If you asked Tom Brady who his favorite targets were over the whole of his career, I'd bet that he'd answer Troy Brown, Deion Branch, and Rob Gronkowski.
People have no recollection of this, but Brown was the best player on that 2001 Super Bowl-winning Patriots team. It wasn't Brady at the time, and it wasn't Ty Law. Brown had a career year, and it was an all-around career year. He was the first receiver Brady had total trust in. Even when his skills diminished, Brady still wanted him around, because of the things he could do and his reliability.
As for Branch, he ran highly precise routes, and that mattered to Brady. Gronkowski was both a physical marvel and a very technically sound football player, and also super reliable. A "when all else fails, he'll be there," type of guy.
Some might ask, "Where is Randy Moss and Julian Edelman?"
Edelman was dynamic and clutch, but he wasn't the kind of precision player the others were. Moss and Brady were not this well-suited partnership, in my view. I know about the numbers, but heaving the ball into the air way down the field and letting your guy go up for it wasn't who Brady was as a quarterback.
Wes Welker was Edelman without the same level of chemistry that the latter had with Brady, and a much lesser clutch quotient.
In watching Connor Bedard, a couple things stand out to me. You might not see what he can do as a playmaker for a while yet, because there isn't a lot of talent on that Blackhawks team, and not a lot of guys with finishing skill. Nick Foligno was skating on Bedard's line the other night. We're not exactly talking Sir Sniper here.
Bedard's greatest weapon might be his quick release. Goalies aren't ready for it. There are two ways a hockey player can have a quick release. In getting off their shot after receiving a pass--Mike Bossy would be your best example of that. Or, when they have the puck themselves, they're skating, and without seeming to set or even getting in a shooting position, they've fired the puck and it's in the net. Joe Sakic was like this, and so is Bedard.
He'll score a lot of goals because of that release alone. I watched him pick a defenseman's pocket the other day, and the puck was in the net before the goalie flinched. People said it was a snap shot. It wasn't. It was a flick shot, which you don't see all that often. (The puck starts out in front of you, and you shovel it upwards--it's all about placement. The wrists barely break at all.) A touch shot. Not a power shot. This kid can shoot the puck and he selects the best shot possible--very quickly--in each situation.
As part of their 100th anniversary season, the Bruins are determining their four all-time best players, from the group of however many they had already determined were the best Bruins. People, who almost never know anything, were arguing about this on Twitter the other day. What do you think they do? Do you think they have a clue? Or, do you think they just say whatever pleases them out of ignorance and random personal preference? It always blows my mind that people have no awareness at all of anything before they were a certain age. No one is curious, and everyone is lazy. As a result, you have people saying Cam Neely as one of those four, for instance.
Neely is one of my favorite players in any sport--sicken me though he often does in his front office role--but come on. We need to grow up here.
Most people had Patrice Bergeron as one of the four. I'm going to say this very simply: Patrice Bergeron wasn't that good.
Oh no! He said that awful thing! There must be dire consequences!
Sorry, but he wasn't.
When Bergeron was in his prime, he was viewed as the second best center on his own team, behind a guy who is not a Hall of Famer. What's not true about that? That was how it was circa 2011, was it not? Patrice Bergeron is this amazing, "one of the best ever!" hockey players to the kind of person who loves Swayman/Ullmark goalie hugs. Easily the most overrated Boston athlete of my lifetime.
There is a very obvious--or it should be very obvious--answer to this four players thing. And that's Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito, and Eddie Shore. In that order, unless you want to flip the last two. But that's it. There is no one else who is close to knocking out one of those other guys. You can't make any kind of intelligent case for any other player. Not one based in reality.
Eddie Shore won the Hart four times. And I'd say he's the least of those guys. One guy is, at worst, the second best hockey player ever. Another guy, value-wise, might have had the best career in the history of the NHL. That'd be Bourque. Then you have the scoring records guy in Esposito, and the MVPs and leading the league in goals a lot and assists, too. Two of them are two of the ten best hockey players of all-time. The other two are between spots ten and twenty.
But right, Neely, because you grew up watching him, and Bergeron, because you like snuggles and hugs and groundless narratives. Why don't we see if we can find a spot for Doug Keans while we're at it.