In 1976, the pop/rock band, Orleans, had a fairly successful hit single titled “Still the One.” Perhaps the most popular lyric in the song is contained within the chorus and reads: “We’re still havin’ fun, and you’re still the one.” For most, this is just a sentimental line in an otherwise catchy tune. For New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, however, it might just be the perfect example of life imitating art.
Some consider song lyrics to be modern-day poetry. While that kind of interpretation should always be left to the opinion of the audience, there is no denying that song lyrics can be telling. Of course, the songwriter was referencing his feelings of love for a significant other with whom he has enjoyed a lengthy relationship.
Sound familiar, New England Sports fans? (Ok…I’ll explain)
“We’ve been together since way back when…”
In New England, fans have enjoyed a similar ‘love affair’ with Tom Brady. From the time that he stepped onto the field to relieve an injured-Drew Bledsoe on September 23, 2001, versus the New York Jets, the collective eyes of Patriots Nation have seldom been removed from Brady’s comings and goings. Within the past 17 years, we have watched Brady evolve from an ‘effective, game-managing’ quarterback, to arguably (well…not arguably, in this writer’s opinion) the greatest player in NFL history. That’s quite a journey. However, the road on which he has traveled has not always been paved in smooth gold.
There have been more than a few proverbial potholes.
“He’s just a ‘system’ quarterback.”
“He isn’t as good as Manning, Montana, Rodgers, etc.”
“He’s connected to a shady trainer…he’s got to be on something.”
“He’s just lucky.”
“He is in decline/about to fall off a ‘cliff’ etc. …and, the list goes on.
Yet, Brady’s popularity amongst his fans remains strong. How is that, you ask? He starts by earning their respect on the field.
“After all these years…”
Brady’s on-field resume is as strong as anyone that has ever played the game of football. He has been honored with three NFL MVP awards (2007, 2010, 2017) as well as four Super Bowl MVP awards (Super Bowl XXXVI, XXXVIII, XLIX, and LI.) The latter is the most ever by a single player. He has been selected to 13 Pro Bowls and has led his team to more division titles (15) than any other quarterback in NFL history.
As of the end of the 2017 regular season, Brady is fourth all-time in total career passing yards (66,159), tied for third, with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, in career touchdown passes (488), and third in career passer rating (97.6.) He has never had a losing season as a starting quarterback in the NFL. His career postseason record is 27–10, winning more playoff games than any other quarterback. Brady has appeared in more playoff games than any player at any position. His combined regular-season and postseason wins are also the most of any quarterback in NFL history.
No wonder they call him the GOAT?
Because of his accomplishments and accolades, the case against Brady being among the greatest quarterbacks of all time is utterly laughable. Some will argue that he deserves the top spot. Yet, valid arguments can be made for signal callers such as Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, etc. However, a resume like Brady’s ensures that his legions of fans will always have plenty of evidence to support the claim that he is, indeed, the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT.)
Recently, we found out that a majority of his peers also share that sentiment.
“Can’t get enough…”
For the second consecutive year (and third time in his career,) the Patriots quarterback received the No. 1 ranking in the NFL Network’s annual list of Top 100 NFL Players. The list is a product of anonymous polling of players around the NFL.
Once again, Brady’s statistics make a strong case. He won the 2017 NFL Season MVP, throwing for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He did so while playing through both Achilles and shoulder injuries. Brady once again led the Patriots through the playoffs to Super Bowl LII. Despite the team falling to the Philadelphia Eagles, 42-33, Brady finished the game with 505 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy that is supposed to be ‘over the hill.’
Still, Brady’s detractors often point to his fans being over-zealous about his place in NFL history. They will relegate him to being little more than a fortunate ‘system’ quarterback. (Those that do should be inclined to review the previous two sections of this article… a mere product of the ‘system’ would not sport such an impressive resume.) However, Denver Broncos’ linebacker Von Miller and Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson were among the current NFL players that acknowledged Brady’s ranking to be well-deserved. Each described him as still playing the game at the highest level, and with the fervor and enthusiasm of a man in his early 20s. These are seasoned, and highly-decorated NFL veterans. They are also some of his fiercest competitors. In short, they know greatness when they see it. Brady is still performing at a high level. He’s still the one. In fact, he’s ‘Number One,’ per his competition.
