Brady’s Excellence Shines Through In Defeat

I know my first reaction to the Super Bowl should be the historic championship for the proud fan base of the Philadelphia Eagles. They join the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Astros in the ranks of teams that have delivered a loyal fan base a long-overdue title. The Eagles were the most complete team in football all season long and validated that on Sunday night in Minneapolis.

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But here in the second day after the game, I still find myself thinking of the amazing excellence of one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady. I know there are five other times he walked off the Super Bowl stage with a championship in tow and four of those times, had a game MVP trophy with him. But I think this one was his greatest Super Bowl performance yet.

The numbers alone bear it out—Brady re-wrote the record book with 505 yards passing. He did it with all of the potential mitigating factors working against him. His offensive line was inferior to the Eagles’ terrific defensive front four. His receivers, with the exception of Rob Gronkowski, were inferior to Philly’s talented secondary. The inability of the Patriot defense to stop Philadelphia’s offense, with its elegant mix of precision and power, meant Brady only had 25 minutes of possession time. And yet he still piled up the numbers.

I would have voted him Super Bowl MVP. As good as Nick Foles was—and he was terrific—it’s a lot easier to play quarterback when you get the kind of protection Foles had and are able to play with a lead most of the night.

But what I would do almost never happens in Super Bowl MVP voting, and I want to stress I have no problem with Foles winning the award—it’s consistent with historic precedent. Brady also won a couple that I wouldn’t have given him. I’d have voted for James White last year. And Brady’s Super Bowl MVP in 2001 was basically stolen from teammate Ty Law in the most ridiculous individual championship game/series honor ever given.

In my world, Brady would have three Super Bowl MVPs (2003 & 2014, as he rightfully won, along with this one), whereas in the real world he has four. I point this out solely so readers know that as much as I love watching Brady play, I’m not completely in the tank for him. Not completely anyway.

But the law of averages catches up to everyone. When New England got the ball back with 2:21 left, down 38-33, most of America was thinking Brady was ready to do it again. What goes through my mind is to just wonder how many times he can do it. I wondered it in last year’s Super Bowl. I wondered it two weeks ago in the AFC Championship Game. Finally, Brandon Graham got pressure up the middle, got his paw in there and poked the football from Brady’s hands.

The comparison that went through my mind at that moment was to another all-time great, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. There was no relief pitcher better in big moments than Rivera. But even he blew a save in Game 7 of a World Series, back in 2001. I won’t recap all the details here, but it was a classic example of a “soft rally”, with only one ball hit hard. It was the kind of thing that happens to all athletes if they compete on the biggest stages enough times. It happened to Brady on Sunday night.

I don’t know if this is it for Brady. I’ve always believed that when the end comes, it will come rapidly and without warning, as it did for Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. For the past 2-3 years, I’ve adopted a “let’s watch four games and see if he’s still got it” when it comes to the Patriots.

What I do know is that we have never seen his like before and we won’t see it again. I’m a Redskins fan by nature, but the Patriots are the team I turn to for some sanity around Thanksgiving. Naturally, I feel a little sadness. The local theater here in New England where I watched the game was quiet as everyone left. But the sadness is less about the result on Sunday—everything Brady does at this point is icing on a calorie-laden cake—but the fact that the end is near and certain. Brady couldn’t beat the law of averages on Sunday and he won’t beat Father Time for much longer, if it all. But it has been an extraordinary journey to watch.