Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just for Lake

BREAD AND CIRCUSES? RIGHT ON. He needs cheering up. He lives in Connecticut surrounded by liberals. Who can blame him if there's one arena in which he feels no need to be the sore thumb? He's a Patriots fan, even though by birth he's got Eagles blood. I could claim I'm throwing him a bone with this post, but I'm not really. I'm just being honest.

I'd like to announce that I'm officially done with hating Tom Brady. I'm still not fond of the Patriots, but I'm done with hating them too. There is precedent. I used to hate John Elway with a passion. That grin. God, he made me mad. Then, late in his career, I finally realized he was just really really good, and why shouldn't he win the big games? Over a long career with consistent results, it can't all be luck and favorable calls from referees, etc. I rooted for him in his final Super Bowl appearances. I stopped grimacing at the grin. He was having a good time. Why shouldn't he grin?

So it is with Tom Brady. In the endless debate over Peyton, Brady, Peyton, Brady, Peyton, Brady ad nauseam, I always sided 100 percent with Peyton. Peyton was cool and smart, Brady was a lucky pretty boy swimming in Bellichick's bottomless well of talent. When you've had more success and praise than most who have ever played the game, why are you still smoldering over the slight of not having been drafted higher? You were never a starter at Michigan. Why would you have been drafted higher? And, yeah, Michigan. My Buckeye mother never liked Tom Brady. Michigan.

But I was wrong. Cracks have been forming in my assessment of Brady for several years now. I've seen him furious on the sidelines. He has nothing left to prove by any measure. He'll be first ballot Hall of Fame even if his throwing arm falls clean off his shoulder today or several years ago. Yet his hatred of losing is white hot, probably not more or less than it was when I wasn't noticing. Why he's one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game.

The Peyton-Brady debate is a waste of time. They're both stupendous superstars. We're privileged to watch them play. Neither is responsible for the league's determination to protect them from injury. The only NFL games I've ever seen were the Patriots when they played Sundays at Harvard stadium. I remember the incredible gentleness with which opposing teams sacked Joe Namath. More than anyone else, he was responsible for the consolidated NFL and the prosperity it brought all professional players. No one wanted to be responsible for putting the finishing touch on Namath's two glass knees. The notorious tuck rule is not Brady's fault. He's every bit as game as the Manning who plays with a broken neck. (Hardly surprising that he gets sacked as tenderly as Namath. They're not quite so kind to Brady? His hair, you think?)

I've known this for longer than I care to admit, but last night's game has finally pushed me to quit pretending. The Texans bought the cliche that the way to beat Brady was to get in his face, make him nervous with constant pressure, sacks, and knockdowns. They were wrong. My favorite image from that game was J.J. Watt's baffled face on the sideline. He kept knocking Brady on his ass, and it didn't change a thing. Brady killed the Texans anyway, drilling merciless holes in a vaunted defense that can stop everything but genius.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are getting old in NFL terms. I'm getting old in absolute terms. Too old to pretend that incredible talent, fortitude, and unrelenting hard work are dismissible as luck. Michigan aside, I'm prepared to admit that I've become a Brady fan at last. I think they'll win the Super Bowl this year.

My reasoning? They'll win the AFC championship because Roethlisberger won't be fully healed before the playoffs, and the Broncos, as Peyton keeps telling us in every interview, don't have 10+ years of common experience with their recuperating ace. They'll win the Super Bowl because Brady is still better than Eli Manning is inspired (and lucky) and better than Aaron Rodgers is, period.

Not that we won't be watching anyway. All I'm saying is that I won't be surprised, mad, or anything but admiring if Brady ups his Super Bowl record to 4 and 2.

This isn't an admission. It's -- as I said above -- a privilege.

Give us a smile, Josh.

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