No quarterback in the NFL playoffs this year looked as lifeless and disconsolate as Tom Brady. If you somehow construe Brady as a sympathetic character, you might feel relieved that the loss in the Wild Card round shielded him from future embarrassment. For the record, the 20-13 defeat yielded Brady 20 completions in 37 attempts for 209 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception and 5.6 yards per attempt.
Of course, Brady is hardly a sympathetic character. Indeed, he’s more than just one of the most dominant quarterbacks of all time. He is, in fact, every guy’s fantasy. Especially if the guy is an adolescent. He’s tall, good looking, a winner, has so much money that he could run for President, and, yeah, there’s that super-model thing.
So when Brady says he plans to be an NFL hero for years to come — actually, he uses the word “quarterback,” but that’s just a code word — we shouldn’t be surprised. He’ll be 43 in August, which makes him the Methuselah of pro quarterbacks. But age, after all, is just a number.
Remember, facts no longer matter, so even though age is just a number is a palpable lie, it’s OK to believe it. Plus it’s Brady.
You might also ask: can a man have more than it all? Is Brady kidding us or himself? What exactly are we looking at? Is it arrogance? Hubris? Self-delusion? Greed?
Maybe all of the above. But one thing seems evident: Brady is looking for something far more than a seventh Super Bowl ring. If I had to guess, I’d say that his aging body is chasing the tail of immortality.
You can hardly blame him. In fact, Brady and his mentor, Bill Belichick, deserve nothing less than our undying adulation. Look in any record book and there they are. And yet…even if this past season was just an anomaly, there is no denying the fact that they are the past. The future belongs to the likes of Lamar Jackson, who just turned 23; and Jimmy Garoppolo, who is 28 but had to wait until he found life after Brady before he could prove that he, too, is Super Bowl ready. Then there is Patrick Mahomes, who, at 23, doesn’t even have to get better in order to become the greatest quarterback of all time.
The celebrated author, contrarian, wit and atheist Christopher Hitchens, as he was dying of cancer, wrote a book called Mortality. In which he wrote: “As with the normal life, one finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less.”
Brady probably doesn’t see his career that way. But I can’t help but wonder if sometimes he feels like he is. Clearly, he can’t imagine life without football. He’s already shopping around for his next team. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, but from where I sit, his view isn’t so expansive any more.
Granted, he didn’t have much to throw to this year, but that didn’t seem to matter nearly as much in the first half of the season. It was the second half that betrayed an anxious, middle-aged man. Damn, he’s got a great head of hair, but it’s what’s under it that matters. In the nine games before the bye, the Patriots averaged 30 points; afterward, and including the Tennessee disaster, the Patriots averaged just over 20 points.
Brady has been the Patriots’ starting quarterback for 19 seasons but finally you can see the fear in his eyes. He spent much of the year flinging the football into the ground at the mere hint of malicious contact. Nobody in their right mind could blame him for a bunker mentality, yet it was a surprise to note that even with another championship looming on the horizon, he was no longer willing to leave the pocket and risk bodily harm in exchange for a first down.
The NFL is no country for old men. In fact, for all the league’s bluster, there were even more concussions in 2019 than there were the year before. Players have figured out that the penalties for using their helmets to concuss an opponent are relatively mild. There’s even one clown — T.J. Watt, the Pittsburgh defensive end — who goes around punching anyone holding the ball under the guise that he’s trying to cause fumbles. He’ll break ribs and mangle hands and perhaps even cause permanent brain damage before his career is over, but the league doesn’t seem motivated to put a stop to it. That has to be harbinger of a dangerous future for quarterbacks in their mid-40s.
Brady’s determination to play forever reminds me of a lot of losing gamblers I’ve known. When things go bad, they never back off; they just double down. Pretty soon they’re chasing their money and wishing they’d quit at the top of their game.
Not that Brady is going to go broke. It seems that he has a new hustle these days: The TB12 Method. Which happens to be the name of the book he sort of wrote which celebrates his recipe for eternal muscles, if not eternal life.
Years ago, Brady fell in with a “body coach,” Alex Guerrero, who helped Brady develop “pliable muscles” that are damned near impervious to injury. Not everyone swears by this amazing new method, or, for that matter, Guerrero himself.
Muscle pliability, it seems, isn’t actually a thing.
The New York Times review of the book noted as much.
“Mr. Brady and Mr. Guerrero have not conducted or published clinical trials of muscle pliability,” the reviewer stated. “Neither has anyone else. On the huge PubMed online database of published science, I found only one experiment that contains the words pliability and muscles, and it concerned the efficacy of different embalming techniques.”
I have to admit that when I perused Brady’s website, I wasn’t entirely convinced. On the other hand, I’m an enfeebled old guy who got a stiff neck just from writing this column. In fact, as I paged through the catalog of Brady’s amazing products, the trademarked TV12 Vibrating Pliability Sphere start to look like the cure to at least two or three of my many ailments. It’s just that it kind of looks like a tire that wobbles, and I’ve got one of those on my 20-year-old Camry.