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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Tom Brady will be remembered as one of the National Football League's greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game regardless of whether he captures a fourth Super Bowl title with the New England Patriots on Sunday.
A win over the Seattle Seahawks would put Brady alongside Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and boyhood idol Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl rings. A loss would be his third consecutive defeat in the NFL's championship game.
But no matter the outcome, the 37-year-old Brady has already accomplished more than enough in 15 NFL seasons to ensure he is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Fame player when he becomes eligible for induction.
"Even if he doesn't win (on Sunday), he's already one of the best players at that position," Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino told Reuters.
Few could have predicted the success Brady would go on to achieve when the Patriots selected him in the sixth round, 199th overall, of the 2000 NFL Draft. The quarterbacks picked ahead of him became the subject of a documentary called "The Brady 6."
"Tom didn't come into the league as the first pick in the draft or the highest quarterback that was rated out of college, but he worked extremely hard and he's very smart," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
"He has been able to improve on his strengths, he has a great understanding of the game of football and he can accurately throw the ball. Those are his strengths."
Brady is fifth all-time in career passing touchdowns with 392 and fifth all-time with 53,258 passing yards. The players he trails in each category -- Marino, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees -- cannot boast anywhere near the postseason success Brady has enjoyed.
Brady has thrown an NFL-best 49 postseason touchdowns and 7,017 passing yards, both records he took ownership of during the Patriots' current playoff drive.
On Sunday, Brady and Belichick will make their sixth Super Bowl appearance, the most by any head coach-quarterback tandem in NFL history.
"He's such a great leader and has demonstrated that so clearly," said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. "As a sixth-rounder, he has shown that it isn't where you start, it's how you finish and he's finishing in famous fashion."
Additional reporting by Larry Fine in New York, editing by Gene Cherry