Thanks For The Memories: A Farewell To The G.O.A.T.
After a little more than 48 hours of holding out hope that the news was not true, and that I could keep this article stored in the notes app on my phone, the time has come to publish...
As a sports fan, you can't put a player before the team. That's something covered in Sports Fandom 101. It just doesn't make sense. Players come and go but the team will always remain constant.
It seems like such a simple, yet sound concept, right? I can see the logic and I can agree with the reasoning. It makes perfect sense. Unless you became a Patriots fan at the age of eight in the year 2003.
And that's what everyone who was a Patriot fan pre-21st century will never fully comprehend. You all experienced this concept work 12 times out of 10. Calloused by lean years during the franchise's first 30+ years of existence, there was never a reason to deviate from the path. It was illogical to think someone would come along who could remotely influence a change to this line of thinking.
Wherever that impossibly high bar to reach was positioned, Tom Brady didn't just reach it, he soared past it.
By the time I became a conscious Pats fan, emotionally living and dying on every game each Sunday or Monday, the Patriots had already won their improbable first ring. They were quickly becoming the most dominant team in the league, led by a budding superstar in a young Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
The Patriots made winning commonplace. Back-to-back titles in 2003 and '04. A 34-4 record, including a 21-game win-streak over that time. The defense was lights out, every move Bill Belichick made seemingly worked out, and Brady was the captain at the helm of this unsinkable destroyer.
In the following years, Brady rose from calm and cool underdog to one of the best in the league before quickly lapping his contemporaries. By 2007, TB12 was hitting his peak - something no one could have or would have predicted to last until his retirement today, 15 years later. He was breaking records, winning league MVPs and beginning to creep away from the talk of being compared to his peers -- instead being discussed among the game's greatest throughout history. During that time, New England went from being an up-and-comer in the NFL to the biggest sports team on the continent. A global brand, led by an emerging icon.
I could go on to summarize his whole career, but if you're reading this, you know the rest. He simply accomplished more than any player ever has and likely ever will.
The team is always the constant when compared to any player's career. That much will be forever unchanged. Yet, for the first 16 years of my football fandom, from ages 8-24, while other players shuffled in and out, while seasons turned to decades, it was Brady that was the constant. Minus 2008 and 4-games in 2016 resulting from inarguably the single-dumbest punishment in the history of sports, there he was with every game day that rolled around.
And when that is all you have ever known, for 16 years basically uninterrupted, that whole logic of team-before-player gets challenged with good reason.
Never before had a team won 17 division titles, played in 13 conference championships, made it to nine Super Bowls, and won six of them in a 19-year span. But that's what I got to witness.
As the driving force behind that unprecedented success, Brady wasn't just as big as the team for me and many of my generation, he was as big as the game. He was part of the fabric of the football experience.
Today is a day that admittedly I hoped would never come and have dreaded for some time. But now that it has arrived, it's not a time to be sad or disappointed that we will never see his greatness on the gridiron again. Today is a day to reflect on an unparalleled and entirely unlikely career. It is a day to take stock of what we got to experience, thanks in large part to this one individual, and be thankful that you were along for the ride.
Today is a day to paraphrase the classic line from "The Natural" and say "there goes Tom Brady, the best there ever was," (and the best there ever will be).