Growing Up and Growing Old With Tom Brady, Part 2

(This post is an insane continuation of part 1…)

Tom Brady is now is his 13th year in the NFL. I worry about every change in his offensive line. I watch every scramble for a sign of weakness. When the Patriots lose, I wonder if this is the game that heralds the beginning of the end. I fret over him as I do not even for myself. And, I know I am not alone in this.

We are all young. For a time.

But when Tom Brady was young, there was magic in the air. It almost seemed like the sudden excellence of the Patriots raised the tenor of the entire region. The Red Sox were transformed and it even looked for a moment that we would have a president from Massachusetts in 2004. Of course, most of this was simple escapism—I had my head in the sand to avoid the terrible truth of two wars, a nation speeding off into some of its worst inequalities in its history and a graduate career that at times seemed stalled and going nowhere.

But the truth was that I was growing up along with Tom Brady. See, Brady is a year older than me. As he went from underdog to champion, I started getting stuff published and made steady progress towards finishing my PhD. As Brady went from sixth-round draft pick to top 10 QB to blue chip MVP, so I too moved on in life. I know the analogy falls apart, but I felt like Brady and I were growing  into our lives together.

Magic was in the air in Foxborough. I almost selected Nina Simone for this one. But, here’s some CCR.

When the Patriots changed their style with Randy Moss and Brady became a statistical machine, it didn’t bother me, because it confirmed what I wanted to believe that BRADY was the best and that I was also the best in my own world. When Tom Brady started modeling for fancy watches and Ugg boots, even when he was photographed wearing a Yankees hat, I accepted it.

But it was a strange transformation that occurred during the three superbowls. Everyone loved the Patriots in the beginning. But before long, everyone seemed to hate them. They became something like the YankeesThe team went quietly but quickly from underdogs to hated frontrunners. I coped. I adapted because I was also changing from anti-establishment wannabe to educational company man. (And I don’t view this as a positive or negative evolution. It just is.)

Best of times and worst of times

When the Spygate scandal broke and it was already perfectly acceptable to hate the Patriots, I denied, ignored and prevaricated because to admit something counterfeit about Brady was to admit something counterfeit about myself.

Losing to the Giants in 2007 hurt. Getting text messages that said “19 and 1” killed. But at some level, the lack of perfection couldn’t shake my world view because Brady was just Brady and I knew he would bounce back and that we would be in the superbowl again and that, because of the reintroduction of loss, the victory would be that much sweeter.

Fact: Jon Bon Jovi and Bill Belichick are friends. I don’t know what that means.

When Bernard Pollard destroyed Brady’s knee in the next season, I was at a Red Sox game in Arlington Texas. I was keeping track of the Patriots game on my phone and knew exactly why a sudden hush came over all of the Red Sox fans in attendance.  I rooted for the new young guy, but only half-heartedly because if Brady was mortal and weak, then I was mortal and weak too. I also tried not to fear that Brady’s injury was karma.

Don’t look.

With the rest of the Boston sports nation I watched Brady’s return with trepidation. I watched the poor playoff appearances and the sudden rise of the Jets and learned to expect now that the Patriots and Brady would take time to get better. I never once doubted the triumphant return of the Tom Brady I first loved and admired.

I know, I have posted this one before. But can you say it better?

And all of this is why I still follow every Patriots game while holding my breath. I know that Brady is the second oldest starting QB in football. I know he never was fast and has slowed down a bit. His shoulder has been injured for 13 years. His knees are a product of science. I know that he is keeping pace because he understands the game better than ever before.People don’t get younger. I can hear the seconds ticking away on the clock. I know that you can get stronger for only so long before your body betrays you. I know that Tom Brady is getting older and so am I.

That’s one reason why the most recent Superbowl loss (again to Eli Manning. ELI. MANNING. I hate his face so much.) was so nauseating. I don’t know if the team can make it again. I have to be honest, here: I had fantasies of Brady and Belichick winning one more Superbowl and both just retiring spontaneously, sparing us all the experience of either one visibly aging or slipping.

In all truth, I do love the Patriots and not just Tom Brady. Troy Brown was a two-way hero. Corey Dillon, Tedy Bruschi and Vince Wilfork are names I will never forget. But I am compelled to watch Tom Brady every Sunday I can for two reasons. First, I know I am seeing a career the likes of which I will never see again in New England. I also hope against all reason that this career will keep going on, that the sixth round draft pick will keep defying expectations and that the Patriots will win again and again.

See, dark is as dark does.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Tom Brady–the fire he must feel when he thinks back to those championships and looks ahead now, I can imagine. I can imagine the shiver running up the spine whispering that his best days are behind him . I don’t know if Tom Brady is really a good man or not. I don’t know what kind of music he likes, what he wants to do with his life after football or whether or not he gives two shits whether I am alive. And the fact is that none of that really matters.

I need to believe the dream about Tom Brady winning on indefinitely because I want to believe it about myself. Does that sound twisted enough? I have watched Tom Brady grow older, succeed, get married and have children (all from a distance, of course) while I have done all of these things on a very different stage (except for the impregnating actresses with impunity thing). I root for Tom Brady to defy his mortality because I hope that I will somehow defeat my own.

