Tom Brady Does It Again

My last blog spoke to the meaning of heroism.   Great athletes are not thought of as heroes, but rather as stars, a term reserved for the entertainment industry of which sports is one.  I confess that I never was a fan of Brady inasmuch as I have remained loyal to my childhood team, the New York Giants.  Moreover, I was delighted when the underdog Giants, with Eli Manning quarterbacking, defeated the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl by a score of 17 to 14.  This loss broke the New England Patriots undefeated season and yielded a large payoff to those betting on a Giant win.

However, perhaps the most spectular of all Bowl games occurred in 2017 when the Patriots met the Atlanta Falcons to decide Super Bowl LI.  In that contest, with the Patriots losing 28-3 with 8:31 left in the third quarter, the Patriots went on to tie the game 28-28 and win in overtime 34-28.  Yours truly, Tom Brady, played a key role in this amazing Patriot come from behind triumph. 

When the Patriots lost to the Titans in the first round of the playoffs on January, 2020, most of us thought it was time for Brady to hang up his cleats and retire.  After all, he already claimed six Super Bowl titles, and at 42, he had reached an age regarded as ancient for most athletes, even the great ones.  Compared to his previous years, Brady had performed in subpar fashion.  The human body reaches its physical peak in the 20’s, with gradual decline, each year afterwards. 

But when Brady left the Patriots to join a franchise accustomed to losing, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the 2020 season, he defied his body and the odds.  Being inclined to root for the underdog, I began to cheer for Brady and Tampa Bay as they competed in the playoffs. Brady had recruited three players, two of whom had played with the Patriots, Ron Gronowski and Antonio Brown, and the third, Leonard Forchette.  These three teammates all were instrumental in helping the Patriots win the Super Bowl against the favored Kansas City Chiefs.  As the game got underway, I thought the 3 ½ point betting odds favoring the Chiefs, the team that had won the Super Bowl the previous year, were way too low.  The week before, the Buccaneers had upset the Green Bay Packers 31 to 26, despite the fact that Brady was hardly at his best, throwing three consecutive pass interceptions during the second half.  But the Tampa Bay defense hung on for the win. 

I drew two conclusions from the Tampa Bay victory over the Packers:  1) Either Brady simply was unbeatable or 2) He was just lucky enough to win after a lackluster performance on the gridiron.  Kansas City had a starring quarterback in Patrick Mahomes II, who at 25 years of age, was in his prime.  I thought that Brady and the Buccaneers would need more than good fortune to overcome the returning Super Bowl champions.  Like many others, I guessed wrong.  The Buccaneers took advantage of some misplays and penalties by the Chiefs that gave Brady plenty of room to operate.  He made 21-out-of 29 competed passes with three touchdowns to win the Buccaneer’s second Super Bowl.  In so doing, Tampa Bay won eight straight games on its way to a Super Bowl LV title with Brady being chosen as MVP in that contest.  I always have said it is the mark of a great team that can take advantage of their opponent’s mistakes.  Brady, the great player he is, made sure that he would not let his teammates down, and they responded to the challenge with a superior defense that never let up.  Great players frequently inspire those around them to perform at a higher level.  Such was the case of the Buccaneers’ defense that relentlessly rushed Mahomes throughout the game forcing him to consistently miss his targets. 

Brady’s record seven Super Bowl rings is not likely to be surpassed soon. Will his streak continue?  He assured the fans he would be back next year, so let us see.  

Football Interlude

I need a time-out from the commotion and craziness of the past few weeks.  The world of sports provides us with a wonderful escape from the stark realities of the day. Although it may not be true in today’s political universe, athletic events usually have an underlying basis to their rules and regulations.  Once an avid New York Giants fan, my attraction to the sport waned many years ago.  However, during the playoffs, at the end of the season, my interest perks up.   

Because I am much more into baseball than football, I have not paid too much attention to rule changes in professional football.  However, a noticeable development in the game did not make a lot of sense to me:  The kickoff and its return.  Way back in the ‘50’s, the kickoff would be at the 40-yard line of the team kicking the ball.  If the ball went into the endzone and was not returned, play would begin at the 20-yard line of the receiving team.  Because the performance of athletes has improved over time due to better exercise routines, better equipment and greater strength, the kickoff would wind up deep in the endzone with no return.  This eliminated the possibility of a return that had been viewed as one of the most exciting plays in a football contest.

Apparently, the line of scrimmage (where the ball is kicked from) at one time had been pushed back to the 30-yard line in professional football making runbacks much more probable by the receiving squad.  However, subsequently, the line of scrimmage was moved up to the 35-yard line, once more, resulting in many kickoffs again not to be returned.  But additionally, if the ball was not returned (in both college and pro football), it automatically came out to the 25-yard line, 5 yards further than previously.  Because it is harder to reach the 25-yard line on a return, this reduced the incentive to run back a kickoff.  Furthermore, balls that were fielded in play (that is on the playing field and not in the endzone) had to be returned.  Now, however, these balls could be caught in play and not returned, moving the ball, once more up to the 25-yard line.

When players choose not to return the ball, thereby, bringing the ball up to the 25-yard line, a potentially exciting play occurs much less frequently.  I decided to ask my cousin, Mike Natelson, who is a sports enthusiast, why the kickoff return had been eliminated.  His answer, unlike recent political events, made sense:  The kickoff return resulted in more injuries than any other play.   Huge guys running at full speed for 60 to 70 yards make a big impact when they hit or tackle the return player.   By reducing the number of football returns in each game there is less likely to be an accident. 

Football is indeed a dangerous sport.  But now that management can no longer deny the risks to body and brain that result from the game, they are taking some important precautionary measures.  In most cases, apparent contradictions or inconsistencies can be understood if one takes the time to investigate them.  However, often human emotions take precedence over reason blinding us to best solutions.  One need not look further than at the many crises and gridlock we currently face in the political arena but this is grist for another essay.