It’s finally Tom Brady week in New England, but Patriots Country doesn’t really seem like it’s in the mood to party.
The Patriots are licking their wounds after an embarrassing loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and are now staring 1-3 in the face with Brady making his return to Foxboro. (And don’t forget about that other all-time Patriots legend.)
The seven-time (still stings, doesn’t it?) Super Bowl champion brings the defending kings of the league, who should be out for blood after losing a potential NFC Championship preview to the Rams on Sunday in Los Angeles.
But let’s not get caught up in the micro this week. There will be a football game Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, featuring two teams with plenty on the line. Bill Belichick will try his absolute damnedest to keep the focus on football. Brady probably will do the same. The irony, in some ways, is this week should be a celebration — or at least a reflection — of what has happened here over the last 20 years, and that should be the focus with the 60 minutes of actual playing second fiddle.
Not very Patriots-like, is it?
This isn’t your typical week of buildup to a football game, though. There’s literally no precedent for this. When Brett Favre made his return to Green Bay in 2009, it was a massive story, but he never even came close to matching what Brady did with the Patriots in terms of team success. Not only that, Favre isn’t tied to any one person for his Packers era like Brady is with Belichick.
There will be plenty of people this week, mostly Patriots fans, who will wonder why this is such a big deal. They’ll whine and complain about the Brady narrative dominating the discussion. One NESN.com reader asked Patriots writer Zack Cox in last week’s Patriots mailbag why the media “keep asking and recycling Tom Brady news.” Simply asking that question is being intentionally obtuse.
Brady is the most accomplished athlete in Patriots history. He’s the most decorated player in NFL history. He’s arguably the greatest team sports athlete of all time. If you can’t understand why his first return — and everything else that comes with it — to the place he spent 95% of his career is a big deal, you have your head in the sand, and you’re doing a disservice to just how rare this opportunity is.
Obviously, this is far more than a Week 4 football game. But if you actually step back and really think about it, this is the sort of thing that doesn’t happen every week, every year and in some cases, it doesn’t even happen every generation. That Brady — at 44 years old! — is coming off a dominant Super Bowl victory and remains on the short list of MVP candidates only adds to the intrigue. The Washington Wizards went 35-47 in each of Michael Jordan’s two comeback seasons, and his individual performance was a far cry from his Chicago prime.
Oh, and don’t forget: Brady is going to break another record on the Gillette turf this week.
And it’s the Belichick factor that really makes this one of the most fascinating weeks in the history of New England sports. They won so much together that the conversation eventually shifted to not whether they could continue to win together but instead whether they could win apart. Brady answered that with a resounding yes. The jury remains out on Belichick, whose team looks as hapless as it has in just about any point of his legendary Patriots tenure.
It’s still early, but Belichick hasn’t done much to dispel the notion he and Brady have, at best, a frosty relationship. Brady will try like hell this week to take the high road, but his team got a head start on the narrative battle last week when both his father and best friend shot off their mouths about how things ended for Brady in Foxboro. That there is no in-house gag order from TB12 himself is telling in its own right.
You could argue this week doesn’t have the same buzz it should have because the Patriots aren’t very good. That would have certainly made things more compelling. But from a Brady-in-New England perspective, the Patriots’ current standing should add a little perspective. People were spoiled for two decades. Nearly 20 years of expecting your football team to win the Super Bowl. How do you even put that into proper context?
That could be part of the reason for apprehension when it comes to embracing the Tom Brady circus this week. Patriots fans are going through the five stages of grief, and here comes the ex, who looks even better than you remembered, and they’ve certainly found someone much better than you, too. At this point, you just want to be left alone to crank Adele with a pint of Haagen-Dazs while watching Alabama highlights for the 238th time as you try to convince yourself Mac Jones truly is the next great one. Rejecting the importance and magnitude of Brady’s return sure feels like a defense mechanism.
It’s probably also slightly overstated, with tickets in the 300s to Sunday’s game carrying price tags exceeding $300 per stub being classified as “amazing” deals on SeatGeek. And when Sunday night finally rolls around — Carrie Underwood’s ear worm will never be more accurate — it’s likely any frustrations with how things are going in New England should subside, even for the biggest Patriots honks.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to honor a once-in-a-generation player. Embrace it then and now. These sorts of things don’t happen all the time, and if we’ve learned anything from the Brady saga, it’s that nothing lasts forever.