(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 Yankees. The 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.)
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.
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.