The Comeback King

the myth of Tom Brady

Sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. Standard Central Time, after all the confetti had fallen to the field and while ESPN analysts were still breathlessly breaking down the New England Patriots’ 34-28 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons, someone stole quarterback Tom Brady’s jersey from the Patriots’ locker room. This crime is not without clear motivation; Sports Illustrated estimated the jersey could be worth $400,000 or more. The Houston Police Department has opened an investigation and Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick has deployed the Texas Rangers to find the thief.


Grabbing Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey may have been the theft of a lifetime, but the mystery of the crime pales in comparison to the enigma of Brady himself. Whether you love or hate him, Tom Brady symbolizes the American belief in hard work, virtue and success, alongside an unmistakable subtext of political villainy and violence. The possible meanings of Brady overwhelm the man’s powerful 6’ 4” frame; if Tom Brady wasn’t a real person, we would have simply invented him.


The story of Tom Brady has become a great oral tradition, passed down from one generation of Patriot fans to the next. It all began with the famed 199th pick in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL Draft. Regarded as a marginal prospect coming out of the University of Michigan, Brady quickly overcame a flabby body and non-existent speed to secure a backup job. Yet, like all self-made men living their American dreams, Brady knew it’s better to be lucky than good, and best of all, he was both. In Brady’s second year in the league, Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a concussion, handing the starting job to Brady. He never looked back, leading the team to a memorable comeback in the Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams, and so the myth was born.


The years that followed were memorable and now almost forgotten. Following that game the Patriots won two more Super Bowls in 2003 and 2005 and went undefeated in 2007, only to fall short in Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants. It wasn’t Brady’s fault; he had the best year of his career, throwing for 50 touchdowns and taking home his first MVP trophy.


A year later, he married a supermodel, Gisele Bündchen, with whom he would have two children. For a long time, no one mentioned Brady’s other son, born in controversial circumstances, to the actress Bridget Moynahan.  Yet somehow having a family didn’t humanize Brady. We learned he eats an “anti-inflammatory,” gluten-free diet, which forbids sugar, peppers, coffee, dairy and fruit. He goes to sleep at 8:30 p.m and works out twice a day even in the off-seasons. Friends to Sports Illustrated say things like, “Football isn’t what Tom does — football is Tom. This is who he is.” More man than machine, Brady fulfilled another American fantasy: the perfectionist.  “No wasted movement. No plays off. No days off. Everything is purposeful,” said Brady’s trainer in the same Sports Illustrated article.


After the Patriots clinched another Super Bowl title in 2015, Brady closed in on another milestone: the greatest quarterback of all time. The haters grew, but so did a sense of impending historical stakes. Brady’s longtime rival, Peyton Manning, retired. Still, Brady found himself in the fight of his life, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.


Gradually, the whole affair acquired a name: Deflate-gate. Whether Brady intentionally deflated some of the footballs in the team’s second-half victory over the Indianapolis Colts’ in the 2015 AFC Championship, we will never know. Scientific experts weighed in, the league and Brady faced off in court, but in the end, Goodell prevailed. Brady faced a four-game ban and a return to football with a tarnished reputation. Little did Goodell know that you can suspend the man, but the legend will only grow. And so this year was Brady’s revenge tour.


“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted,” wrote D.H. Lawrence in 1923, probably anticipating Tom Brady’s 2016 season. Throwing for 28 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, he lost one game, tore through Houston and Pittsburgh in the playoffs, and made it to his seventh Super Bowl.


And yet Brady found a new story to add to his legend. Trailing 28-3, Brady rallied the Patriots for the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, a fourth Super Bowl MVP, and a place alone atop football’s summit. Fox didn’t even bother to bleep what Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount told Brady amid the celebration after the game: “You’re the fucking greatest, bro.”


Greater than ever on the field, Brady has faced new scrutiny about his politics. A longtime friend of President Donald Trump, Brady was spotted last year with a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker. Soon, Brady stopped answering questions about the election or the new President. But what did we really expect of a white man who makes millions from violent collisions? My focus, Brady often replied, is on the game.


After this latest Super Bowl triumph, we don’t need Tom Brady anymore. Still, he rides on with nothing left to prove, without a word of retiring on top of the world. He turns 40 in August and says he could play for another five years. We’ve learned not to doubt the legend of Tom Brady. Even when he declines and can no longer throw those beautiful, arcing passes anymore, we’ll talk about him to future football fans like the apostles talked of Jesus.  As the reporter in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence said, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.


See you next year, Tom. I hope you find that jersey.