Sports fans are raised to respect the greats of the previous generation. But every new generation eventually gets their Star Wars. David R. McCullough explains why Tom Brady is our New Hope.
In 1983, I was told by so many people to “pay attention” to Carl Yastrzemski’s plod to the finish line. “Played his whole Hall of Fame career in one town,” they’d say. “Not gonna be many more of them. Loyalty is dead, kid.”
Anyway, they were full of it. I’ve watched Derek Jeter play his entire career in pinstripes, seen Tim Duncan don his silver and black Spurs uniform for two decades and personally enjoyed the red-white-and-blue clad Tom Brady for the past fifteen years.
Recently, Duncan restructured his contract (again) to facilitate San Antonio’s acquisition of LaMarcus Aldridge, who is described as a younger version of Tim Duncan. There’s no rational reason for a professional as highly decorated and rightfully lauded as Duncan to play (basically) for free unless he’s really THAT GUY. The mythic team leader who just wants to win. Athletes like this are rare.
And New England fans have been blessed with so many of them. Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Yaz followed Ted Williams and then Jim Rice followed Yaz making LF in Fenway the Hall of Fame’s waiting room for fifty odd years. Larry Bird, of course. And maybe, over the next decade, Patrice Bergeron.
The last time football fans saw Brady, he was doing this. The last time he was on the field, he did this. And the last time he was entering a season after winning a Super Bowl he was 28 years old and just entering his statistical prime. After the 2004 win the Patriots lost Charlie Weis to Notre Dame, and in 2005 had no official offensive coordinator – just quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels and receivers/tight ends coach Brian Daboll. That season ended with Ben Watson making one of the most underrated great plays in NFL history and a belief that the next title was right around the corner.
Except it wasn’t. Two Super Bowl losses are not exactly blemishes on his resume, but prior to XLIX, Brady did not have firm hold of the “greatest quarterback ever” competition. Some may argue he still ranks behind Joe Montana and his perfect record in title games, but that is semantic – Joe lost a lot of early round playoff games.
Going into his age 38 season – his 16th with the Patriots – Brady has a chance to do something no other quarterback has: win a fifth Super Bowl. And since the moment Malcolm Butler did it, the obstacles have grown. Ignoring the three-ring circus sideshow of the offseason, the Patriots appear on paper to be weaker than last year’s champions. The starting secondary has mostly departed – but there is reason to believe it won’t be a disaster. The offensive line still has holes – or does it? And last year was last year… whether this team is any good remains to be seen.
When Brady steps on the field Opening Day, he will be defending a title, again, for the first time in a decade. He will have the same coaches he’s had for a decade and an offense perfectly tailored to his particular strengths. And he will, after this offseason, have a proverbial chip on his shoulder. The very best Tom Brady performances have come in the wake of “questions”. The We’re Onto Cincinnati game from 2014 is a good example – fired up barely does justice to his first-drive and -quarter performance.
Those old-timers were wrong: I got Tom Brady. A one-team Hall of Famer, loyal to the team, taking less money for the team, prioritizing winning above all else. To the best of my knowledge, Tom Brady does not smoke Marlboros in the tunnel during the game, which automatically makes him a better role model than Yaz ever was for me.
Soon, it will be time to again pay attention to Tom Brady on the football field. Thank goodness.
Follow David on Twitter @SoSH_davemc.
David R. McCullough is the Editor-in-Chief of Inside the Pylon. He also writes about the topics shaping the sport, examines the coaches and players, ruminates on football’s past, and explores the controversial issues facing the game.