Fans love a good story. It is what fuels their love for the game. Sure, hometown loyalties or parental influence can shape a person’s rooting interests, but it is the culmination of a gripping narrative years-in-the-works that makes the complete emotional investment in a team worthwhile.
Fans latch onto these heroic tales, usually in the form of athletes, legends whose impact goes beyond their local fan base and stretches out nationwide. Their defining achievements are remembered even by those who do not even understand the terminology. Their retirements inevitably turn into spectacles always overshadowing all other headlines around the world, as it somehow escapes us that that it is a rather mundane process that everyone goes through. But the normal rules do not apply to them. These larger-than-life figures are the essence of what has transformed the hobby of sports into a significant aspect of the lives of many Americans. They are who everyone after them strives to be. While those outside of the New England area may refuse to acknowledge it, Tom Brady is that transcendent, ideal athlete.
Brady checks off all of the boxes necessary to be the standard for which all athletes could only hope to emulate, at least on the field. It is not just his propensity for consistently throwing tight spirals, even at age 39, or his ability to make everyone around him better, but a combination of his prowess and a rare rags-to-riches story that makes No. 12 the most fitting of such an esteemed honor. His greatness is unquestioned, yet always seems to be followed by the word “but,” not even necessarily for his alleged role in Deflategate, but more so because his coronation as the “Golden Boy” always felt a bit premature or undeserved in the eyes of many. People do not have to like Brady, and most of them don’t, but his ascension to the top of his field is the embodiment of why we all love sports in the first place.
Brady’s resume reads off like a Hollywood script. The scrawny kid from California climbed his way up from the bottom of the depth chart at the University of Michigan and usurped Drew Henson to become the starting quarterback. The adversity did not stop when he was handed the reins, however, as Brady again lost out to Henson. The doubt and the second-guessing continued as Brady was nearly left for dead in the NFL draft. His recent win in the Orange Bowl, a clutch comeback performance foreshadowing things to come, did not change the minds of scouts, who thought he was physically inadequate to succeed at the next level. He found a perfect match with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in the sixth round, when all of the wonder and awe that tends to be associated with the blue-chip prospects had long dissipated from the building.
The consensus on Brady would appear to have his career trajectory trending towards high school coaching, but through an impeccable work ethic and a penchant for the “moment”, Brady changed his narrative. He capitalized on an injury to Drew Bledsoe, the unfortunate sacrificial lamb in Brady’s quest for excellence, and went on to win five championships. He turned a death sentence into winning lottery numbers, soon becoming the envy of all his counterparts and fans alike. His inspirational rise from the Michigan pine to the should-be highest mantle in Canton would be considered too cliché for any sports film. Rudy got his day in the sun, but not a Hall-of-Fame career. Brady is not just some underdog, but instead has the feel of the protagonist in any movie about a hero’s journey. He is the young, awkward teen, who had no idea that he was destined for glory. The greatness was always brewing, but just needed an opportunity to be unleashed. Bill Belichick is his Yoda, helping him reach his full potential. He faces adversity in each Super Bowl, but like in the movies, always finds a way to overcome it, none more so than his most recent conquest of the Atlanta Falcons.
Brady is not just a superstar, he is also a showman. The NFL’s biggest stage shines its brightest when Brady and the Pats are front and center. He wows people, even his detractors with his polished skill and sends you home exhilarated, whether you are satisfied by the outcome or not. He is the very definition of sports entertainment.
Alas, every hero has his vices, and Brady’s is perceived shadiness. He was relentlessly persecuted by Commissioner Roger Goodell for cheating on the basis of circumstantial evidence, and thus a villain was born. Destroying one’s cell phone has an undeniably guilty connotation attached to it, but even in his darkest moment Brady emerged a hero of circumstance. Goodell, without shame, made deflated footballs a priority, while violence and crime adds to the growing stain his tenure as commissioner has produced. In a morally comprising league, Brady serves as the lesser evil, whether people want to admit it or not. It is unclear of the true nature of Brady’s involvement, but the Brady haters will not forget. It is what they cling to as an excuse for why they will not conform to my way of thinking.
His role in the scandal should not take away from the whole story, because his legacy is one so unique that it should stand in its own category. He was not tapped as the next big thing like Peyton Manning or universally beloved throughout like Derek Jeter, but his story is just as compelling, if not more so. Look past the scandals when assessing the overall product, because that does not make his journey to the mountaintop any less special or improbable. We like to grimace and say Brady is great, but….. But nothing. His past will stay with him. That is the cross he has to bare, but he is still an emblem of hope for all of the collegiate castoffs who were destined to a fate of obscurity and clipboard holding. Say what you want, but Brady is the epitome of the American Dream.