Even though I know what the outcome will be for both of us.

The truth. But, then again, bad times kill you too. Time just does that.

According to theorists from Sigmund Freud to Joseph Campbell, the ancients told stories of heroes who went through stages in life that echo our own (well, mostly Carl Jung here). Part of the utility and attraction of the heroic narrative is that it grows along with us. We all are familiar with the victorious arc of the hero’s journey from Neo in the Matrix and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, but we often forget that classic heroes also undergo a fall.

Do you love that dirty water? The Standells did.

See, Herakles died in pain in a pyre of his own making. Bellerophon wandered the earth hated by the gods. We all grow to the peak of youth, passion and cognition and then either die before we know any better or slowly give into the forces of entropy and old age.Tom Brady has been my mythical hero. Every Sunday I look for signs that he is taking that long walk into the mortal distance. Every day he stays on top keeps my own hopes alive.

How did I become a football fan? I did use sports to turn away from the world and, in part, away from myself. But, in compensation, I was also drawn closer to others. I cannot tell you how many times I have logged long hours on the phone diverted along with a family member or friend. I watched Superbowls with crowds of supporters. I went to a playoff game at Fenway. My wife celebrated with me and understood my tears.

Now, you might protest, I seem to be trying very hard to justify a diversion—or that I seem really, really intense about what is, at the end of the day, just a stupid game. But I am a New Englander by birth and by right. We live and die with our teams.

13 comments on “Growing Up and Growing Old With Tom Brady, Part 2

  1. originaldrummer says:

    I have been looking forward to this post ever since you told me it was coming. I was and still am intrigued by the fact that you not only tolerate or like but love New England sports especially the Patriots and football. While we were playing in a band in high school I believe my brother and I were the only members who cared at all about sports. I remember I could talk to your mom all day about the Redsox and I remember watching part of a playoff game at your house in ’96 when the Pats went to the Superbowl against Brett Favre and The Packers. Thats one of the things I really love about sports……even if you have nothing at all in common with someone if you know about sports its something you can talk about.
    You mention playing basketball to keep in shape. I seem to remember the only sports related thing we did in high school was enter a basketball tourney and dress up in ridiculous costumes and make fools of ourselves. We were terrible but boy was it fun! Oh and didn’t you dislocate your shoulder playing frisbee?

    • theelderj says:

      I did dislocate my shoulder playing frisbee, But I did it the first time in theater practice. I don’t know which is worse.

      I completely agree with you that one of the nice things about watching or following sports is that it allows us to have almost immediate common ground with strangers. As you can probably imagine, there are many people in my profession who look down their noses at sports, but I find myself equipped to manage almost any social situation.

      But the bigger thing for me, I think, is that following sports can both provide a ready-made narrative of the season and the players and help create a personal narrative of my response to and engagement with. I cannot tell the story of my life in 2003 and 2004 without talking about the back to back ALCS against the Yankees. Living in NYC during that time only made it crazier.

      And my mom’s dedication to the Red Sox definitely laid the foundation for my obsessions.

  2. professormortis says:

    I feel left out as a New Englander who could care less about sports. It’s been particularly been apparent since I moved to MA: I grew up close enough to the borderlands with NY that friends and even family members favor NY teams (those traitors-especially my mother, who is from NH, and thus has absolutely no excuse to root for the Yankees). I always preferred MA teams in the distant way that I prefer one country I’ve never been to to another. That’s not even a good analogy, since I often know a country by its cultural exports, at least. In any case, in CT not having real team loyalties can be a bonus; you can simply nod and agree with the Yankees or the Red Sox fan. Up here it’s different; people love their teams, and they’re sports mad. You’re an outsider if you know nothing about the games.

    • theelderj says:

      I know what you mean about the sense of alienation when an area so strongly self-identifies with the fortunes of the local sports teams. Here, people are stark raving mad about college sports and not only do I have objections to collegiate sports at the top level but I also don’t have the experience and personal history to care at all. I make a half-hearted attempt to identify with New England college teams, but, with the exception of the academically challenged UCONN, few make much of a splash on the national stage.

      I don’t think it is an accident that I clung to New England sports after I left New England. In NYC it was both an act of self-definition and lame defiance to be a Red Sox fan.

  3. […] with whom I enjoyed many of these songs. The football game was not very exciting because the Patriots were like seven touchdowns ahead. I decided to have a mixed drink and this turned into why Seven […]

  4. […] think of his future self opening his jacket to reveal American Flag.) This was also the first year I was excited to watch the Super Bowl. Something strange had […]

  5. […] it running through my head.  For the record, my father didn’t care much for sports or wine.  I like sports some, but wine I can leave or […]

  6. […] the nostalgic fit of self-doubt that comes in such moments is in part a function of our own sense of aging and mortality. But there is something undeniably true about the band: their music has changed. But, then again, […]

  7. […] with whom I enjoyed many of these songs. The football game was not very exciting because the Patriots were like seven touchdowns ahead. I decided to have a mixed drink and this turned into why Seven […]

  8. […] think of his future self opening his jacket to reveal American Flag.) This was also the first year I was excited to watch the Super Bowl. Something strange had […]

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