Consider this column a pause (respite?) in your ongoing search for clues in Deflategate. I’m here to actually write about football (the sport), and the man so many consider guilty of gaining an extra squeeze on the pigskin.
When Tom Brady takes the opening snap for his New England Patriots, he’ll become the first quarterback to play in six Super Bowls. Should the Patriots beat Seattle, Brady will be the third quarterback (after Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana) to raise the Vince Lombardi trophy four times. But the Brady phenomenon — even under a cloud of scandal — is bigger than his record-breaking numbers. We are witnessing, folks, the first one-man dynasty in the history of American team sports.
The New York Yankee dynasties (yes, plural) blended across generations, with teams led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig passing the torch to those led by Joe DiMaggio and later Mickey Mantle. Derek Jeter was famously part of a “core four” (along with Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte) that won the franchise’s most recent five championships.
Tom Brady had Adam Vinatieri. The kicker who helped deliver the Patriots first two championships with late field goals may well make the Hall of Fame someday, but he’s been an Indianapolis Colt for nine years now.
Bill Russell’s Celtics had a supporting cast that included Hall of Famers like Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones, Tom Sanders, and John Havlicek. Larry Bird’s run would not have happened without Hall of Famers Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish.
Tom Brady had Richard Seymour. The defensive tackle was named first-team All-Pro after the Patriots’ second and third Super Bowls, but has now been retired two years and played for Oakland when New England last reached the big game (after the 2011 season).
Magic Johnson’s Lakers were just as much Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers. Hall of Famer James Worthy helped them win three NBA titles. Even Michael Jordan had a Hall of Fame wingman in Scottie Pippen on his way to six titles with Chicago.
Tom Brady had Randy Moss. If his miserable demeanor is put aside, Moss will make the Hall of Fame. But the wideout played in but one Super Bowl (after the 2007 season) with the Pats.
And NFL dynasties? When you think of the 1960s Packers, do you think first of Bart Starr or Ray Nitschke? The Steelers of the 1970s had Hall of Famers at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver (two), but are remembered for a defense that included Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount. The 49ers of the 1980s had three first-ballot Hall of Famers in Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott. And the Cowboys of the 1990s had “the triplets”: Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, each now with a bust at Canton.
Tom Brady had Wes Welker, a primary receiving target for two Super Bowl teams, and nowhere to be found on Brady’s other four.
It’s astounding to consider, really. The Patriots’ current All-Pro tight end, Rob Gronkowski, may gain Hall of Fame credentials, but only with about eight more seasons like the one he just enjoyed. The way he’s playing — and winning — Tom Brady may still be throwing the ball to Gronk eight years from now.
The one future Hall of Famer Brady has had at his side since his first Super Bowl, of course, is his coach. Come Sunday, Bill Belichick will become the first man to coach the same franchise in six Super Bowls. Did Belichick make Brady, or is it the other way around? At the very most, the New England Patriot dynasty of the last 15 years has been a two-man job. Particularly for a sport where 22 men take the field for every play, it’s a phenomenon we’re unlikely to see again.
Has Brady bent rules in his rise to such rarefied air in American sports history? Perhaps. Belichick has already been disciplined for cheating in the eyes of the NFL. Each will likely carry a stench — to one degree or another — to Canton for his enshrinement weekend. Such is life for this century’s most distinctive sports dynasty.
• I have family in Seattle. And I have family in New England. So I’ve decided I will cheer every positive play this Sunday, regardless of which team makes it. Then I will sympathize with the losing side more than I celebrate with the winning bunch. The defending champs taking on the sport’s most-recent dynasty offers no underdog to support. (This is only the third Super Bowl in the last 20 years to feature each conference’s top seed.)
But I’ll make a pick. The Patriots will dominate storylines this week, and they would have without deflated footballs entering the picture. This will suit the oft-overlooked Seahawks just fine. Even nursing injuries to key members (Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman), the Seattle defense is among the four or five best of the Super Bowl era. I don’t see this year’s Patriot offense being any stronger than last year’s Denver Broncos unit. And superior NFL defenses tend to rise up on Super Sunday.
Seahawks 27, Patriots 13.