By Mike “Sarge” Riley, 98.5 The Sports Hub
With the epilogue of “Tom vs Time” being released this week, the date of Sept. 7, 2008 is cemented in the brain of Tom Brady and sports fans in New England. It is a date where we can ask, “Where were you?” Certainly, it can’t be compared to real tragedies like Sept. 11, 2001 or President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, but we know where we were on that Sunday.
The Patriots were playing in their first meaningful game since a heartbreaking Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants. I was a guest of my friend Matt. He and his family are season ticket holders, section 337 row 3. Not a cloud in the sky in Foxborough that day for the 2008 opener, a perfect 80 degrees with a light wind blowing high above the field.
Some observations as I entered the stadium to Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowhere” over the public address system. There was a new banner in the stadium, but not where the Super Bowl banners were proudly displayed by the standing room only section in the corner of the South end zone. Instead, this white banner was in the opposite side of the stadium tucked underneath an upper deck with the 16-0 2007 regular season record (yes, that banner is no longer on display at Gillette). And on the field, at the 30-yard line, the initials “GU” in a large black circle were temporarily tattooed on the field in memory of the late Gene Upshaw, who had passed away earlier in the year.
One other notable pregame scenario was Tom Brady NOT being listed on the team’s injury report as “Probable” for the first time in 57 games. Eerie, when you think of what was going to transpire.
This was Brady’s first time on the field since that devastating loss to the Giants. He sat out the entire preseason with a foot injury as the Pats went 0-4. And Matt Cassel, whose exhibition stats gave him criticism, made him a question mark to make the 53-man roster. The Patriots were wearing their white uniforms to kick off the season in front of a sold out crowd.
The game was scoreless. And with 7:27 remaining in the first quarter, as Brady and the offense were engineering their first scoring drive of the season, the world froze. Brady failed to get up, screaming, nursing his left knee after a hit from the Chiefs’ Bernard Pollard. The quarterback’s 28 yard pass to Randy Moss turned out to be a fumble by the now-Hall of Fame receiver. And on top of that, Pollard was not penalized for the hit, which would be a penalty in 2018.
Legitimately, even being up in the 300 sections of Gillette Stadium, you could hear a pin drop. And it would be the final time we saw Brady in the flesh until 2009, as he limped off the field with the help of the training staff. We would later find out, the greatest of all time had a torn ACL and MCL. This was before Twitter and social media really began to take off, so any rumor and innuendo or reports weren’t happening until an official release from the team.
But that didn’t stop speculation from fans in the stands. Many thinking they were doctors after a few adult libations. “He’ll be fine, and back out there next week to kill the Jets!” Others on the opposite end around me devastated. “That’s it. The depression carries over from the Super Bowl.” Mixed emotions, rightfully so.
The Patriots ended up winning the game 17-10, and we saw what Matt Cassel could do that year as the Patriots had an impressive 11-5 record, even though they were the first team in league history with 11 wins to miss the playoffs since the 12-team expansion in 1990.
The NFL changed the rules to protect the safety of quarterbacks after Brady’s injury. In the spring of 2009, the league rules committee voted in favor of penalizing defensive players who lunge at the quarterback’s legs. Many have dubbed this the “Tom Brady rule.” Since the rule was implemented, Brady hasn’t missed a game due to injury in nine seasons, after many thought he would only have a few more years left. But here we are coming into 2018, with four Super Bowl appearances under his belt since that day, winning two and earning his place as the best of all time.
Ten years later, a 41-year-old Brady and the Patriots are coming off a Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. As fans of Brady and the Patriots, we hope that history never repeats itself as it did in 2008. But we will always remember where we were and what were doing that particular day.
You can hear Mike “Sarge” Riley on the air on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @Sarge985.