Tom Brady is 33 years old, married with two kids and selling Ugg boots.
Tedy Bruschi is a TV announcer. Mike Vrabel is in Kansas City. Adam Vinatieri is kicking out the string in Indy. Ted Johnson was trying to tell us about concussions long before the NFL got on board.
Deion Branch is . . .
Wait . . . Deion Branch is back with the Patriots?
Hold on. This is starting to look familiar.
Of course, I am not the first to say this. It seems everyone has noticed.
Suddenly, the New England Patriots are morphing back into the kind of no-name, no-nonsense unit that won three Super Bowls in the early part of last decade. The lineup is filled with role players, who have become stars, for being role players. All they do is not make mistakes, and win. It’s all coming together, again.
The formula is eerily similar. Think about it:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is Antowain Smith. Danny Woodhead is Kevin Faulk.
Patrick Chung is Lawyer Milloy.
Wes Welker, if he would just get off his duff and play both ways, is Troy Brown.
(Welker has become so synonymous with New England, and done so well there, it’s easy to forget he wasn’t one of the “original” dynasty Patriots. He has not won a Super Bowl ring.)
Randy Moss . . . last I heard of him, wasn’t he a food critic somewhere?
Brady is still Brady. We think. His body may have been taken over by aliens. (Welker has compared his quarterback to the movie-comedy male-model character Derek Zoolander.)
But that’s fine. Joe Namath once wore fur coats, pantyhose and a Fu Manchu. If Brady plays like that, the man can sell Ugg boots.
Bill Belichick is still Bill Belichick. Spygate never happened. (There was nothing on that tape. Nope, nothing at all. Trust us.)
And they’ve got the formula. Here we go again.
Of course, the difference is that a couple of guys are stars, now. First, Belichick. In 2001, he was the guy who had been run out of Cleveland for being a prickly, dour, no-nonsense know-it-all. Or, you know — one of those with a 36-44 record. (It’s amazing how those become positive qualities when you win three Super Bowls.)
These days, Belichick is rubbing shoulders with Walsh and Lombardi, and Parcells and Shula and Landry and Noll.
And Brady. He’s all-world now, all time now.
And yes, his fashion choices are a little weird now. But that’s fine. He could do his postgame in a space suit. That’s how well he’s playing now. (And by the way, the hair? Love it. Then again, look at my mug shot.)
He’s gone Broadway and he’s gone Hollywood and he’s married a Brazilian supermodel, too. Sure, Welker can call him Zoolander. I’m sure Brady will take it. The first time around, when he took over in 2001, he had a different nickname: “Who?”
And also, this one: “WHO?!”
But it worked out then, thanks in large part to the other anonymous pieces he had with him on the field.
It turns out Belichick is one of those coaches who prefers chess pieces. (Yes, he had Lawrence Taylor, when he was an assistant with Bill Parcells with the Giants, and, yes, he has Brady now.) Some coaches just do.
In part it’s a fit, a feel, a style thing. And the other part is, would you rather be known for having great players? Or for making players great? (All my Mike Leach lovers wrote me to say he does it with two-star players. Well, duh. Of course he does. Isn’t that part of the point?)
But give Belichick credit. He tried going flashy. He went out and got Moss, and the Patriots got close. Historically so. They were on the cusp. It seems like they’ve been on the cusp these past several years.
But that just wasn’t him and isn’t them. Here he goes now, back to basics. Back to the beginning.
He’s done this before. He’s got the formula down pat.
Except that Brady is an all-timer, now. It’s true, he dresses like Frenchy Fuqua, these days. But on third-and-long he’s still that sixth-rounder with fire in his eye.
It all feels so familiar. But don’t forget — that means it feels familiar to Belichick and Brady, too. They’ve been here before and they’re even better now. These guys might not even need the “tuck rule” to get them kick-started this time.
Speaking of which, Jon Gruden is a TV announcer. He often looks like he has a pained expression on his face.
It’s like he has a pretty good idea of what’s about to happen next.