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by David Staba
Tom's Terrificness Makes Best-Ever QB comic Villain
I wish I could say that the first time I saw Tom Brady play football, I knew he was destined to become the greatest, and most hated, quarterback of all time.
But, like anyone else who was alive and aware of the National Football League in 2001, I would be lying.
My earliest memory of Brady was driving from Providence, R.I., to Foxborough, Mass., in early November of that year on the morning of his first appearance ever against the Buffalo Bills. Much of the local pre-game radio broadcast centered on whether second-year New England coach Bill Belichick should give the starting job back to Drew Bledsoe once the Patriots legend’s spleen had fully healed (it had been ruptured two months earlier by New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis), or stick with the second-year sixth-round draft choice from Michigan, who had led his team to four wins in six starts since Bledsoe’s internal eruption.
It seemed like an easy decision at that point. Bledsoe was Bledsoe, a rocket-armed prototype who had thrown for 3,500 yards or more in six of his first eight seasons, earned Pro Bowl honors three times and led New England to Super Bowl XXXI.
Brady had been far from spectacular since replacing Bledsoe, exceeding 300 yards just once in his first six starts, while struggling badly in losses to Miami and Denver. Sticking with Brady seemed to make sense only in the contrarian world-view of Bill Belichick, the failed former Cleveland Browns coach who, midway through his second season in New England, appeared destined for another quick firing.
Brady didn’t do much against Buffalo that day, either, finishing 15-of-21 passing for just 107 yards—barely 5 per attempt. I don’t remember a single play Brady made that day. In fact, the only snap I can still see came in the fourth quarter, when Rob Johnson—trying to rally the Bills from an 11-point deficit with five minutes remaining, rolled to his right, looking to launch one deep downfield.
As was Johnson’s wont, he held the ball. And held the ball. And held the ball.
All the while, New England cornerback Terrell Buckley was running full speed across the field. I saw him coming from what seemed like the opposite sideline. So did everyone else in the stadium.
Except Rob Johnson, that is. Buckley launched himself into Johnson, planting him into the turf and separating his right shoulder.
A few plays later, Brady himself was sacked—by none other than the immortal Kendrick Office—and fumbled, though his shoulder remained intact.
That’s where the similarities end for the two quarterbacks, as well as their respective franchises.
Johnson never held on to a football for too long for Buffalo again, bouncing from Tampa to Oakland to Washington over the next two seasons.
Brady, meanwhile, kept his job. He led New England to six wins in its final seven regular-season games, then three more victories in the postseason, capped by a 20-17 win over St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI. He’s done OK for an unheralded replacement since then, getting New England into the playoffs 12 times in 14 ensuing seasons, including three more Super Bowl wins, a pair of losses in The Big Game. On Sunday, he tries for a seventh Super Bowl appearance when the Patriots face Denver in the AFC title game.
It seems kind of cruel to publish this list, but while Brady was doing all that, Buffalo’s starting quarterbacks have included Alex Van Pelt, Travis Brown, Bledsoe (who, after a pretty great half a season immediately after arriving in Buffalo, proved that Bill Belichick made the right call by sticking with Brady), J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Brian Brohm, Ryan Fitzpatrick, E.J. Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis, Jeff Tuel, Kyle Orton and Tyrod Taylor.
While the Bills struggled to find a quarterback of the present, to say nothing of the future, their divisional tormentors had one for the ages. Brady won his first Super Bowls with offenses that featured big power backs like exiled Bills first-round pick Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon, and took the most recent Lombardi Trophy utilizing an attack that barely bothered to run the ball. In between, he ran an offense that strafed the rest of the league on the way to the first unbeaten regular season in 35 years (and the only one since).
No other quarterback—not Joe Montana, not Terry Bradshaw, not Johnny Unitas—comes close to matching Brady in terms of wins and championships stretched over so long a span. His counterpart in Sunday’s AFC title game, Peyton Manning, has thrown for more yards and touchdowns, but has also played three additional full seasons.
While Manning has played a complementary role to Denver’s dominant running game and defense since returning from a foot injury and general arm disintegration for the stretch run, Brady is as central to the Patriots’ chances as he was a decade ago.
Which might help explain some of the hate. For 15 years, Brady—along with co-conspirator Belichick—have made a mockery of the NFL’s central thesis: That on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other, and that in any season, every franchise has a chance to go all the way. The Patriots aren’t invincible, as proven twice in Super Bowl upset losses to the New York Giants and conference championship defeats by Baltimore and Denver following the 2012 and ‘13 seasons. That only further frustrates the haters, though. Every time it seems Brady and his team are finally finished, they reload and return as good, or better, than ever.
They certainly don’t help themselves any with capers like the largely covered-up Spygate conspiracy, or the far-less important but much-more wailed-about Ballghazi hubbub. But after the former, Brady torched the league as New England went 18-0 before losing to David Tyree’s helmet in the Super Bowl. And following the latter, he tortured much of the country by routing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in court before producing another ridiculous statistical season—a 38-year old throwing 36 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions? Come on, now. Manning, when he was able to play this year, managed a ratio of 9-17.
And all the while, Brady has lived a cleft-chinned life—ditching a gorgeous actress for a super-model, proudly parading around in a pair of Uggs, sensitively posing with a baby goat for GQ—seemingly designed to troll a nation of mucho-macho non-Patriots fans.
Opposing players share in the animosity. Several Broncos defenders called Brady out this week for complaining to the referees about rough hits. On whether he could accurately be called a “crybaby,” as per countless internet memes, Denver defensive end Antonio Smith said: “That would be an accurate statement…Every time he gets sacked he looks at the ref like, ‘You see him sack me? Was that supposed to happen? He did it a little hard. Please throw a 15-yard penalty on him. Get him fined.’”
All of which will only make it that much more agonizing for the Broncos (not to mention the vast majority of Bills fans, who will be wearing orange and blue, at least in spirit, on Sunday) when he gets the Patriots into yet another Super Bowl.
The author has written about the Buffalo Bills, among other topics, since 1990, and publishes We Want Marangi at wewantmarangi.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on the Twitter at @DavidStaba.blog comments powered by Disqus
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