What was it like for a Patriots fan to watch the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl? I’ll tell you.

As a New England Patriots fan, I meant to do a Tom Brady appreciation post last spring when he officially left my home team as a free agent. I should’ve written that. It’s a worthy subject. To watch Brady win his 7th Super Bowl, and to not be able to also claim it for ourselves as Patriots fans, is a dagger to the heart.

You have to understand that for people my age from New England who enjoy sports, Tom Brady has been an integral part of our adult lives. Watching Tom Brady play football has been a consistent 4-6 month fixture on my calendar for 20 years. That’s half my damn life I’ve been watching this guy and talking about him with friends and debating his merits with haters jealous turds fans of other teams. Outside of my family and friends, I’ve probably spent more time with Brady on my TV screen than I have any actor, musician, news personality or politician. In a literal sense, if you go by time invested, he’s likely the most prominent public figure of my lifetime. This isn’t regular hero worship or idolatry.

If there were a Mount Rushmore of Boston sports, don’t even bother putting Brady on it. He has to be separate. He’s on the mountain ABOVE Mount Rushmore. Better yet, he IS the mountain. Brady’s face is carved into the entire side of the mountain and the carvings of our other sports legends are etched across his forehead. Bill Russell, Ted Williams, Larry Bird, David Ortiz, Bobby Orr? All peasants compared to what Brady and the Patriots have meant to New England since 2001. Robert Kraft is essentially New England’s grandfather; Bill Belichick our mean uncle. When Brady left the team, it wasn’t a shock to people who had been paying attention. However, it represented the end of a dynasty the likes of which I, you, or probably anyone alive right now will see ever again in their lifetimes in football or any other sport. And the realization of that took some time to adjust to. Many in New England clearly still haven’t accepted it based on what I heard on the radio during the Bucs’ playoff run.

Let’s be clear about the facts here. This wasn’t “Belichick didn’t want Brady anymore and they let him go.” I’ve seen that a lot recently from Patriots haters. You know, people who don’t know anything ESPN doesn’t tell them (hint: that’s a LOT). Tom Brady was a free agent. That means you get to go wherever you want. It means if you’re sick of Bill Belichick’s shit after 20 damn years, and want to play for a team that has offensive weapons that elite quarterbacks should have at their disposal, you can leave and start fresh. And that’s exactly what Brady did. He left New England because after all that time, he was tired of doing things Belichick’s way. Plain and simple. And the Patriots were not going to offer him the big-guarantee extension that he got in Tampa at age 42. Brady didn’t even really consider coming back to the Patriots from what I understand, when, after winning #6 in 2018, he still couldn’t get a long-term extension and insisted on having a no-franchise tag clause in the short deal he was offered. Hmm…why would he want that? Perhaps to guarantee his freedom after one more run if the team didn’t commit to him? Pats fans saw how unhappy he was with their atrocious offense throughout the 2019 season. Even after they started the year 8-0, he looked miserable. Everyone with a brain knew that if Brady didn’t retire with the team, their parting would probably be fairly ugly. It pretty much was, and that sucks.

Brady leaves the field in a Patriots uniform for the last time in January, 2020.

The Boston media spent the 2019 season asking, “Is this Tom Brady’s final year in New England?” Well, I for one was not surprised the eventual answer was yes. Nor did I hold it against him. I was thankful it lasted as long as it did. I know how lucky I’ve been. If you’re a lifelong Steelers fan, it took you 34 years from their first Super Bowl win to their 6th. I’m willing to bet most current Steelers fans now either weren’t alive or were too young in 1975 to appreciate their first championship, or didn’t survive until 2009 or were too old at the time to see and fully celebrate their most recent one. I only had to wait 18 years to see my team win 6 titles, and it all happened while I was young. As a sports fan you couldn’t write that script any better.

I got to watch my team play in 9 Super Bowls with the same QB/coach tandem. Most NFL fans saw their team play in zero Super Bowls in that time. I don’t take that for granted. And I can honestly say I never have.

It doesn’t look like many other Patriots fans are mad at Brady, either. Most of the anger I’m reading and hearing is directed at Bill Belichick, but that’s a little unfair. What Brady is doing at his age is unprecedented in any major professional sport. I can’t be pissed at Belichick for not wanting to pay Brady $25 million at age 43. I can’t. Sorry. And I can guarantee you the Bucs probably had their doubts. But they were coming off one of their most chaotic seasons ever, so it was an investment both to win more and to improve the quality of their brand. Mission accomplished.

