One of the core characteristics of the New England Patriots dynasty was their inevitability.
You knew that when they lost a great player, another would step in. You knew that when your team had a superstar talent, they would have a sobering answer. You knew that when you stepped on the field, you were the underdog and you very likely wouldn’t leave with a win. That’s what made wins over the years, like the Ravens’ 2012 AFC Championship win and the Titans’ recent Wild Card victory over the Patriots feel so gratifying.
You also knew that they were going to remain the Evil Empire of the NFL, the villain that drove TV ratings and a constant atop the NFL standings.
Tom Brady’s decision to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the antithesis of that exact concept. And that’s why I love it.
For all of the time I’ve been a fan of football, Tom Brady and the Patriots were the reigning power. To pin it down exactly, they were 16-0 in the 2007 season I started watching football. The Buccaneers were also in the playoffs that year, though they, like the Patriots, fell to the upstart New York Giants. Unlike the Patriots, they haven’t made it to the playoffs since.
They’ve been constants in the NFL standings — the Patriots at the top of their division, the Bucs at the bottom. In the years since, the Patriots have won a trio of Super Bowls and made the playoffs all but one year. The Buccaneers are one of two teams to not make the playoffs (when you share a record with the Browns, you know it’s bad). The Patriots are a sports team that transcends sports. The Buccaneers are one that slips the conscious of the casual fan. You cannot write the history of the NFL without the New England teams of the past two decades. Save the 2002 season, you can certainly leave Tampa Bay, an NFL afterthought, out of the discussion.
The Patriots are the very ideal of an elitist franchise, with a big market, a raucous fanbase, and a decorated display case of Lombardi Trophies. The Buccaneers are a lovable loser from a small market who let Super Bowl MVPs Steve Young and Doug Williams slip away. As a fan of another small-market Florida franchise in the Orlando Magic, I get a tremendous kick out of the sudden attention afforded to the Buccaneers in the wake of Brady’s signing. I wouldn’t mind a couple seasons of that.
The deal makes sense for Brady. He’ll have two of the top ten receivers in the NFL in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, a commodity he lacked in New England, plus a fantastic football mind in head coach Bruce Arians. The offensive line is solid, and the defense took a big step up last year. Brady also doesn’t have to play in Patrick Mahomes’ division, as he would have if he played for the Brady sweepstakes runners-up Chargers and Raiders. He also escapes the harsh dictatorship of coach Bill Belichick for the shine of central Florida and the chance to write his own narrative independent of the man who was the Sidious to his Vader.
New England let Brady get away. Now, I want Brady to stick it to them.
Brady’s Bucs should make noise next season, too. The gaze of the American public will be on Tampa in a way it has never been in franchise history, and a slate of primetime games seems inevitable (and deservedly so). Though Brady is 43, the football fit is there and Tampa is in position to end their playoff drought. And unlike the AFC, which has been ruled by six dynastic franchises in the Patriots, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Chiefs, and Broncos, the NFC seems to crown a new champ every season. Three of the last five winners, the 49ers, Eagles, and Panthers, had losing seasons before they made a run to the Super Bowl. Given the talent on the roster, the opportunity within the NFC, and the experience of Brady and Arians, Tampa could be a formidable opponent, something that hasn’t been said since Brady broke onto the scene in the early 2000s.
Of course, I can’t discuss Brady’s decision without leaving out the impact on the Patriots. His departure is the death knell to their dynasty and the end of an era, plain and simple. Reportedly, Brady wanted devotion from the Patriots and Belichick was content to let him walk, something that he has made clear for years. Now, New England has no quarterback succession plan in place and is clearly behind the AFC frontrunners in Kansas City and Baltimore. Bill Belichick will have to prove he can win without Brady just as Brady will have to prove he can win outside of Foxborough, and the prospects of Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston at quarterback seemingly give the immediate edge of this new rivalry to Brady. His separation from the Patriots has also made me realize that while I loathe so many Brady memories and loved to harp on him, I really just hated the Patriots dynasty. Tampa is a more favorable look.
A lot of times, I see slideshows or montages about sports superstars finishing out their career in a new locale, typically disastrously. Quarterback greats are a prime example, from Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas to Joe Montana and Peyton Manning. Tom Brady is 43 and is in uncharted waters with the Buccaneers, but I’d expect him to be in the latter group of success stories than the former even if he is joining a team with little history to hang their hat on.
Tom Brady’s carved out a career as the ultimate underdog. His next, and possibly final, underdog story is one that I’m actually ready to root for.