Bob Kraft’s first words after the Patriots demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers said it all, loudly and clearly. “For a number of reasons everybody in the stadium understood how big a win this was!” Kraft was referring to the strong hold that Roger Goodell and the NFL office has had on his storied franchise for the last 18 months. I suppose it was fitting for Kraft to fire the first shot as we kick off two weeks of Pats vs. Goodell, Brady vs. Goodell, Kraft vs. the NFL, etc. Those story lines will be more noticeable in some circles than how Matt Patricia’s defense will slow down Matt Ryan to Julio Jones.
With their win yesterday, the Patriots became the first team in league history to reach the Super Bowl nine times, seven of those in the last 15 years during the Belichick/Brady era. Pretty ironic considering when you think about Patriots history it wasn’t that long ago that they had one foot out the door on their way to Hartford. They say a team’s first championship is always the sweetest. When the Patriots upset the Rams to cap a remarkable 2001-02 season, Kraft declared triumphantly, that “tonight we are all Patriots!” And given what the country had been through just a few months prior, no one would argue that point. But as sweet as that win was, it will not compare to a win over the Falcons two weeks from now. A fifth Super Bowl title will not erase the memories of the manufactured scandal that has consumed the Patriots and Patriot nation since that fateful morning more than two years ago, but it will serve as sweet justice to the emperor and his 31 other billionaire buddies that the harshest punishment in the history of the league was not enough to derail this championship run, the likes of which we will never see again.
While Brady will never speak about it publicly, every Patriot fan, and Patriot hater for that matter, knows that he is salivating over the idea of accepting another MVP trophy from Roger Goodell. How could he not? He’s human. Goodell sandbagged him during the entire Deflategate fiasco, first claiming that he had general knowledge that the balls were being deflated, and then declaring Brady the leader of the scheme of the century. The ultimate professional, Brady has said nothing. But he knows. He’s not immune to the lies, and deep down we all know it’s hurt him terribly. He’s the poster boy for everything that’s great about the NFL. He’s one of the reasons, if not the reason, why eight and nine year olds across the country strap on the pads every day in hopes of becoming the next, Tom Brady. It’s shameful that the reputation of perhaps the league’s best, and most successful player, was tarnished in a way that can never be fully restored. I will not drudge up the past, but I know and you know that Brady told Jastremski and McNally that he likes his football soft. Maybe not on that particular day, but he knows what he wants and he made that very clear. However, he never told anyone to cheat. NEVER. How do I know? Because if he had it would’ve been proven without a shred of doubt. The league’s lies made it impossible for him, his coach and the team to react with strength because they were dealing with patently false information. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of people who will hate Tom Brady whether or not Deflategate ever happened, but the sad truth is that this chapter of the league’s history, will forever dampen his name. Enough about the past.
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms referenced their Saturday meeting with Bill Belichick several times during Sunday’s broadcast. They said that Belichick called this Patriots team “special.” The coach himself reiterated that message during his postgame press conference. I would imagine every coach that has been to a Super Bowl would use that word to describe his team, but this season, that description means much more than it ever has in the past. Both Belichick and Brady spoke of overcoming obstacles, and while it’s true that every team faces adversity over the course of a 16 game season, this team lost its star quarterback, its best player, its leader, for one quarter of the season. And still, it climbed the mountain to reach the Super Bowl. No other team this season dealt with such a hardship. Losing Brady for four games might have meant very little if his skills had diminished. But he’s only getting better. Quarterbacks who are pushing 40 aren’t supposed to perform like this, right Max Kellerman? Colin Cowherd? Man, the national media has been such an embarrassment when it comes to evaluating Brady’s skills. Be thankful folks that we live in Boston where sports media is meaningful.
Twenty-five years from now we’ll all be sitting around our respective fire places telling our grandkids the story of the 2016 Patriots season. It’ll be the tale of a 39-year-old quarterback who endured a two-year ass whooping under the watchful eyes of the very league that he claims to love. A man who saw his reputation go up in flames in every area of the country except this one. It’s the story of arguably the greatest quarterback to every play, who was forced to sit for the first four games during the month of September, only to return with renewed vigor and a mission to make history. To borrow the Patriots playoff theme, if Brady wins one more on February 5 in Houston, it’ll be, without a doubt, the sweetest victory of his Hall of Fame career.