GLENDALE, Ariz. - Joe Montana is widely regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time, a stature befitting the only man with three Super Bowl MVP awards and one of only two quarterbacks with four Super Bowl championships.
But Tom Brady may be about to force us to make a change at the top.
And Russell Wilson? In some ways, he's a younger version of Brady, having gone to the Super Bowl twice in his first three seasons -- similar to Brady's run of three times in his first four seasons as a starter. Who knows? Maybe we'll be having a similar conversation about Wilson a decade from now.
Even with the issue of deflated footballs hovering uncomfortably over the heads of Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the quarterback has achieved an undeniable place in NFL history.
We have debated what effect one or two pounds per square inch of air missing from inside a football means and whether it signals that Brady may -- we repeat, may -- have bent the rules of football inflation.
And there soon will come a day of reckoning once the NFL's investigation into whether the footballs used in the first half of the Patriots' 45-7 win over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game were illegally tampered with.
But Brady now has a chance to cement his legacy with another championship performance on Super Bowl Sunday. It is a chance to join Montana at the top of the list of the NFL's greatest ever -- and maybe even surpass him. Just getting to this point might give us reason to believe that Brady has pulled even with his childhood idol or even replaced Montana at No. 1.
DeflateGate is a big deal and won't go away anytime soon. But that alone cannot obscure the phenomenal body of work that Brady has produced in a wondrous 15-year career. Consider: He has made it to the Super Bowl six times, the most of any quarterback, breaking a tie with Broncos Hall of Famer John Elway. Montana reached the Super Bowl four times, winning all four.
Brady got the Patriots to nine conference championship games, two more than Montana. And if you take away the year Brady missed with a knee injury, he has been to the AFC title game in nine of the 12 seasons he has been a starter.
Brady's remarkable consistency and longevity at least put him in the conversation about the NFL's greatest quarterbacks. And if he can beat the Seahawks on Sunday, perhaps a fourth title will vault him over Montana.
Interestingly enough, it's the handful of Super Bowl losses -- particularly the last two to the Giants -- that have kept the 37-year-old Brady's competitive fires burning so brightly.
"I think just from my experience, when I was so young that I didn't understand what this was all about and how challenging this is because everything happened so fast at such an early part of my career,'' he said.
"I think over the years, we've gotten some tough losses, and obviously we made it in 2007 and '11, those were challenging games. They came down to the wire and we lost. I don't think those things discouraged me at all. They just re-emphasized how hard and challenging it is to get to this point and how challenging it is to win this game.
"I have such an appreciation for it now. That's why I'm hoping we can accomplish and finally finish it off with a great win on Sunday. It would mean an awful lot.''
It would mean even more after the experience of the last two weeks, when Brady's integrity was challenged for the first time in his career in the DeflateGate controversy. There still is no indisputable proof that the footballs were tampered with, and as I've said before, my hope is that Brady is cleared of any wrongdoing.
If that's not the case, he won't completely escape the criticism that reached insane levels in the wake of his dominant performance against the Colts.
Wilson has no such image issues at this early point of his remarkably successful career, and he now has a chance to add a second Super Bowl title for a team that is young enough and good enough to have a chance to become the NFL's next dynasty.
Wilson doesn't have the individual brilliance of Brady, and he might never approach his wondrous pocket presence. Brady never had a defense as good as the Seahawks have, and Wilson also is a beneficiary of a terrific running game led by Marshawn Lynch. But Wilson is a star in his own right, and another Super Bowl title will only enhance his already formidable reputation.
"I've watched a lot of great players play before,'' Wilson said. "I've studied Michael Jordan, I've studied Derek Jeter, I've studied Tom Brady -- watching those guys and just learning from their mentality and learning from their clutch state of mind. I just love trying to play like that. I love trying to visualize being successful.''
Now he is on the biggest stage of all again, and Wilson believes he will respond the way he did during his terrific performance against Peyton Manning's Broncos last year.
"My leadership, that's the biggest thing,'' he said. "Obviously, I can throw and run and do all that stuff, but I think there's a lot of guys in the National Football League that can do that type of thing. I think that what I try to do is I try to bring something extra to the table every time I step on the field.''
Two quarterbacks, each with a chance to build on his already splendid reputation. There is no better matchup, and no better backdrop, for them to take that next step.