Duckler: Fired up to watch Brady on Sunday? Sort of

  • Tom Brady noted how unusual it was not to experience the change of seasons. Douglas R. Clifford/Times

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) fist bumps with a coach before the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Brynn Anderson

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a touchdown pass to Leonard Fournette against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brett Duke) Brett Duke

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Brynn Anderson

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) scores a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) Butch Dill

  • Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates a first down against the New Orleans Saints late in the fourth quarter in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans, La. Chris Graythen / Getty Images

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Washington Football Team, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12), left, celebrates with teammates at the end of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Washington Football Team, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Landover, Md. Tampa Bay won 31-23. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) walks off the field alongside head coach Bruce Arians after a 31-23 victory against the Washington Football Team in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs at FedExField in Landover, Maryland, on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images/TNS) Patrick Smith

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Washington Football Team on Jan. 9, 2021. Al Drago / AP file

  • Tom Brady raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons in overtime at Super Bowl LI in Houston in 2017. Brady and the Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl title two years later over the L.A. Rams. AP file

  • Tom Brady of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on Oct. 10, 2019. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/TNS) Maddie Meyer

  • FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2020, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady walks to the sideline after throwing an interception late in the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass. Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn says the NFC South “is turning into Quarterback South.” Tom Brady's arrival has raised the stakes. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File) Bill Sikes

  • FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2019, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks to pass in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati. Finding a right tackle to help protect Brady is one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers top priorities. (AP Photo/Gary Landers, File) Gary Landers

  • FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2015, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds up the game ball after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough, Mass. Brady was selected to the 2010s NFL All-Decade Team announced Monday, April 6, 2020, by the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) Elise Amendola

  • FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2017, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds a Super Bowl trophy beside others the team previously had won during a rally in Boston to celebrate the team's 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game in Houston. If Tom Brady isn't a unanimous selection to the All-Decade team, it will be a bigger upset than the Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl 3. Next Monday, April 6, 2020, the Hall of Fame and the NFL will announce the roster for the 2010-19 span. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) Elise Amendola

  • FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2015 file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after the NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Glendale, Ariz. Brady, the centerpiece of the New England Patriots’ championship dynasty over the past two decades, appears poised to leave the only football home he has ever had. The 42-year-old six-time Super Bowl winner posted Tuesday, March 17, 2020, on social media “my football journey will take place elsewhere.” The comments were the first to indicate the most-decorated player in NFL history would leave New England. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) David J. Phillip

  • A bouquet of flowers and a sign thanking former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who announced he was leaving the football team, rest on the sidewalk outside the TB12 training center in Boston, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • On Dec. 15, 2019, Tom Brady waves to the crowd after the Patriots faced the Bengals in Cincinnati. AP file

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/23/2021 4:42:32 PM

For some, it’s time to move on, start fresh, appreciate the dynasty and look ahead.

For others, Tom Brady remains a quarterback who still commands their attention and loyalty, as though he never left New England in the first place, as though he was his own team, all by himself.

He returns to familiar territory Sunday, leading his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, into the conference championship game against the Green Bay Packers.

He’ll have a red pirate flag on his helmet, with a scary looking skull and a pair of swords. His team’s mascot is a pirate named Captain Fear.

Yes, it’s been strange watching Brady play for someone else after 20 seasons here. Strange, and wonderful, to recall how in 2001 he replaced fan favorite Drew Bledsoe, who took a hit from Mo Lewis of the Jets that nearly knocked Bledsoe’s chest into the upper deck.

Brady came in and won. And won and won and won. Time to rebuild.

“It’s hard for me to get worked up over Tom Brady,” said Will Moher, who’s coached the varsity team at Pembroke Academy for three seasons.

“Obviously he’s the GOAT (greatest of all time), and (Michael) Jordan and him were the biggest competitors ever. And it does not surprise me he is doing what he is doing, but I’m confused by (the Patriots’) situation more than I am worried about Tom Brady.”

Countered Vincent Waddell, an all-state player at Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton, “I’m rooting for Tom Brady. He is the textbook example of a competitive player. If anybody should win a Super Bowl this year it should be him.”

None of the area high school coaches and players contacted – a half dozen – blamed Brady for leaving. No one is surprised that he’s still great. No matter that he emerged around the same time as Pokemon. So what if he’s 43.

If only the Patriots had known.

“It didn’t surprise me he played well,” said Jack Schaefer, an All-State wide receiver last season at Pembroke Academy. “He’s definitely old, but with the weapons he has and the mentality he has, he is almost unbeatable.”

Asked, however, if his passions were growing as Sunday’s game approached, Schaefer said, “No, not at all. I’ll be rooting for him, yes. But if the Pats were on, I would be very nervous by this time.”

Brady won 17 division titles in 21 years. He played in nine Super Bowls, a record. He won six of them, a record. Then, after last season, he joined the Bucs.

