By Joe Darrah
True greatness. She is the Holy Grail of what most sports fans seek. To be a part of it. To say that we’ve seen it, that we’ve lived through it. That we are seeing it happen right before our eyes. From the spontaneity of the Cinderella stories and the flash-in-the-pan seasons to the longevity of dynasty runs and Hall of Fame campaigns, the greatest right of passage for us as fans is to revel in the great moments that we expect to see, actually witness and, eventually, once saw. Sometimes so much so that we invent “the rules” for true greatness in our own minds as we go along and provide different definitions of what greatness means for particular players, coaches and teams alike — to the point that we convince ourselves of something that really is not quite the great reality that we so greatly want it to be.
Presently, there may be no better [sic] example of this phenomenon than the New England Patriots, a team that staffs a head coach and quarterback, in particular, who can only take “real” credit for a limited number of accomplishments that number far fewer than what some fans have allowed themselves to believe they’ve earned seemingly just for the sake of wanting to think they’ve been in the presence of true greatness for a long time now. The reality of it is, however, that certain events have rendered the validity of these two as well as the Patriots’ team and individual performances for much of the last two decades debatable. And that’s even before considering that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were hardly the most accomplished of souls before they crossed paths and somehow managed to achieve a level of greatness that some believe is the most they’ve ever seen. (This means G.O.A.T. in millennial speak.) To believe that the two of these guys represent what’s true greatness is to believe that they both had previously been in the presence of dumb-dumbs and oblivious creatures who could not see greatness on its bench or on its sidelines. To believe this is also to believe that Belichick, the so-called “greatest head coach of all time” to those who choose to see it that way, didn’t even put his faith in Brady, the so-called “greatest quarterback of all time” to those who choose to see it that way, until an injury cost him the coach his then first-string quarterback (Drew Bledsoe) in Brady’s second year in the NFL.
To believe this is also to believe that Brady at one time was so blindly evaluated by collective NFL scouts and coaches that, despite winning two bowl games, he wasn’t worth drafting before the sixth round of the draft — after six(!) other quarterbacks, mind you (including Marc Bulger and some guy named Spergon Wynn, though to be fair that was a Browns selection). To believe this is also to believe that while in college, Brady’s coaches were so mind-numbingly out of touch that he couldn’t outshine the likes of Brian Griese, who would go earn to earn one Pro Bowl nod in 11 NFL years, and Drew Henson, who would prove to be better at baseball than football (despite being a projected first-round NFL pick before he agreed to play for the Yankees) — to the point that he was buried on the depth chart so low that a transfer was considered. (To be fair, he did eventually earn the starting role over Hanson in 1999.)
To believe this is also to believe that Belichick himself is so great at his job that everyone he ever surround himself with as a head coach prior to his stint in New England wasn’t good enough to produce anything more than a 36–44 record, one winning season and one playoff win in Cleveland. (Ok, it was Cleveland, but still.)
Yeah, that’s all essentially ancient history at this point. What’s more recent is the first month of the 2014 season, a time during which the Internet will never let us forget that Brady played so poorly that he was benched for then rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo and had become a bit of a malcontent for a team that was rumored to be considering trades for the legendary slinger.
Granted, Father Time impacts all the truly great at one time or another, but he isn’t typically connected with the incidence of and subsequent fallout pertaining to such events known as Spygate and Deflategate — two controversies that have forced all fans to play judge and that will be tied to this pair’s legacy no matter how many Super Bowls they collect and no matter how “tired” some of us may be of hearing/reading/speaking/meme-ing about it. That’s the thing, if you’ve grown numb to or even impatient with the attention that Spygate and Deflategate continue to get, it’s likely because you’ve told yourself that “everyone does it,” “it’s not a big deal” or “it never happened.” You’ve told yourself that you won’t allow off-the-field manipulating, tampering or “edge-getting” violate your belief that what these two and this organization have done for you as a fan is nothing short of provide you with the greatest thing you’ve ever seen and that the sports world has ever seen. And if you’re an Eagles fan who’s rooting for the Patriots, you’ve allowed yourself to be so charmed by them that you’re willing to look past the fact that the NFL’s commissioner was so concerned about what the evidence related to Spygate could do to this game — including its impact on the Birds’ loss in Super Bowl XXXIX — that he destroyed the evidence and the fact that at least one judge in a U.S. court of law made it a point to express opinions related to the “compelling” evidence that exists related to Deflategate beyond the disappearance of Brady’s cell phone, although the court was not tasked with deciding on as much.
And, those fans who choose to diminish or ignore the importance of Spygate and/or Deflategate as it relates to on-the-field greatness, have every right to do so. They have every right to believe that they’re witnessing the greatest quarterback the game has ever seen despite the fact that one of his peers defeated him in his only two Bowl losses and that said peer’s brother (i.e. another peer) defeated him in three of five playoff games, including three AFC Championships. They have the right to believe that he’s “done so much with few weapons” while looking past things like great defenses, great wide receives including Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman; and a Hall of Fame tight end in Rob Gronkowski. But don’t let the allure of said greatness, no matter how justified you believe it to be, rob you of wanting to see what could be really, truly great. Like, say, a local guy beating the NFL’s greatest head coach and quarterback in Super Bowl LI. Now that’s something that any of us in Philly should aspire to see. A guy like Atlanta Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan, who has also previously taken the Boston area by storm in his own right … And, hey, not for nothing, but Ryan’s fellow QB Matt Schaub is from Pittsburgh; wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Nick Willis are from New Brunswick, NJ, and Hightstown, NJ, respectively; and linebacker Paul Worrilow is from Wilmington, DE. Just saying.