As a fan from New England, it’s been a tricky time. While people from all over the football universe despise our Patriots, we don’t care with a comfortable understanding that it’s rooted in a burning jealousy which stings like a bold YMCA strain of athlete’s foot every Sunday. For years, we knew we had the best player ever coupled with the best coach ever. Tom Brady earned six championship rings with the Pats, and Coach Bill Belichick has earned eight—with two coming from his prior Giants service.
But athletes are human beings, and Brady got tired of the Patriot way, with The Grumbling Sleeveless Genius asking The Greatest of All Time for more pay cuts and repeatedly drafting potential successors. Brady woke up one day and realized he was the best player ever, and he may want to cash a couple checks while world champion.
This stilted wooden statue of a man may have a jawline sperm banks describe in their catalog to entice single mothers with, but we may be approaching saturation point. TB content is inevitable right now. He’s front and center for his own docuseries in ESPN’s Man in the Arena, which, by the way, is pure propaganda—I prefer to read Seth Wickersham’s It’s Better to Be Feared. We’re a long way from TB12 shilling vibrating foam rollers for muscle pliability a couple Christmases back, and the man who won’t eat a grain of sugar or a tomato now endorses Subway sandwiches despite reports (and a lawsuit citing to the contrary) that their chicken is only actually 54% chicken. When I heard Brady is now signing college athletes to sell their autographs on the blockchain for perpetuity in all forms throughout the universe, I reached my breaking point (although I will never part with my Ugg slippers).
When Brady left for the sunnier pastures of Tampa, the Patriots became difficult to watch. Last year, the entire defense opted out, and their quarterback was the equivalent of a substitute teacher trying to maintain order in detention at juvie. Pats fans wondered if we had chosen wrong, and had the uncertainty of a high-school quarterback who knows it’s never going to be as good as the head cheerleader ever again.
Pats fans were torn on whether it was ok to extend some allegiance to TB in TB. Tom was not a homegrown boy. He wasn’t some local hockey townie whose home barn was never more than an empty gas tank roll from the Mass Pike. But the town appreciated Tom because he was what we pined for. And for those who didn’t root for him? Tom cut them with a rusty butter knife, jamming a salted lemon dipped in tabasco in the open wound by winning time and again. He killed them not with kindness but with victory.
Brady is now one championship away from assembling a second set of the most sparkly brass knuckles ever seen, while already older than the fathers of some ‘21 draft picks. And the Patriots are great again. Belichick has built a Belichickian defense, and the home team is looking like the winners we’ve all come to know and love (or hate, depending on whom you’re asking). At one point this season, the Pats and TB were both in first place in the AFC/NFC getting all sports talk radio shows to relax about having enough content until the Superbowl.
Now that both teams are confirmed to be heading to the playoffs, Brady/Pats fans are faced with the Sophie’s Choice of sports: whom are we rooting for?
Some long-time locals are more ardent in their loyalty than ever. According to Boston local and manager of what some consider one of the best sports bars in the country, The Cask’n Flagon, “Brady gave us twenty good years; he’s a phenomenal player, so it’s kind of hard to hate the guy. That said, a lot of Pats fans and Bostonians can’t stand him and turned on him the second he moved on. And if he’s playing against us, no-holds-barred!”
Others are more biased by personal relationships. Falmouth-born, Cambridge-raised actor Casey Affleck joked, “I definitely love the one I’m with. But I don’t hate an ex. Plus, Tom and I have six kids together.”
According to Newton, MA-born director Eli Roth, “We can love the man but hate the team. I root for Tom Brady the superhuman, but I’m happy to see him and Gronk go down for betraying us. And yes, Boston sports fans are so messed up—he can win six super bowls for us, but if he leaves, we still feel betrayed. Tampa Bay is basically Pete Davidson and we’re Kanye telling the world the family should be back together because that’s what the world needs.”
But that’s not to say, it’s an easy choice. For long-time fan and Sudbury, MA native actor Chris Evans, “This is tough. Brady brought so many titles to New England and gave us some of the best moments in sports history, but if he’s going against the Pats, I gotta side with the home team. I don’t think I could ever root against the Patriots.” On the other end of the spectrum, Brighton-born actor-director John Krasinski admitted, ““A patriots fan I will always be. But something changes in you when you experience your first two minute drill with Tom Brady… or your second… or your 47th. Once you see the magical unicorn world of Tom Brady, it can never be unseen.”
And thus we are a (Pats) nation divided.
So, does your allegiance lie with the jersey or the player? A whole generation must decide. But maybe the point is that this most burning of decisions has only made Sundays more fun. Josh Heald, co-creator of Cobra Kai summed it up best: “The term ‘long-suffering’ might not have been invented for New England sports fans, but growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it sure felt like it. When Tom rode in with the new millennium and brought with him all those beautiful championships, I finally understood that Sundays didn’t have to be days of frustration and disappointment. While the post-Tom era has brought some of those Sunday frustrations back to the surface, it’s actually been a nice palate cleanser and a gentle reminder that even the Pats are fallible. I’ll always be a Pats fan, for better or worse. But now that both Tom and the Pats are separately playing some of their best ball, it’s never been more fun to watch them enter—and who knows, maybe define—another new era.”