Sports are a funny thing.
Due to proximity or heritage, or even just random choice, you have assigned yourself an allegiance to a single franchise. During the course of this, you forsake the fortunes of every other team, even those you have a passing fascination with.
For me, Tom Brady has always been a villain. A longtime staple of the superpower Patriots before shifting towards a meteoric rise in Tampa Bay, I have been conditioned to hate this man. The reason for this, is as simple as the fact that he has never worn the particular laundry that I advocate.
What has then eventuated, is that when our team of preference is inevitably eliminated while Brady proceeds to the championship round, one lays their briefest hopes all in the basket of a foreign franchise.
Maybe you decide to hitch your wagon on Brady’s sure-handed excellence. Or you go the other way, favouring the underdog opponents who are staring in the eye of a timeless deity.
For the most part, I have been decidedly pitted against the demon of Tom Brady. I desperately wanted Jake Delhomme and Donovan McNabb to push their teams over the hump in the early days, just as much as I emphatically savoured Eli Manning and Nick Foles’ unlikely slayings of the Bostonian beast.
At the time of his retirement, I first thought to myself, ‘thank goodness, that’s another boogeyman that I won’t have to face ever again’.
But then, something sat and festered. It hearkens back to a poolside bar in Hawaii in mid-2010, where the prevalent story in sporting news was Minnesota’s efforts to bring Brett Favre back for one last hurrah. There I sat, cocktail in hand, while the drama unfolded before my very eyes.
I’ve never been a Favre fan, nor a Packers or Vikings fan (or Jets, if you want to mention that). But I wanted it to happen, I really did.
Brady’s return is a lot of things to me that I’ve yet to unpack. My initial reaction is spiteful ebullience that someone shelled out over $500,000 for what was believed to be his last touchdown pass — my joy stemming from a disdain for those wealthy enough to have expendable income that they spend on a sentimental football instead of, say, charitable efforts towards the disadvantaged — which then quickly ceded to an uncomfortable sense of panicky relief.
The reason for this, is that Tom Brady is the last remaining active player from when I started watching football in 2002, twenty long years ago. It seems a strange affection to assign towards someone I have previously established as an enemy, but it is a torch Brady carries all the same.
As a distinctly unathletic child, sports were the furthest thing from my mind growing up, instead populated by Ninja Turtles, Pokemon and Thomas the Tank Engine (where they remain front of mind to this day, rest assured).
It wasn’t until I decided to try something new in an effort to spend more time with my father back then that I was introduced to the dazzling spectacle that was professional football. The jukes, the hits, the long bombs, the coffin corner punts… I fell in love with it all, and though my adoration went towards the Steve McNairs, the Rich Gannons and the Jeff Garcias of the time, Tom Brady was always present; a flourishing, developing threat that would occupy a fraction of my attention.
His return stamps one more hurrah for that bygone generation. As if his efforts towards a Super Bowl are somehow in lockstep with my own longings for the joys of yesteryear; free of the follies of a stunted career, a failed marriage and a stomach that more and more resembles an overinflated balloon with each passing day.
Somehow, in some perverse way, Tom Brady has become the entrenched antihero of my NFL fandom, often as the ruthless slayer of my chosen squads, but still present and larger than life the whole way through.
If this really is the last push towards a title for Tampa Bay, he cannot count me as one of his supporters. What I can offer, however, is the hope that the Buccaneers stay alive for as long as possible, ideally even to fall at the hand of the upstart Bengals or Bills at the final siren, so that I might milk the memory of what once was to the very end.
To wit, I fear you and loathe you to a degree, Mr. Brady, and yet, I earnestly wish you success up until a certain point. Should this actually be the final year of your illustrious career, may it be up to the standard of your legend.
Also, that was a fumble, and always will be.