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What Does G.O.A.T. Mean in American Football?

While it has been used in different situations in the past, “GOAT” is generally used today as shorthand for the acronym, “Greatest of All Time.” This can be confusing as it has also previously been used as, “goat” to describe a player that has made mistake or error at a crucial point in the game.

Growing up, we used to describe a player going from, “goat to glory,” when they would redeem themselves for a big mistake. As social media grew, I was confused for a while when people started to use it as a complement instead of in a mocking way. It still takes me a second to remember what it means now, but you can assume that if you hear it today it’s meant in a positive light.

Where did the phrase originate? Was there a literal goat involved? The answer is yes, so if you’re interested in farm animals and curses that last for decades, keep on reading.

Key Takeaways

  • In the modern age, “GOAT” usually stands for Greatest of All Time.
  • It has previously been used as slander for players that have made errors or mistakes at crucial moments.
  • With the most Super Bowl titles in history, Tom Brady is usually hailed as football’s G.O.A.T.

From Phrase to Acronym

In the era before social media when acronyms became shorthand for a variety of phrases and descriptions, “goat” was used as a derogatory phrase when discussing professional athletes. “Goat” was used for players that made critical errors in big moments or failed to step up in crucial situations such as Bill Buckner’s famous flub in the 1986 World Series.

It can also be used for football fails.

The phrase originated during the 1945 World Series featuring the Chicago Cubs. Fan and tavern owner William Sianis was barred from bringing his goat into Wrigley Field for the game and declared that the Cubs would lose the series and would never win another championship. [1]

There may have been some to the “curse of the billy goat,” and the Cubs didn’t win another title until 2016.

Tom Brady’s G.O.A.T. Status

The transition from goat to G.O.A.T as the primary meaning in our culture has been a gradual one. When people use the phrase today it’s usually meant in the complementary form to describe a play, person, or moment that they think deserves consideration for the, “Greatest of All Time.”

Social media is plastered with posts and photos anointing Tom Brady the G.O.A.T. As the all-time leader in just about every major passing category and with more Super Bowl titles than any other player, it’s hard to dispute the claim. Even for absurd or non-football-related content, most mentions of Brady will come with a #goat accompanying it. 

It’s reached the point where Tom Brady is the unit of measurement for other people that are near the top of the respective field.

Tom Brady is such an exceptional athlete with a resume that no other football player can match, that the G.O.A.T argument in the NFL is virtually nonexistent. But people will still make a case for a few other players that do have a case for the top spot.

The most common is former wide receiver Jerry Rice who still holds most of the league’s receiving records despite playing in an era when teams passed much less than they do now. Like Brady, Rice was able to maintain a high level of production into his 40s including a second-team All-Pro selection as a 40-year-old with the Oakland Raiders. [2]

He’s also still the all-time leader in receptions with 117 more catches than the second-place Larry Fitzgerald. [3]

It should come as no surprise that those championing Rice for G.O.A.T status are affiliated with the San Francisco 49ers who Rice spent the majority of his career with. The team itself will still make a case for Rice on occasion.


The huge change in the common meaning of the word G.O.A.T can make it confusing for the uninitiated. Is it being used to complement or degenerate someone? Usually, it should be pretty obvious. If a quarterback throws a terrible interception late in the game, odds are no one is anointing them the greatest of all time. 

But in most cases, you can anticipate it being used to praise someone instead of mocking them. What’s the most ridiculous use of the word G.O.A.T you’ve ever heard? Let us know in the comments below.


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