The Tom Brady Way
By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports columnist
Tom Brady was always going to be in the Super Bowl.
The Packers had a good shot at stopping him. Aaron Rodgers had just completed what could be his third MVP regular season, with 48 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and Green Bay looked about as perfect as a football team can look against the Rams in the divisional round .
The NFC Championship was at Lambeau for the first time in Rodgers’ career, and he desperately needed to get to a second Super Bowl — and win it — to cement his legacy.
The team was fired up, with offensive weapons such as Davante Adams and Aaron Jones putting up monster stats last weekend. Head coach Matt LaFleur and Rodgers clicked this season to create football magic, going 13-3 for the second year in a row.
Brady did what Brady does: win.
It’s not that he has gotten lucky with calls, though he has. It’s not "the cheating," though that has reared its head. You can’t get lucky or game the system to success like Brady's.
There is no making excuses for what Brady is: simply the greatest to ever do it.
Brady’s inevitable march toward playing the first home Super Bowl of all time began the minute he signed with Tampa Bay (which happened the same day many East Coast cities went into lockdown, so we couldn’t even go to bars about it). The man who led six squads to Super Bowl wins was joining a team loaded with potential. It lacked only a leader.
Not only was Tampa already stacked with targets for Brady, but the new Florida Man also convinced his old pal Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement, invited the disgraced Antonio Brown over for an extended sleepover and persuaded Bruce Arians to let him basically coach the team.
The season was over before it started. And now, Pats fans have no idea how to feel.
Well, that’s not true. I’m projecting here. Lots of them know exactly how they feel.
I can’t go to games to talk to as many fans as possible right now, so I’ve had to rely on social media to try to get a handle on how Pats Nation is doing. If a survey of tweets, my DMs and way too many texts with people from New England is any indication, I’ve never before seen such a range of responses to a sports situation.
Some seem to blindly love Brady and are strictly grateful for the two decades of winning he brought to New England. This is a charitable response and probably the objectively correct one, given that he became the GOAT in Foxborough and created a dynasty that lasted longer than any other in sports history.
Some even say he’s still a Patriot, which is technically not true, but I get the sentiment.
Some fans, however, hate Brady for leaving. ("He’s dead to me," a friend from Boston told me.) Others feel betrayed. Some are mad at the Patriots for letting him go.
It would be one thing if Brady went to Tampa and totally sucked, but he went to Tampa and is in the process of proving that he is — and forever will be — the greatest of all time.
The Patriots didn’t even make the playoffs.
I made a video last week in which I poured my bitter heart out on the internet. I said I didn’t want Brady to win because it was too painful and that I now understand what it has been like for other fan bases to deal with walking into the Brady buzz saw over and over.
But after I put that video out, I realized it’s not the full story. The truth is I don’t want Brady to win because I don’t know how to separate my Patriots fandom from him, and if he just goes away, I don’t have to figure it out.
I worry that if I keep rooting for him, you see, it might mean I was never really a Pats fan at all. Maybe I was just a "Tom Brady’s team" fan. My fandom took off once he got there — sure, I rooted for Drew Bledsoe — but I was 11 when Brady won his first ring.
Even if you’re older, Brady became the Patriots to the point that this season has meant mental gymnastics for many fans. I desperately want to believe that there was something special going on in New England those 20 years, some beautiful partnership of a genius GM/coach and a brilliant quarterback.
And maybe there was. Belichick always seemed like the dark lord of football, and one season with half the defense out because of a deadly virus and a quarterback who didn’t look like his old self isn’t exactly a fair sample of post-Brady life.
But Belichick did draft poorly historically, and he let the roster deteriorate to a place where Ryan Fitzpatrick could beat the Patriots at home and the Tennessee Titans could end Brady’s New England career on a pick-six. Brady didn’t have the help he needed, even after he took pay cuts to stay with the team.
Watching Brady do exactly what he did in New England with a new team starts to erode the belief that we were watching a once-in-a-lifetime fusion of football prowesses.
Maybe we were just watching the best player ever for 20 years. I think it’ll take one more season to know for sure, and even then, you can’t erase what Brady, Belichick and everyone in New England did together.
But right now, there’s a clear winner, and it’s the GOAT.
Once we've made it through this virus hell, I hope I never see the word "unprecedented" ever again as long as I live. But precedent does provide a path toward understanding and processing.
In the curious case of Tom Brady, there isn’t one. We’ve never seen a 43-year-old look like a hot new rookie. (That includes the three interceptions he threw against Green Bay; pobody’s nerfect.)
I don’t know what the next two weeks will look like for Pats fans. I know that I’ll be oscillating between hating Brady, missing him, loving him, wishing he would just go away and then feeling bad about all of it. It would’ve been much easier if he’d lost to Aaron Rodgers, but he didn’t, so here we are.
There is one thing I know: Tom Brady is the best quarterback of all time.