Did I care that he went to the Buccaneers? Not one bit. As a franchise, the Bucs elicit no emotional reaction from me at all. They’re an insect teams like the Patriots step on or over on their way to the lavatory. From a personnel standpoint, however, they had exactly what Brady had been missing for most of his time in New England: multiple elite offensive receiving weapons (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard). They had just gotten rid of one of the most reckless quarterbacks in NFL history: Jameis Winston and his 30 interceptions. So they had all this talent to throw to and no starting quarterback. 1 + 1 = 2. I would’ve been angry if he went to the Giants, Dolphins, Jets, Bills, Colts, Ravens or Steelers, and that’s about it. But none of those teams were serious contenders for him for various reasons. This was never gonna be a “Red Sox player signing with the Yankees” situation. Once it was clear he wasn’t coming back to New England, I was kinda rooting for him to end up on the Titans with Mike Vrabel as his coach. That would’ve been a cool old school Patriots reunion, but then they went and re-signed Ryan Tannehill early in the offseason, which made that scenario impossible. It seems like the only other teams who made a push for him were the Raiders and Chargers. So even though you wouldn’t have picked the Bucs at first thought, when it comes to being a good fit, in hindsight it seems inevitable. I saw a few people put the Bucs on a list of candidates for him, but not many.

So, to the point: what went through my mind watching Brady win in another uniform? Well, I was happy for him. No matter the circumstances, Brady shutting up his haters is always worth celebrating. Watching the talking heads have to kiss his ass AGAIN that Monday throughout the day was absolutely delightful. I’m happy for Rob Gronkowski, another Boston legend, who also left the Patriots because he was fed up with Bill Belichick’s cold-bloodedness [a delicious saga in its own right]. But as a Patriots fan first, I admit I’m a little sad. Part of me found the Bucs celebrating tough to watch. It’s like how dare they win with our quarterback! It was a weird blend of emotions. I rooted for Tampa all year because I wanted Brady to prove he could still do it, but in the end I’m not a Bucs fan, so I was never passionate about it. Seeing Brady succeed this season didn’t cause me to pump my fist. It was more like a smile, a nod, and a raised glass. It was an attaboy, not a HELL YEAH!

The only two people I was happy for in that stadium.

Implications

I’m glad the Chiefs didn’t win two in a row. The Patriots are still the last team to do that (in the 03-04 seasons). I’m glad Mahomes was prevented from getting his second ring this early. No doubt he’ll win another one, potentially a few more, but the longer that gets delayed, the less likely it is to happen. Nothing is guaranteed in this league, even to the most talented players. The Mahomes-worshipping media pundits seem to forget that. Most people didn’t think Ben Roethlisberger would finish with 2 rings after the way he started his career (where he won 2 titles in his first 4 seasons). Who thought Aaron Rodgers would win a ring and then 11 years later wouldn’t have another? Or that he wouldn’t have even played in a second Super Bowl in all that time? The same for Drew Brees. Never even appeared in another Super Bowl after that win in 2010. So maybe let’s not assume Mahomes will have 4 more rings 5 years from now.

In fact, I now think there’s a 0% chance Mahomes is “the next Brady.” As good as he is (you can make the argument Super Bowl LV was the first bad game of his career), he gets hit a lot and he’s had nagging injuries. The biggest key to Brady’s success is longevity. Outside of 2008 when he tore his ACL, he hasn’t missed a single snap his entire career. Mahomes has played 3 full seasons and only played 16 games in one of them. Much of his success is reliant upon Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce being absolute beasts on a consistent basis. Well, what happens when Hill inevitably slows down (or gets injured) or gets traded or cut? What happens when Kelce (who’ll be 32 at the start of the 2021 season) retires? They won’t be around his entire career. What are the odds their replacements are anywhere near as good? Kansas City isn’t exactly a sexy free agent landing spot. Andy Reid likely won’t be his coach 10 years from now. Is his replacement just as good? A lot has to happen for Mahomes to be this good for the foreseeable future. His talent won’t diminish, but the offensive talent and coaching smarts around him likely will. Brady didn’t need superstar receivers to keep winning and he had the same head coach for 20 years. That’s not a common occurrence. In fact, it’s never happened until now. It also feels good to know that Brady is now 2-0 against Mahomes in the playoffs.

