Tom Brady has officially left the New England Patriots and has signed a two-year contract to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That sentence makes me want to throw up, cry and defenestrate my computer. It doesn’t even seem real that my childhood hero has left Gillette Stadium as a New England Patriot for the final time.
Even with his future hanging in the balance after this season, I never doubted the fact that he’d return to the Patriots for another Super Bowl run. I never doubted the fact that he’d be parading down Tremont Street triumphantly holding his seventh Lombardi Trophy. And I never doubted that he’d retire as a New England Patriot.
Brady was never one who attracted the spotlight early in his career. Coming out of the University of Michigan after throwing 30 touchdowns in four seasons, Tom wasn’t a top quarterback prospect for the 2000 NFL Draft. Although he was projected to be a Day 2 draft choice, he instead took a dreadful draft-day fall to the 199th pick, where the New England Patriots were waiting.
In his rookie season, Brady took a backseat to seasoned veteran Drew Bledsoe, who led the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 1997, before falling to Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. However, Brady continued to display his incredible work ethic and diligence in the offseason and won the praise of many coaches in the Patriots system.
During a game against the New York Jets in 2001, Bledsoe suffered a sheared blood vessel in his chest after a hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis and was forced to leave the game. Brady finally received his chance — and he ran with it. He led the underdog Patriots to three Super Bowl victories in four years and established a dynasty in New England. He won the hearts of every young Patriots fan, including me.
Brady embodied the true meaning of being an underdog. Every single draft scout wrote him off as a bust or, at best, a backup journeyman. Yes, Brady isn’t the most athletic quarterback. He doesn’t have any speed or the best arm, and his mobility is mediocre. But his determination, grit and fiery attitude led him to six Super Bowl wins and various accolades.
Whenever Brady received the ball down by seven in the fourth quarter, I never doubted him. Contrary to other quarterbacks in the NFL, Brady wanted the ball under pressure; that’s where he thrived. He never seemed to lose his confidence in the pocket, no matter who he was throwing to.
Prior to Brady’s Foxboro, Mass. arrival, the Patriots reached only two Super Bowls in over 40 years. They suffered through a handful of painful and rebuilding seasons. Most years, they could barely fill half the capacity in the old Foxboro Stadium. Brady arrived and instilled a sense of joy across New England. Brady gave New England 20 years of incredible football and amazing memories while continuing his legend status in the NFL.
As I continue to read the Brady headlines during this social-distancing era, I will never fully believe that Brady has left New England. Brady has made me cry, punch walls, hug strangers and associate myself with the group of degenerates that is the Patriots faithful. I used to play football in my backyard, and I’d imagine I was Tom Brady throwing to Randy Moss to win the Super Bowl. Every Sunday afternoon Tom Brady ruled my family’s TV as my dad and I would enthusiastically cheer after every Brady touchdown. Tom Brady isn’t just a football player to me: He was my childhood hero and a symbol of happiness for New England.
I will keep wrestling with the idea that the Patriots will roll with a quarterback that isn’t Tom Brady next season. Us Patriots fans were spoiled with greatness, and I will never forget the childhood memories that Tom Brady gave me. Brady entered the NFL as a no-name, backup-destined quarterback and left Gillette Stadium as a legend 20 years later.
No one in New England will forget what Tom Brady did for this organization and city. He will always be in our hearts. TB12 forever.