Even if you were able to accept the split rationally, as an amicable parting of ways, there’s still this hard truth to swallow: The Patriots didn’t pay to keep Brady around. They let him walk, only to turn around and see that his 43-year-old revenge body was just fine without them, pliable enough to make it back to another Super Bowl.
“I think he’s making the Patriots look horrible,” says Michael Felger, co-host of the daily Boston radio show Felger & Mazz. “If you’re asking what fans are feeling here, they’re all conflicted. They all love the guy, they’re all rooting for the guy. But they’re also coming to the realization now that him being in the Super Bowl and the Patriots sucking means the Patriots blew it. And it makes the Patriots look bad. I don’t know if they realized that when it first started. It was like, ‘Yay Brady, go Brady, we love Brady.’ But now that he’s in the Super Bowl and their team is 7-9, I think they’re coming to the realization of, ‘Oh, this makes us look like jackasses.’ And I don’t think they like it.”
Judge agrees that this one of the major factors in creating Pats’ fans conflicted feelings right now. They have to deal with the reality that at least some of the fault falls on their beloved Pats. “It just felt like, for years, you’re like, why aren’t we locking this guy up for the rest of his career?” Judge says that there was also a belief among New England fans that maybe, good as Brady was, Belichick was the real puppet master. “It turns out that no, when you surround Tom Brady with world-class receivers, he wins football games,” he says.
That question has always lingered. What was the true source of the Pats’ success: Brady’s talent, the coaching mastermind of Bill Belichick, or the unstoppable combination of both? Brady’s post-Belichick success is a referendum on that, too.
Though Wilder points out that the Brady-Belichick conversation is obviously reductive (20 years of success can’t be attributed to just two people), and that it’s unfair to judge Belichick too harshly this year given that so many of his players opted not to play during a pandemic, she admits, “It is very hard to see the way that Brady’s playing, and what he’s done with this Bucs team, and then watch how Belichick has let the Pats’ roster kind of deteriorate recently, and not be like, maybe one of them’s still got it and the other doesn’t.”
“It takes away from the mystique of the Patriots Way,” says Judge. “We thought that it was this perfect harmony of Brady and Belichick and Kraft. Only those three, at this point in time, could ever create a run like this. But it looks like that’s not the case.”
Felger puts it more bluntly: “Brady goes somewhere else and is still winning at this level and you’re not. And that’s pretty much the bottom line. He wins. Bill loses. And it’s been a little bit of a mindfuck for Patriots fans.”
That mindfuck will continue this weekend, now that Pats fans are left with two unfortunate outcomes. If the Bucs win, they’ll be forced to see Brady lift a Lombardi trophy in a Bucs jersey. If the Chiefs win, they’ll be the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champion since Tom Brady’s Patriots teams went back to back in 2003 and 2004.
“Pick your poison,” says Felger. “If Brady wins, boy does it accentuate how you blew this transition as an organization. You just blew it. He still had championship football left in him and you weren’t there to take advantage of it. If the Chiefs win, here comes a real threat to your legacy and your dynasty. People are going to put Mahomes next to Brady, and that’s not going to taste very good either. There’s not going to be a pleasant result either way. I’m a talk show host, so I’m rooting for the story, and Brady winning is a better story.”