Brady now has more championships than any other franchise, besting the Patriots and Steelers’ 6. His 5 Super Bowl MVPs is two better than second-place Joe Montana‘s 3. Nobody else even has 6 rings. I remember when people finally started to concede he was the GOAT when he finally got #4 to tie Montana. If the Bucs somehow win again next year, he’ll have lapped Montana with 8. It’s absurd. His only equals now are people like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Muhammad Ali. And this is a good one: he’s the only player in history to win a Super Bowl in three different decades. On and on it goes. I’ve got a link below with all the interesting Brady factoids. The great Montana never won a title after he left the 49ers. Brett Favre didn’t win another ring with the Jets or Vikings. Peyton Manning didn’t win with the Broncos until year 4, and he was carried to that championship by their defense.

It was interesting to watch Brady as this game was ending. Perhaps because it’s the first time in 10 Super Bowls the game had basically been over since halftime and there was no late-game stress or heroics required. As his teammates were going nuts, he kinda just strolled across the field, hugging whoever came up to him, smiling but not elated. It’s popular to say to someone, “act like you’ve been there before.” Well, there it was. He looked like a guy who had already been a part of a half-dozen Super Bowl celebrations.

I’d love to know what cave the “he’s a system quarterback!” crowd is burrowed into these days. Dude left his former system (you know, the one that made him what he is supposedly), learned a new one with seemingly no issue and won his first year in the new system. Even if they hadn’t won the Super Bowl, the numbers he put up in the regular season while working with all new coaches and players (except for Gronk) were fantastic. Smart football people knew the “system” argument was bullshit, but I’d say this season puts that one to rest forever even among the dullards out there.

As far as the Bucs go…yay, they’ve won two Super Bowls now. They’re still not a prestige franchise. Quite the opposite. I believe they’re still the losingest franchise in the NFL over their entire history. It’s literally the same as if David Ortiz had left the Red Sox and then won the World Series for the Tampa Bay Rays. A city of champions, Tampa ain’t.

Still, they’re the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium. That’s pretty cool. No other team had even had the opportunity to do so previously. For example, the Dolphins have never played in the Super Bowl in the 11 times it’s been held in Miami.

What now?

The Patriots are still a mess in need of talented free agents and an excellent draft class. That’s not likely to be fixed all at once this offseason. Meanwhile, Brady confirmed he’ll be back next year. Obviously. If he’s this good at 43 and didn’t suffer any significant injuries, why would he suffer a huge drop-off at 44 with the way he takes care of himself? Even Gronk has committed to playing again, even though he’s now technically a free agent. But he ain’t goin anywhere else. Funny how things change. Two years ago Gronk was saying he was broken down and had had enough. Now, he’s having fun and feeling great. That’s how much he wanted to get out from Bill Belichick’s boot.

Finally, this might be of public interest: Tampa Bay travels to New England to play the Patriots in the regular season this fall. For obvious reasons, the Patriots are the only NFL team Brady hasn’t beaten in his career. I’d like that fact to remain unchanged. That will be the first game where I actively and passionately root against him. Either way, it’s the biggest regular season game of 2021 no matter how bad the Patriots are.

I saw someone on Twitter note that this is how Patriots fans viewed the Bucs championship:

7!!! We did it! …right?

Not gonna lie. That’s pretty good.

Do I think he wins his 8th next year? I tend to doubt it. Winning back-to-back is just as difficult for him as it has been for every other champ in the last 15 years. Also, the Bucs have a lot of free agents and won’t be able to afford to bring all of them back. That’s what happens to championship teams in the free agency era. Most of the time, they break up.

I know this much: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a much better shot at winning Super Bowl LVI than the New England Patriots do. I hope watching Brady win without him has inspired Bill Belichick in ways no other football game ever has, because he has a lot of work to do.

In time, once he’s done playing, Brady will come back to New England and be celebrated as the legend he is. His number will be retired and there’ll be a statue outside Gillette Stadium in his honor. No matter what he did in 2020 and beyond, he’ll always be a Patriot first. That’s what matters.

P.S. It amuses the piss out of me that Peyton Manning was on hand Super Bowl weekend as a brand new Hall of Fame inductee. Meanwhile, his greatest nemesis, Tom Brady, is still playing in the Super Bowl that same weekend. You can’t make this shit up. The Manning-Brady rivalry was like 2 Hall of Fame careers ago for Brady. Old news.

Read:

-Color me unsurprised: the Super Bowl drew a higher rating in Boston than it did in Tampa Bay. [Pro Football Talk]

-Even the haters should appreciate a list of Tom Brady’s many Super Bowl records. Like it or not, most of them won’t be broken for a long fucking time. [also PFT]

-Even though I haven’t been a huge fan of Seth Wickersham‘s reporting on the Patriots at ESPN over the years, I need to read his upcoming book on the Patriots Dynasty right now.

Congrats, Tom. You’ll always be our guy.

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