By then, he was the GWOAT: greatest winner of all time. In any sport. It took years for Michael Jordan to reach the top and stay there, winning six NBA championships in eight seasons. And Bill Russell won 11 championships with the Celtics, but that was back in an eight-team league.

Brady won, right from the start, and he kept winning. He left New England because he had no weapons, or he was underpaid for years, or he and coach Bill Belichick no longer got along, or the Patriots had no interest in giving an old man a two-year deal, worth up to $60 million.

Take your choice.

It doesn’t matter much now. Thoughts for many have turned to finding a quarterback not named Cam Newton and signing a few outside speedsters for the new guy to throw to.

Moher said the Patriots’s success under Brady quenched his thirst for titles, at least for now. He’s confident he won’t yell at the TV during Sunday’s NFC title game.

“I’m feeling a little dispassionate,” Moher said. “I’m not rooting for or against him. He has six rings, nine times in the Super Bowl. It’s like looking up an ex-girlfriend. We had great times, so I’m going to move on.”

For Moher, the topping on the sundae was the Super Bowl four years ago, when the Patriots erased a 25-point lead in the second half and beat the Falcons. That will last him a while.

“The most amazing sporting event I ever saw in my life,” Moher said. “He owed us nothing after that.”

The narrative here, fans know, could have gone in various directions, centering around the search to determine why the Patriots were so good for so long.

Brady or coach Bill Belichick? It ranked alongside other great debates, like the one involving Ginger and Mary Ann.

It’s unquantifiable, of course, but it’s hard to believe that Brady was not the biggest reason for the Patriots’ recent dynasty.

It’s hardly a coincidence that the Bucs are making their first playoff appearance in 13 years, or that the Patriots finished with a losing record after winning 11 straight division titles.

Now, he’s been labeled the GOAT, and his performance this season did nothing to damage that claim. He threw 40 touchdown passes, tied for second in the NFL. He has the records for touchdown passes and wins for quarterbacks 40 and older. By a mile.

Meanwhile, the other ancient star quarterbacks who were in the playoffs – Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees and Philip Rivers – looked old this month. They all lost.

Brady, older than the rest, has, somehow, taken his instincts under pressure to a new level, his concrete feet able to side step or suddenly slam on the brakes to avoid speeding, ferocious linebackers.

He proved that in the era of running quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Josh Allen, you can still utilize a drop-back passing style to win, with a line of great blockers in front of you, and an Houdini-like talent to escape the rush.

That’s what led to this sad New England tale. Brady didn’t stick to the plan. The one that anticipated he’d grow old, relatively speaking, like a normal human being, a normal quarterback, and that would lead to a nice, neat retirement party for the GOAT who played his whole career in one place.

Like Steve Grogan did, for 16 seasons.

No one, including Belichick, believed Brady could keep playing this way, and that’s why the $55 or $60 million contract Brady sought over two years was a scary investment.

He got it from the Bucs, however, and now the greatest QB in NFL history has raised the level of his greatness. He’s no longer the best quarterback in the NFL, but he’s in the top three or five, and that makes no sense.

Even a Giants fan has come aboard, praising Brady for doing something no one has ever seen in sports history. His name is Jim O’Rourke, and he’s an assistant football coach for the Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton football team.

He grew up in upstate New York and was teammates at Hamilton College with Sean Ryan, who later coached with the Giants during their Super Bowl wins over the Patriots, in 2008 and ’12.

He enjoyed VIP privileges then. He disliked Brady then. No more.

“I never really cared for Brady,” O’Rourke told me. “But he’s hyper competitive, and that makes people really good if they have the talent and the drive. He was a sixth-round choice and he’s is still hanging on to it, and I kind of admire that.”

Chase Phaneuf is an assistant varsity coach with O’Rourke. He’s 31. That means he was in grade school when the Patriots started winning championships. He got spoiled, but he appreciates what Brady did for him. He’ll be rooting hard for him.

“I heard stories when they were not good,” Phaneuf said. “Luckily for me, all my great football memories are great, and that’s all because of Tom Brady. He makes everyone around him better and he commands the game. The level he still achieves at his age, it’s amazing what he’s done.”

Amazing enough to create a section of Patriots fans who will support Brady like they support the Patriots.

Jay Wood, the head coach at Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton, capitalized the word “YES” when asked in an email if he’ll be cheering hard for Brady.

“It is good for football to see Brady have continued success with a new program,” the email read. “Brady is a man who has taken full advantage of opportunities that have come his way, and that is a great lesson for all athletes.”

Schaefer, while only 17, took a balanced approach, blending his hope for the future, without Brady, with his respect for what the old GOAT pulled off this season.

He’s a grateful Patriots fan.

“If the Patriots were playing, I’d worry about what we would do if we lost,” Schaefer said. “The Bucs are not my team and they never will be.

“But I will always love Tom Brady.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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