It might as well just be called Tom Brady/The Hell With Deflategate Appreciation Night.
Brady is as beloved in New England as Ted Williams, Yaz, Larry Bird and Bobby Orr were in their day, maybe even more, and while the folks at 345 Park Ave. and many fans around the country were busy the last 7½ months calling Brady a liar and a cheater as he fought the Deflategate allegations, Patriots Nation never wavered in its support.
“Free Brady” T-shirts were hot sellers. They became collector’s items when U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman tossed out the four-game suspension Brady was handed by Roger Goodell in a knockout victory. So, it will be a festive evening on Thursday at Gillette Stadium when the Patriots begin defense of their Super Bowl title against the Steelers.
The fans insisted “No Brady, No Banner,” and if Brady’s suspension had been confirmed, the Patriots were going to hold off revealing their Super Bowl XLIX banner until he was back on the field and instead raise a banner honoring Brady.
Now, the Pats’ fourth Super Bowl victory will be celebrated, and Brady will run onto the field and the crowd will be so loud the noise will stretch across all six New England states.
All that will be missing is Berman, the newest sports hero in New England, tossing the coin. Brady is looking forward to the celebration. “I don’t think it gets much better than that,” he said.
Brady, who is 38 and plans to play until he “sucks,” which doesn’t figure to be anytime soon, will now take out his anger on the field. He can’t even shoot Goodell a dirty look. Goodell usually attends the Super Bowl champ’s opener, but is watching on television instead, not wanting to be a distraction. He will attend the Packers game in Chicago on Sunday instead. That was a wise decision.
“It’s time for me to do my job,” Brady said. “Anything that’s happened over the last seven months really wasn’t my job. This is what my job is, is to go out there and try to be a great leader for our team, to try to go out and execute the plays that are called and execute them at a high level. There’s where my focus is.”
Brady has a history of reacting with a vengeance on the field when he feels disrespected.
As a high school freshman, he didn’t play a snap at quarterback even though his team went 0-8 and failed to score an offensive touchdown. He started his sophomore year by default only because the kid who played ahead of him the year before quit. He played well enough to earn a scholarship to Michigan, but was redshirted as a freshman, nearly transferred to Cal the next year and then didn’t start until the fourth of his five years in the program.
Still, he was never able to stop looking over his shoulder at Drew Henson for two years even though he started every game and had a 20-5 record. He threw for 369 yards and four TDs in the final game of his college career in a 35-34 overtime victory against Alabama in the Orange Bowl, but then was the seventh quarterback selected and the seventh player taken by the Patriots in the 2000 draft. He went in the sixth round, 199th overall.
In his second season, he won the first of his four Super Bowl titles and first of his three Super Bowl MVPs.
His skills have not deteriorated, and once again he is playing to shut people up. That’s when he is most dangerous.
Although Berman didn’t vindicate Brady — he was just ruling on the process the NFL followed — it was pretty clear he thought the NFL’s punishment was nonsense and that Goodell abused his power. Berman made it a point to get NFL attorney Daniel Nash to admit the league had no direct evidence linking Brady to tampered footballs.
It was suggested this week that the harsh discipline handed out by Goodell — the Patriots were also fined $1 million and lost two draft choices — was a makeup call to NFL owners upset that the commissioner was too soft on Bill Belichick and the Patriots in Spygate.
If that’s the case, then Brady just got caught in the middle of a bitter case of revenge. By the time the air was let out of Deflategate by Berman, the sentiment had turned against Goodell for being ridiculously harsh on Brady — the face of the league.
The practice field became Brady’s sanctuary over the summer except for the two days he was in court in lower Manhattan — he had previously never been in a courtroom, unusual for an NFL player — and the one day he left training camp for settlement talks.
This ordeal was a struggle for him. He listened as former players, mostly quarterbacks, questioned his integrity, character and legacy. His father Tom Sr. fired back last week by calling Goodell a “flaming liar” when he called in to defend his son on a Bay Area radio show. When Brady was then asked about his father’s comments, he praised the support his father has always given him.
“Everything that’s happened over the past seven months, obviously I have a lot of personal feelings, but I don’t really care to share many of those,” Brady said.
He will just take it out on the Steelers for starters. It’s Brady Appreciation Night. Maybe Berman should flip the coin.