Tom Brady, football and childhood heroes
THIS ONE THING
Lead Graphic Designer
Three years, one month, four days, that’s how old I was the first time Tom Brady took the field for the New England Patriots. I wasn’t watching much football that I remember at the time and certainly my Alabama native family wasn’t watching the Patriots. However, I do remember Feb. 3, 2002 my dad had just taken a job as a pastor in the Saint Louis area and our church hosted a party to watch Super Bowl XXXVI. There I sat in a room full of people cheering on the Rams then referred to as “the Greatest Show on Turf.” At 4-years old ,I figured the two teams in the Super Bowl were the two best teams and I would become a fan of the winner, since they were the better of the two. On the final drive of the game, second year quarterback Tom Brady lead his team on a drive for Adam Vinatieri’s game winning field goal that left John Madden astonished and a room full of members of the First Baptist Church highly disappointed. It was then that I figured the Patriots must be the best team in football, and if they were the best I’d be a fan.
I can’t say I tuned in every week of the 2002 and 2003 seasons, but I knew I liked the Patriots and Tom Brady was their best player or
at least the only one I recognized.
Once again the church hosted their annual party in 2003. This time the room was filled with fewer people fueled by rooting interest, but I was locked in. Once again I watched Tom lead his team down the field when it mattered most and the Pats were once again world champs.
In 2004, it was Tom and the guys again in the big game. This time I knew more names, Corey Dillion, Teddy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel and the like. They soundly beat the Philadelphia Eagles My grandparents were in town from Alabama and I remember them cheering with me, not caring about the game, but wanting the team to win for my sake. From then on, I was in. I didn’t know much about football, but I knew a couple things. The Patriots were the best team and Tom Brady was the best quarterback.
The next time the Patriots made it to the championship I was 10 years older. I knew more about the game of football. I understood what play action meant (thanks to Madden 2008) and how to run a “post route.” The Patriots were perfect that year finishing the regular season 16-0. After two playoff wins they were set to face off against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. I remember people asking if I thought the Patriots would win and proudly boasting I thought they should just let the team start the Pro Bowl and finish the season 20-0.
Cheering for Goliath to beat David is something I did my fair share of over the years, but that night the underdogs shocked the world. On a play where Eli Manning wouldn’t go down (the refs ignored multiple holds by the offensive line) and David Tyree made the second greatest catch in Super Bowl history I experienced the first “yes, no, YES, NO” feeling ever of my sports fandom.
Tom and the guys had a chance to win the game and with the clock running out ,he threw probably the most impressive throw of his career, but couldn’t connect with Randy Moss. I remember walking laps around the church building in the freezing cold. I was so invested in this team. I was so positive they would win. That loss and the ensuing criticism of the Pats would invigorate my status as a fan of both Brady and New England.
After an injury to Brady just a few minutes into the 2008 season, I remember cheering for Tom’s return in 2009. Tom and the guys made another run at the championship in 2011, but were defeated again by Manning and the G Men. If Brady’s career ended after this, or if he never played in another Super Bowl, he would have more than fulfilled his role as my childhood hero. He had five Super Bowl appearances, two NFL MVPs, a couple NFL records and I had memories to last a life time. As my adolescence turned into my teenage years, my childhood was coming to an end, but Tom was just getting started.
In 2012 and 2013 Tom didn’t slow down. In fact, it looked like he was getting better. In 2013, I moved from Saint Louis back to my birthplace in Mobile, Ala. At 16 years old, everything changed in my life, my school, my friends, the culture around me, but Tom was constant.
After knocking off a talented Ravens team, the Patriots stomped the Colts in the AFC championship and would face the Legion of Boom in Brady’s sixth Super Bowl appearance. Late in the fourth, with the Patriots up four, a miracle catch from Jermaine Kearse would put Seattle near the end zone. In that moment, the same feeling I felt as that 10-year-old boy walking laps around the church in the freezing cold came rushing back. In a jaw dropping play, Patriots defender Malcom Butler saved the day with an interception on the goal line. The cameras cut to Tom jumping up and down on the sideline and I was at home jumping with him.
Tom’s fifteenth and sixteenth season in the NFL would be marked with controversy. In an (scientifically disproven) accusation, members of the Colts organization surmised that the reason behind their (45-7) embarrassing loss in the 2014 AFC Championship, wasn’t their inability to score points, but two of 12 game balls that were under inflated by a minimal amount. Although he was acquitted by a federal judge, the NFL suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2016 season. Tom responded by going to the next three Super Bowls, with all twelve balls passing inspection in each game. These games included the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, when Tom brought the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit in the third quarter with a win over the Atlanta Falcons. He set a NFL record 505 yard. three TD, and zero interception game, in which the NFL MVP Brady’s Patriots fell short to the Philadelphia Eagles, and a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Brady left New England after the 2019 season but the 41-year-old quarterback wasn’t done. He spent the next two years in Tampa Bay winning his eighth Super Bowl at 43 -years-old and bringing his team back to almost beat the Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs on Jan. 23. In his final season in the NFL the 44-year-old, Brady lead the league in yards passing and touchdowns.
Twenty four years, six months, one day, that’s how old I was last Tuesday when Tom officially announced his retirement. Tom Brady’s career started when I was in preschool and lasted through elementary, high school and college. During Tom’s career I have lived in four different states and nine houses. My love for football has been congruent with my years cheering him on. I started pretending I was him playing football in the field by my house with my brother. I wore the number 12 in high school even though I was a linebacker because I wanted to be like Brady. This fall will be my seventh season coaching football. I’m hoping to instill the love for the game in others Tom gave me during my formative years.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited to have said “Change is the only constant.” You don’t have to live long to confirm this universal truth. Sports have always been a big part of my life and have brought great moments of joy and moments of disappointment. Every season is different and with each new year there is change. In my 21 years of watching, playing and coaching football there has been something that did not change. Tom Brady year after year has been an inspiration to me regardless of what people think your potential is, or what has been done by others in the past, anything is possible.
Brady, the 199th overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft, is an seven time World Champion, three time NFL MVP, and has set countless NFL records. His time in the NFL could easily be divided into three hall-of-fame worthy careers. He is undisputedly the single greatest football player of all time and to think of him as anything else is living in as much denial as thinking Deflategate has .02 PSI worth of legitimacy.
I will remember Tom for all those things in the same way Kentuckians remember Adolph Rupp coaching college basketball and Muhammed Ali in the ring. Most of all, I remember Tom Brady as my hero. I will see him through the eyes of a little kid who cheered him on with all my heart. Tom will always be larger than life and I wouldn’t want to think of him any other way.