I realize it is cliché for a Mass-hole like me to write a blog thanking Tom Brady in the wake of his retirement, but I value authenticity and I authentically feel a need to explain to people why Tom Brady has made such an indelible impact on my life. It goes beyond all the joy of winning and extends into something much deeper about work ethic and legacy.
I remember being a Tom Brady fan before he was even Tom Brady. My father is a die-hard Michigan Wolverine alumnus and fan, and I grew up watching the games on Saturdays with my father. Back then, Michigan was still in its heyday and was a perennial favorite, producing elite athletes like Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, Ty Law, and many others. In 1998, there was a quarterback competition between Brady and a guy named Drew Henson, who was an All-Star QB and athlete who was drafted to play baseball by the New York Yankees. Brady emerged as the starter after being buried as far as 7th on the team’s depth chart and went on to have tremendous success.
When Brady was drafted in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL draft (pick 199 overall), we were elated. We knew Tom Brady was a good quarterback, but as was the case at Michigan, he was buried on the bottom of the quarterback depth chart – all the way at number four. Most teams have two quarterbacks on their roster or three at most, so it was quite unusual for the Patriots to roster four, but it sure is good that they did.
Eventually, due to an injury to star quarterback Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady finally got his chance in the 2001 season. From there, he was electric. He provided me with some of the greatest memories of my life that season. In the AFC Championship game – which occurred in a blizzard – many people think of the infamous tuck rule. But for me, the memory is about being in New Hampshire with my father for a middle school wrestling tournament and being forced to watch that game in a tiny motel on a tiny television due to the weather. When the Patriots went on to win their first Super Bowl as the biggest underdog in NFL history (14 points), I was with my uncles and aunts and grandparents as Vinatieri split the uprights – back when all of my family lived in the same town and before people started to move away.
The years that followed were nothing short of miraculous. The Patriots would win three Super Bowls in four years, winning six total and appearing in nine out of the eighteen seasons that Brady led the team as quarterback. His career would end up equating to three separate Hall-of-Fame careers, in that you could literally split up his 22 seasons into three chunks of 7+ years, and he would have had Hall-of-Fame worthy statistics in each of those timeframes alone.
The memories are too many to list. There was the Super Bowl against the Seahawks, where I watched outside of the stadium as Malcolm Butler made a game-saving interception at the end of the game. I attended the Super Bowl against the Rams, a tactical 13-3 victory. I also attended the Super Bowl against the Falcons, perhaps the greatest NFL game in history, where the Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit late in the third quarter to generate the biggest comeback in NFL history. I almost left that game at halftime and I am glad that I did not. To this day, I cannot believe that the team overcame the odds.
The thing about all of these memories is that they allowed me an opportunity and an outlet to share a moment with very special people. When I was living in New York City, getting together with friends and acquaintances to see a Patriots game was a regular occurrence and it helped me to forge many friendships and relationships that I hold dear to me today. My second date with my now-fiancée was at a Boston sports bar in New York City to watch a Patriots game. I developed a relationship with one of my cousins watching Patriots games. I reconnected with old friends from home or old jobs because of the Patriots.
Something that a lot of people do not understand about Boston sports is that Boston sports fans were a pretty miserable bunch prior to any of this success. Before Boston became TitleTown, it was Loserville. The Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918 and had the second longest championship drought in baseball behind the Chicago Cubs. The Celtics – despite having the most NBA Championships in history – were one of the losingest teams in the NBA and clearly past their heyday. The Bruins were a mediocre team that had not won a championship since 1972. And then of course you had the Patriots who, at the time, were considered one of the worst franchises in the league. Team owner Robert Kraft almost had moved the team away from Massachusetts before all of the success began.
When it comes to Brady, he is more than just a great player and a role model. He is an icon. He was never supposed to be great, but he willed his way into success. He was 7th on the depth chart at Michigan and then he became the starter. He was drafted 199th and emerged as a starter after being 4th on the Patriots depth chart. He overcame the largest odds in Super Bowl history. He set virtually every record you can possibly set. He played deep into his 40s and showed he can still do it at the age of 44. No one worked harder than this guy. I know a lot of people do not like him for whatever reason, but you have to respect him. And when you teach children about the value of work ethic and persistence and believing in yourself versus believing in the opinions of others, there is no better example than Tom Brady.
A lot of people like to give Boston fans a hard time, but you wonder how any fanbase would react to suddenly winning very consistently across all of its teams after suffering for so long. I would grow up hearing my grandfather whine and moan about how he was going to die before the Red Sox could ever win a World Series. The last moment I had with my grandfather was at a Patriots game where I took care of him and made sure he was OK and plugged in to his oxygen machine. The last photo we had together was at the game. Simply put, when I look back over the last twenty years, my life would be decidedly different if Tom Brady had not entered it in some way.