keep themselves at the level of fitness they need to perform as champions into their veteran years, but Smith and Brady are exceptions in this sense. Both Brady and Smith have proven that advancing years do not necessarily mean declining performance. Both are role models to an increasing number of motivated “older” athletes who demonstrate to younger players how the game can and should be played.