I was picking up some food Friday night when I saw a man in his late 30’s wearing a Tom Brady jersey. Excuse me, a Tompa Bay jersey. You know, the pewter alternate one. A Tom Brady jersey will always be a Pats No. 12 to me.
Anyway, this Tampa Tom No. 12 was the first I’d seen in-person. Pretty sharp, actually. Always thought when I saw it up close it would make me feel ill. Which sounds silly coming from a man my age, but my fandom and appreciation for Brady and what he did in New England is well-documented.
Instead, seeing this jersey made me think of how excited that guy must be this weekend, how he’s looking forward to watching his favorite team/QB compete for the chance to go to the Super Bowl, all the anticipation and nerves and thrills that come with watching Brady in his most familiar of championship environments. I don’t have those same feelings anymore, mostly because I like many miss Brady in New England and don’t get a rise out of seeing him throw touchdowns or win in another uniform. But I know how geeked up I got for Brady Championship Sundays. Nothing quite like it. Thus my 2021 NFL Championship Weekend confession:
Tampa fans, I’m jealous of you.
Brady won in the Divisional Round so many times with the Pats, 13 to be exact, that the following week felt like the run-up to a holiday. With Championship Sunday like a football Christmas of sorts, I always preferred when the AFC was the late game. That way you had another game to watch and help ease the stress. If the Pats played early and won then we’re going to the Super Bowl and the NFC title game was free money football! If the Pats played early and lost, then what NFC game? FWIW, Brady has two early and two late Championship Sunday losses, so the time slot doesn’t really matter.
But that week leading up, it was all about consuming every piece of content, perspective, opinion and analysis possible. Not to just be as informed as possible, but to enjoy every last bit of the experience possible. Who knew when the Pats would be back? Turns out quite a bit, actually. No matter how difficult the opponent, how hostile the environment, you knew the Pats had a better than average chance, because of Bill Belichick and Brady -- the greatest coach and player marriage ever. But through Brady we felt the excitement, how high the stakes were, what the game and a victory meant, the chance to prove you’re the best yet again. We got every bit as excited, or so we thought, as Brady, because his success was our joy, his failure our pain. Yes, many of us cared that deeply. No regrets.
Brady earning a bid to the Super Bowl extended the joyride of watching our favorite athlete ever do his thing, helping cement his status as The GOAT along the way. Never too much of a good thing rooting for Brady on the Pats. The better he did, the more we strangely felt like we did because of how much time and emotion we poured into watching him. Nobody says this is healthy, but it was legit. Some of my favorite Pats fan memories come from Championship Sundays, like the shock of the underdog Pats defeating Pittsburgh after Brady was bedridden with the flu the night before, the elation of Billy Cundiff missing the easy field goal to set up the rematch with the Giants, Brady’s with the stitched up hand leading an epic fourth quarter comeback vs. the Jaguars (how did he complete that third-and-18 to Danny Amendola?) capped off by Stephon Gilmore swatting away the pass to Dede Westbrook. And of course, the overtime win in Kansas City just two short years ago (three third-and-10s on the OT drive).
Each were unbelievable, epic, thrilling and thoroughly Brady in their own right. Brady has that innate ability to rise to the occasion and bring with him his teammates and their best. Just revisiting those videos and thinking about those Championship Sunday parties, reactions, phone calls to family, high-fives and hangovers -- the best. Also, it was fun when we could all be together period, but I digress. Soon enough for that. But we’ll have to live with the incredible amount of memories Brady gave the Pats on those 13 Sundays.
Though we had so many for so long, ultimately Championship Sundays with Brady on the Pats came to an end. You never know when the ride’s over or what the result might be, but as a football fan there’s nothing quite like watching Brady play for your team with a chance to go to the Super Bowl on the line. And yes, I preferred Championship Sunday, personally, to Super Bowl Sunday. Too much stress on Super Bowl Sunday. Oh, what a first world football problem. But for two decades our ride lead by Brady was just the best. I miss it something wicked, wish I could live vicariously through you now, Brady jersey guy, but it’s just not the same anymore. And that’s OK.
Best of luck, Tampa fans. Enjoy.