By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
To hell with the Indy and Denver Peyton Manning, the New York Yankees, and 3 p.m. Boston traffic jams. Time is and will always be our greatest enemy. In all walks of life. No matter the fight we put up (and we’ll always fight like hell), time has a tendency to blur even our fondest memories, and there’s almost nothing we can do about it. Little by little, the particulars and rich details of our memories fade, and before you know it, we can only recall what are essentially incomplete snapshots, but more importantly the emotional highs (or lows) of the moment we once promised ourselves to never forget.
This is all a much darker start than I imagined, I must admit, but it's also no wonder Tom Brady made it his personal mission to defeat such a foe.
And you can consider it a mission accomplished on the part of Brady. At least when it comes to his two-decade chapter in The Hub, as even with Tom Brady’s 20-year run in town set to close by way of the 42-year-old’s new, high-dollar and high-security deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we’ll never, ever forget what we witnessed since he stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
Trying to sum up Brady’s Patriots career in one column is the work of the clinically insane. It’s impossible, actually. I mean, how could anybody possibly do Brady justice? You can't, and I'm not going to try and tell you otherwise. Often in the media, we’re asked to pretend that we didn’t grow up rooting for certain athletes and teams. But with Brady, that was legitimately impossible, and I don’t think I ever cared who knew it. I remember the first time I covered a Patriots training camp, I texted the first person I hugged after Brady & Co. delivered a jumping-and-shocked 10-year-old me the first championship I had ever seen back in '02 and said, “Currently six feet from Tom Brady. Crazy.” He was that kind of figure.
For those of us that missed out on Bobby Orr and Larry Bird leading championship parades through Boston, Brady was our guy. Except he won more, did it longer, and wasn’t forced out of games we scheduled our lives around due to career-shortening ailments. For those who got to experience those legends that came before, Brady helped build you one of the last bridges you needed to walk on the way to true sports heaven, and No. 12 was the living, breathing, and constant reinvention of what it meant to be a champion. Yes, he was that kind of figure.
Brady’s iconic performances in nightmarish conditions actually had you wishing for a chilled or slippery commute to Gillette Stadium, especially in January. Brady made track 10 of “The Black Album” a must-have on every pump-up playlist. He even made having a “butt-chin” seem kinda cool (big-time thanks for that one, Tom).
Brady regularly made what seemed impossible feel automatic.
The No. 199 overall pick turned champion to three-time Super Bowl winner evolved from manager to superstar, broke offensive records, and was one helmet-catch away from what we thought back then was his final chance at securing legitimate football immortality. He then turned some ‘lean’ title-less years in town into a second three-championship run, and that second wind featured more impossibilities-turned-automatics from a quarterback people repeatedly said (read as: truly wished and prayed) was a declining, “noodle-armed” has-been.
His fourth quarter against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX might go down as his Mona Lisa; Down by 10 against a vaunted Seattle defense after three quarters, Brady went 13-for-15 for 124 yards and two scores in the final frame, including the go-ahead touchdown to Julian Edelman with just over two minutes remaining in the game on the way to another Super Bowl MVP.
Brady somehow upped his own legend status in his next Super Bowl (LI against the Falcons), when the Patriots found themselves down by 25 points in the third quarter, and with Brady playing a far-from-perfect game. Trying to erase a massive deficit, Brady spread the ball around and helped engineer five straight scoring drives -- he completed 26 of his 34 passes for 284 yards with two touchdowns (and a successful two-point conversion pass to Danny Amendola) over that five-drive run -- to push the Patriots to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
History will leave us looking back on Super Bowl LIII as the disappointment of Brady’s Super Bowl wins (our ability to think like this is why everybody hates us), but Brady’s performance at the Arrowhead terror-turf in the AFC Championship Game on the way to that sixth championship should never be forgotten. The site of the true birth of the “Brady’s Done” narrative back in 2014, Brady returned to K.C. and engineered another late-game performance for the highlight reel. With the Patriots chasing the game, Brady hooked up with Rob Gronkowski for 25 yards on a vintage Brady-to-Gronk dime with a minute left to set New England up for a go-ahead score from Rex Burkhead, and then converted three separate 3rd-and-10s in overtime to win.
Brady's game-winning overtime drive against the Chiefs felt like such a formality that the entire football world basically cried for the league to change the overtime rules (again) before the Patriots even scored the touchdown that turned the site of his obviously-premature football death into another postgame trophy presentation.
With the Patriots needing to do every single thing right just to give themselves a chance at victory, Brady was the only quarterback fit for the job. And he did it. Surgically. Again and again and again. At 25, 39, or at 41. It was just ridiculous.
Even in his final Super Bowl loss as a Patriot, Brady did everything he could to will New England to victory, throwing for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards. Things probably end differently for Brady and the Patriots on that night had the defense been able to... oh I don’t know... stop Philadelphia from putting points on the board in eight of their 10 offensive drives.
You just felt that so long as the Patriots had Brady and Brady had the Patriots, the team always had a chance at the impossible. Arrogant? Only to outsiders, really, because to us it was the reality we attached ourselves to every Sunday. If there was ever such a thing as earned arrogance in football, it was certainly found at Patriot Place.
But these accomplishments and their impact extended outside of Foxborough.
With the Patriots being what they were (and being what they were for two straight decades), the Patriots' brothers in Boston sports felt an obvious and immense pressure to match Brady's accomplishments and forever-contender status. The Red Sox had their own drought to worry about (and eventually ended), but the Bruins and Celtics were undoubtedly mindful of the shadow Brady and the Patriots were casting over their since-redeveloped gray and warehouse-looking arena. They realized they were on their way to potentially permanent irrelevancy if they didn't try to win at the same pace as the fiercest winner we've ever seen. It was an obviously impossible task, but it came with its own rewards for each franchise, as the city piled up six non-Patriots championships (and appeared in nine championship-round games) during Brady's run in town.
Without Brady (the ultimate underdog himself) seizing his opportunity in 2001, our status as an underdog city likely isn't met with the scoff and eye-roll it rightfully gets in 2020. Without Brady, we may still cling to those Orr and Bird parades, and still look back on the Parcells Years as the true pinnacle of our football fandom. Without Brady, we're still hyperfocused on the could-have-beens of the modern-era championship losses and miscues that dramatically outweighed the victories.
While this line of work often deals in hyperbole, there's no denying that Brady helped change this city. Probably forever, too.
At least if you buy the famous quote that "a mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions." That seems especially true when talking about a sports-wild city's neverending lust for more. More rings. More titles. More glory. And though "the dream is dead" narratives are unavoidable following Brady's departure to Tampa Bay, that remains there. But the idea that it'll be found in the blink of an eye is as likely as a sixth-round draft pick coming in to replace the face of the franchise and winning the title in his first real ride as a full-time player.
So, thank you, Tom.
For showing everybody that it's not about status or privilege, but work ethic. For making us somehow love the idea of a snow-buried field. For constantly reminding us to truly appreciate the joy and opportunity that every second of sports can bring. And even for teaching us all the value of resistance bands, drinking a billion gallons of water, and stretching.
But most importantly, for delivering memories that'll never be forgotten thanks to details embroidered onto championship banners.