“Even though we grow old, it grows new”
Despite his age and a painful Super Bowl loss, all signs would seem to point towards another successful season for the Patriots with Brady at the helm. All the pieces are in place. Head coach Bill Belichick is still stalking the sidelines. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is back in the fold. Wide Reciever Julian Edelman is returning from a season-ending ACL injury (after likely having to serve a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s substance policy.) Sure, some key components have departed (Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler, etc,). The impact of these losses will surely be felt. However, the core remains intact, right?
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Not so fast…
As Harvey Dent so eloquently stated in The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” Brady has enjoyed an unprecedented level of success and longevity in a sport that is not known for a long shelf-life. As he prepares to turn 41 on August 3, Brady is set to enter his 19th season in the NFL. However, this has not been the typical Brady offseason.
In what provided an unusual narrative, Brady was not present at the ‘optional’ portions of OTA and team workouts. Granted, the key word here is OPTIONAL. Brady was present and accounted for at mandatory minicamp. However, it is uncharacteristic of him to have been absent from organized team events such as these. Perhaps even more jarring to New England sports fans was the implication that Brady may be closer to the end of his career than originally thought. For the past couple of seasons, he has professed his desire to play well into his mid-forties. However, some doubt started to set in this past offseason. From a cryptic conclusion to his docuseries, “Tom vs. Time,” to reported friction with head coach Bill Belichick, fans began to wonder whether Brady might ride off into the sunset a bit earlier than anticipated.
And..the plot thickens…
In addition, much of the media has begun to question Brady’s commitment to football, as well as the Patriots. This has been done both at national and regional levels. As absurd as it may sound to cast doubts upon New England’s most prominent star athlete (especially at the local level,) these questions have not been unfounded. Brady seems to have a very sharp eye fixed on life after football. He often speaks about his passion for his training regimen and lifestyle, chronicled through his work with trainer Alex Guerrero at TB12 Sports. Also, Brady has made spending time with his family a much greater priority, as of late. Therefore, fans and media alike might understandably wonder if football is still the ‘one’ in Brady’s life. If the answer is ‘No,’ does that now make him the villain?
“Still the one…and I wouldn’t switch”
Despite the opinions of some cynics of the “Fourth Estate” who insist that Brady owes the region an explanation, it appears that the Patriots quarterback will avoid the same tragic fate of Harvey Dent. Brady will not and could not be a villain in New England. Quite simply, Brady’s priorities have changed, as do those of all people that are preparing to enter a new phase in their lives. Should he be criticized for daring to think about what his post-NFL life may entail? Would anyone else, in any other walk of life, be chastised for vacationing with his/her children (which included a ridiculous assessment that Brady might have actually used his children as ‘props’ in his social media posts) during the offseason?
However, this is Tom Brady. He is, without question, the most prominent athlete in New England. He’s among the handful of the highest-profile sports figures in the country. The Patriots seemingly invested their immediate future in Brady by trading former backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers in October 2017. You might say the Pats ‘eggs’ are all in the ‘Brady basket’ for 2018. It’s only understandable that some jitters might arise in the hearts of Patriots Nation, based on that alone.
That being said, Brady showed that he is in-shape and remains dedicated to being the quarterback of this franchise by his performance at mandatory minicamp. His teammates, coaches, and even media members all attested to the fact that he is still as vocal, passionate and well-prepared as anyone that steps on a football field. Sure, Brady might be getting older. He might have one eye on retirement, with the other on his own mortality. However, none need to question his dedication to the Patriots.
Why is that? The answer is quite simple.
Brady would not be on a football field unless he wants to be there. By his own admission, his pursuit of the ‘next one’ still drives him as strongly as it always has. While his interests are more diverse, he continues to be intensely passionate about being the quarterback of the New England Patriots. For that reason, Brady’s legion of New England sports fans remains as loyal to him today as when he hoisted his first Lombardi trophy. He first earned their respect as a gutsy, smart quarterback that played hard and delivered victory after victory each week. He has continued to earn that respect by elevating his game every season since. That is why he is still winning MVP awards and competing for Super Bowl championships at age 40 and beyond.
He’s still having fun, and he’s still the one.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC