Tom Brady’s Deal With The Devil

Next Sunday the Kansas City Chiefs will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. But for once, the real story isn’t about the two teams that are playing, or the fact that one of them will win the NFL championship. No, in this particular Super Bowl, the story is that Tom Brady, the ageless wonder, will be playing in his tenth Super Bowl and going for his seventh win — and this year he’s doing it with an entirely new team.

These numbers are staggering–especially when viewed from the perspective of a fan of the Cleveland Browns, which have never appeared in even one Super Bowl. Tom Brady has appeared in more Super Bowls than any other player, by a considerable margin. He’s also got more Super Bowl rings than any other player. And, to put some additional icing on the cake, Brady has also won the Super Bowl MVP trophy four times. Add to that the fact that Brady was drafted into the NFL in April 2000, is now 43 years old, and really doesn’t look all that much different now than he did 5, 10, or 15 years ago, and you’ve got to wonder: seriously, what’s with this guy?

Superstitious people of days gone by, seeing someone who has enjoyed outlandish success and who doesn’t appear to age like the rest of us, would say Tom Brady has made a deal with the devil. But as an interesting article points out, maybe this is just a case where you have to give the devil his due. Tom Brady hasn’t had success handed to him. He wasn’t the most sought-after star in high school, he wasn’t the big star at Michigan, and he wasn’t drafted until the 199th pick, after every team in the NFL, including the Browns, had passed on him multiple times. I’m surprised a Cleveland writer hasn’t written a book about a scientifically minded Browns fan who invents a time machine just so he could go back into the past to convince the 2000 Browns to draft Tom Brady instead of Spurgeon Wynn.

The reality is that Tom Brady is a great football player, sure — but he’s also someone who has been able to repeatedly motivate himself, over and over again, even after enjoying success to the point of excess. He hasn’t rested on his laurels. He’s stayed hungry and stayed in shape and worked hard to get back to the mountaintop, over and over and over again. And while you can certainly say that Tom Brady has played on some great teams over the years, he’s also made the key plays that allowed those teams to come out on top. Last week’s NFC championship game, where Brady threw a perfect, back-breaking touchdown pass with only seconds remaining in the first half, was vintage Brady.

It’s impossible to argue with the proposition that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever, and he’s clearly the greatest winner in NFL history, too. Over the past decade or so, I’ve skipped watching some Super Bowls because it was boring to see Tom Brady and the New England Patriots playing every year. But this year, I’ll be watching because of Tom Brady. When you’ve got a chance to watch the greatest player of all time, you’ve got to seize it.

Patriots And Parity

We’re only a few days away from the Super Bowl, and I haven’t heard anyone talking about the game.  I had lunch a few days ago with four male friends, and literally not one word was spoken about Super Bowl LI.  Donald Trump and his antics were discussed ad nauseum, but football didn’t come up once.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England PatriotsIt’s not just because of Trump, of course.  It’s also because nobody is particularly excited about this Super Bowl match-up.  This has to be the least buzzworthy Super Bowl since — well, maybe ever.  Who cares about the Atlanta Falcons, and how many times can a person watch the New England Patriots, anyway?

But let’s pause for a moment to at least give a nod to the Patriots, their grumpy and rumpled head coach Bill Belichick, and their quarterback, Tom Brady.  Since Belichick has become the Patriots’ top dog in 2000, they’ve made the NFL playoffs in all but three years.  They haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2008 season.  And, even more impressive, the Patriots, Belichick, and Brady have made it to six Super Bowls during that run, winning four of them.  That’s why it seems like the Patriots are in every Super Bowl as a matter of federal law.

What’s remarkable about all of this is that the NFL is specifically designed to crush any possibility of the kind of dynasty the Patriots have become.  The NFL seeks parity above all else.  Regular-season schedules are set up so the strong play the strong and the weak play the weak, with the league hoping that everybody ends up with an 8-8 record and fans who are hoping for a playoff spot up until the very last game of the season.  And, of course, after every year players who have done well who have become free agents can go to other teams, and assistant coaches can be hired to be head coaches elsewhere, and the playing and coaching talent gets redistributed.

The Patriots, however, refuse to participate in the NFL’s regime of enforced mediocrity.  They lose players and coaches, but under Belichick and Brady they always fill the holes and just keep rolling along.  In a world where everything conspires against them — thereby feeding Belichick’s innate sense of paranoia — the Patriots somehow rise above and just keep winning.  Their run is as remarkable, in a positive way, as the Browns’ record of consistent and crushing futility is on the negative side.

So we’ve got to tip our cap to the New Englanders.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to actually watch them, again, in this Super Bowl.

Passing The Test, In Smashing Fashion

Yesterday I wrote that the Browns’ game against New England would be an “acid test.” Today the Browns passed that test, and in smashing fashion.  They pulverized the Patriots, who came into the game with the best record in the NFL, 34-14.

There was a lot to like about this game.  Offensively, the Browns were aggressive and took the game to the Patriots.  The Browns’ offensive line was stellar.  On running plays they smashed the New England defensive line, and Peyton Hillis — a big back who can deliver a crushing blow at the point of impact, yet who is nimble enough to hurdle a tackler or get far downfield and catch the ball on the wheel route — blew through the Patriots for more than 180 yards and two touchdowns.  (Brady Quinn’s greatest contribution to the Browns was being traded for this guy!)  The line also provided good pass protection, and Colt McCoy played a careful, error-free game that featured a brilliant scrambling run for a touchdown.  On that play, Joshua Cribbs delivered a de-cleating, pancake block.  Cribbs also played a key role in the Browns’ other touchdown, where he handed off from the wildcat formation on a modified fumblerooski play that caught the Patriots totally off-guard.

On defense, the Browns forced key turnovers and also kept Tom Brady and his corps of receivers off their games.  The Browns’ ever-changing and inventive (some might say downright weird) defensive formations and schemes clearly bugged Brady.  Having to deal with no down lineman sets, then three-lineman sets, then corner blitzes, acted on Brady like a combination of itching powder and atomic balm in his jockstrap.  He seemed irritated and frustrated throughout the game.  The Patriots’ offense, one of the better offensive units in the NFL, was never able to get untracked.

Of course, this is just one win for the Browns, who are still only 3-5 — but it is a very satisfying win.  Let’s hope the Browns have found their stride.  Next up is the New York Jets, next Sunday.