By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports columnist
I have to issue an apology – several apologies, actually. And it’s not often that Patriots fans apologize.
So buckle up.
First, I must apologize to Tom Brady, because what I’m going to say probably makes me a small and petty person.
I’m sorry that it’s going to come at your expense, Tom.
But it’s my job to write about sports – particularly about the emotions of fandom – and that means I have to tell the truth, even if it’s the ugly truth.
I hope this column will let some Patriots fans know that they’re not alone in their uncharitable feelings, and make others feel like they’re better people than I. Either way, you’ll get something out of this.
Secondly, I must apologize to fans who root for the other 31 teams in the NFL.
A few years ago, when things were good in New England and the livin’ was easy, I remember saying something along the lines of, ‘Why do people hate Tom Brady? Don’t they realize they’re witnessing something historic? Even if you don’t root for the Patriots, you have to take some delight in watching how good he is.’
This year has made it clear that no, you don’t, and I’m ashamed I was ever unself-aware enough to think otherwise.
Watching Brady in a Bucs jersey has been weird all year, but watching him trot out onto the field in a red and black uniform for a playoff game truly sucked. I’m embarrassed to admit this, because Brady won my team six championships from the time that I was 12 to 29, but I didn’t want Tampa to beat the Washington Football Team.
I knew, in my heart of hearts, that Washington would lose.
I’ve rooted for Brady in enough playoff games to have no doubt he’d come through, especially with receivers like Mike Evans and Chris Goodwin, running backs like Leonard Fournette, and tight ends like Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots fell apart last year, not because Brady wasn’t good anymore, but because he had few offensive weapons.
Properly armed, he *fighting back tears* Did. His. Job.
There are many New England fans now rooting for the Bucs’ success. I admire you.
I wish I could say the same. I’ve never been married, but watching Brady win a Wild Card game with another team is what I imagine it would be like to see pictures of my ex-husband on vacation with his new family.
Brady gave me so much, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy watching him do so for another fanbase.
It would also be a lot easier and make for a much neater narrative if Brady left the Patriots and fell apart the way New England failed without him.
That’s not what happened.
Not only is my ex thriving, my family is a mess without him. Yes, Covid meant that some of the Patriots’ best players opted out of the season, and quarterback Cam Newton didn’t pan out the way I wish he had. And I still don’t think that the results of one bizarre season mean that all the credit goes to Brady and none to Belichick or other players over the years. Football is a team sport. It’s too reductive to say that Brady is the only reason New England won six Super Bowls.
But man, he sure had a lot to do with it.
Being a sports fan usually means being in pain, but being a Patriots fan over the past 20 years meant feeling invincible.
Brady came through for us so many times, in the unlikeliest of circumstances, that I got used to a level of comfort that I honestly don’t think had ever existed in the history of sports fandom.
Normally, playoff games are excruciating. It’s not something to complain about, as any Lions fan will tell you, but sitting through a high stakes game when you have a horse in the race is terrible for your blood pressure and disastrous for your mental health.
Even winning championships brings a high usually reserved for falling in love or hitting it big in roulette, so there is inevitably a low that follows. Once you’ve had a taste of a trophy, losing sucks even more than it used to.
Your team can’t win forever.
Except that the Patriots basically did.
Towards the end, I stopped worrying about losing. That is insane!
A 20-year dynasty in sports is the equivalent of at least three human lifetimes. For two decades, New England fans didn’t have to deal with significant pain. At most, we had to deal with inconveniences like Deflategate, and even then, we got the last laugh.
The losses — lookin’ at you, Super Bowl LII — were followed by wins (I suppose I must also apologize to the Rams).
Karma isn’t one to let people off the hook, which is why I finally get what it’s been like for fans of other teams to have to deal with Brady all this time.
I was excited when Washington came close to victory — they’ve got fresh faces and would’ve made for a fresh story. But then Brady did what Brady does and made sure they didn’t get past him.
But then Brady did what Brady does: stomped out any chance of the unexpected.
A tale as old as time, and almost as old as Brady himself, who, I might add, looks remarkable for a 43-year-old man.
I don’t know what happens to Tampa going forward. The Bucs are not the Patriots of old, and Washington managed to keep the game close with Heinicke, the guy who was formerly the team’s third-string quarterback. Bruce Arians isn’t Bill Belichick.
Still, because of aforementioned karma, the Bucs will probably make it to the Super Bowl, and I will feel like a bad person for wanting the man who won me six championships to lose.
I don’t know whether other New England fans really want Brady to win without us, or if they’ve simply repressed their darkest impulses rather than write them down on the internet for everyone to see.
The bottom line is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I can’t selflessly root for you, Tom, and I’m sorry to the Patriots fans who will yell at me on the internet because of that.
I’m sorry that it took me 20 years to wrap my head around how miserable New England must have made fans of other teams.
But I’m not sorry it happened.
You can take away my quarterback, but *sobbing* you can’t take away my memories.
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