What We Should Think When We Think About Tom Brady’s Final Years
On the CBS-owned Sports Hub 98.5 in Boston, Massachusetts, the mid-morning to 2 p.m. slot is hosted by the team of Andy Gresh and Scott Zolak. Last week, they discussed with listeners how to define our relationship with the twilight years of Tom Brady’s career. The question posed to listeners and one another was, should we embrace the final years of Tom Brady’s career as years to marvel at and enjoy, or should we look at them as pressure-driven, in terms of he-needs-to-win-another-Super-Bowl-or-there’s-a-slight-tarnish-on-his-career?
Gresh, a former college football player, says it can’t be both.
Sports is different from most other professions. While the Rolling Stones aren’t creating albums that will be considered classics anymore, they can go on tour, play “Brown Sugar,” and the world will be happy. They could, presumably, do this until they’re all on their deathbed, which we actually assumed would have happened by now. Sports is finite. There is a limited window of being able to compete at the highest level because there is always someone faster, stronger, younger, and, most importantly to some professional organizations, cheaper coming up.
Tom Brady has been a transcendent talent in New England since 2001. I’ll admit I was not amongst the first people to truly believe in Brady when he took over for Drew Bledsoe. He was an adequate backup, one that I was happy to have fill a role for the former number one pick Bledsoe while he was hurt. Like many others, I was wrong and happily so. Brady is the best quarterback I’ve ever seen play – particularly in a Patriots jersey – and I’ll defend that statement on a national level, too.
One caller called and said, as a 19-year-old, his relationship with professional football and the New England Patriots has, in it’s entirety, revolved around having Tom Brady at quarterback. This is an interesting relationship that very few of us have. When I was six or seven, watching football with the limited understanding I had of the game, the guys to watch played for Buffalo and San Francisco. Hugh Millen, I think, was the Patriots quarterback. Scott Secules and the aforementioned Zolak were the signal callers. The Patriots were a bad football team, but we watched them, at a friend of my dad’s house, because they were blacked out locally and we, essentially, had to steal the game through some medium.
This isn’t to say that we had it worse because we fielded adequate teams in the 1990’s. We made the Super Bowl and lost to the Packers. We put some teams together that we were proud of and enjoyed watching on Sunday afternoons. The first Super Bowl win against the St. Louis Rams was a feat – remember it was the first of Boston’s championship runs in any sport for a long time – that I’ll never forget. I ran through the halls of my dorm, screaming and hugging people who were doing the same. It was a fun time to be a Patriots fan. The nation, it seemed, was rooting for us, too.
Things have changed in that regard and we’re the enemies and that’s okay. Tom Brady’s career has been overshadowed, in some way, by his career happening alongside the career of Peyton Manning, another all-time great, but more of a media darling. He’s charismatic and funny, puts up other-worldly statistics and seems to do so from a different disposition than does Brady. It’s always been confounding to me that Manning, a guy who grew up the son of an NFL Hall of Famer, been the number one guy for his entire career, tends to put up big stats but also has a proclivity to disappointing in big moments could steal the spotlight of a guy like Brady, who was a 6th round pick, had a reputation for being the hardest worker in the locker room, didn’t put up big stats, but just found a way to win.
Alas, Brady took home the Super Bowl trophies early in his career. It’s been ten years since Brady has won a title. Even though they’ve been to two Super Bowls since that win – both losses to the New York Giants, and both losses coming at the expense of the defense – it seems Brady has to win one more to solidify himself at the best quarterback of all-time. Win and he’s done it. Don’t win, he sits behind a few others for the throne. It seems slightly unfair. After all, football is a team game. But we know quarterbacks get the glory or the goat.
Selfishly, I want Tom Brady to win another Super Bowl. Shit, I want him winning three more Super Bowls. I want that to happen so that I can be right. So I can say, just like a Bill Russell advocate, yes, I watched the best quarterback of all time, just look at the rings. I want to celebrate my favorite team being at the pinnacle of their sport again because, as we know, Brady’s days are numbered. And we will never see a player like him again. Championships are hard to win.
But as someone who can appreciate, I think, the aesthetics of the game, someone who wants to see other people perform at the highest level of their chosen profession, I want to sit back and enjoy Tom Brady’s winter playing years and appreciate them for what they are: magnificent, at times flawed, but imperfect in the way all great things are. A championship would be a bonus, in my opinion. If I’m going to look back on what-if’s of Brady’s career in terms of evaluating his time as a Patriot in titles, I’m lamenting Asante Samuel’s fingertips or shrugging at the incredible Eli-to-Manningham play; I’m looking at the Reche Caldwell years.
These next few years, or however many we’re getting? I’m enjoying it. At first I didn’t think it needed to be one or the other, needs a title or just enjoy it. Championships are why we watch, mostly. There are teams we’ll remember and performances we’ll tell our kids about, but rarely do they endure for the amount of years that we’ve watched Brady play at the level at which he’s played.
Sports are indeed a fickle thing. Players and coaches come and go. We’ve been fortunate in that regard. Maybe we’ll get lucky with Brady’s successor, but the chances that we’ll see what we’re seeing now are slim. At the risk of being corny, we have to embrace them, relish them for what they are. Maybe they’ll bring a Lombardi trophy and maybe they won’t, but it shouldn’t diminish what we’ve watched and what we’re about to watch.
Twilights don’t need to be spectacular for us to appreciate them because our past experiences dictates just how we view them. When Tom Brady eventually walks off the field – with or without another title – we’ll regret if we didn’t take a few minutes at a time to appreciate what we’re seeing, what we’ve seen, and quarterback play that we’ll never see again. There’ll be imitators. Another guy will come along and break records, but there is something special about being alive in the era of Tom Brady. I hope we can enjoy what we have left.