When the 1998 NBA Finals wrapped up with the Chicago Bulls winning their sixth championship in eight years before their inevitable breakup, NBC commentator Bob Costas said that loyalty in pro sports would be gone with the end of the Jordan-Pippen-Jackson partnership. Fast-forward 22 years, and that same loyalty in arguably the best modern-day dynasty in professional sports has crumbled.
Yes, I’m talking about the New England Patriots’ trio of Tom Brady-Robert Kraft-Bill Belichick.
That partnership officially ended Thursday when the Thomas Edward Patrick Brady signed a 2-year, $50 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Patriots have been a model franchise under the Kraft regime, appearing in 10 Super Bowls, winning six, and finishing under .500 only twice (1995, 2000). In each occasion, the Pats followed up the sub-500 performance with a trip to the Super Bowl.
Brady spent 20 years with one franchise before announcing he wanted to test the free-agent waters. Many will argue that the Patriots did not want to pay $50 million for a quarterback who will be 43 in August, while others wanted Kraft and Belichick to keep the band together for one more run.
So, who is to blame that TB12 will now be throwing passes in Tampa?
Some say Kraft. Some say Belichick.
This writer says it’s the Hoodie.
It was easy to say the relationship between quarterback and coach was getting frosty over the last few years. Many will argue Belichick lost the team by benching Malcom Butler in Super Bowl 52, and the Pats subsequently made journeyman Nick Foles look like Joe Montana. The Pats did rebound and win Super Bowl 53, but it wasn’t because of the offense.
Fast-forward to last season. Brady’s weapons once included Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown. That’s a lineup you only see in Madden franchise mode.
Brown was cut after one game, Gordon was eventually cut and picked up by the Seahawks, leaving Edelman, who was clearly banged up, to carry the load. Brady’s frustration showed throughout the season, and the offense’s demise led to the Pats’ Wild Card playoff exit even though New England had the best defense in the league.
“It’s not supposed to end like this,” CBS commentator Tony Romo kept droning during that loss to Tennessee. And the last pass Brady will throw in a Pats’ uniform was a pick-6 to old friend Logan Ryan. Kind of similar to Brett Favre’s last pass as a Green Bay Packer in a 2008 NFC Championship loss to the Giants. We all know what those Giants did to the 18-0 Patriots two weeks later.
Belichick did not give Brady any weapons to work with last season. The tight end position was clearly in shambles following Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Loyalty is not something Belichick knows. Fans in Cleveland will recall him benching the beloved Bernie Kosar in favor of Vinny Testaverde during his first head coaching stint. Dynasty stalwarts such as Willie McGinest, Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy have all been shown the door by His Hoodiness.
In Tampa, Brady has one of the game’s top receivers at his disposal in Mike Evans and a top tight end in O.J. Howard. Bruce Arians is one of the game’s best offensive minds. Navigating the NFC South’s choppy waters will be a challenge for TB12 – the Saints still have Drew Brees – but don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers find a way to win that division.
Here in New England, we’ll see how great of a coach Belichick truly is this season. There’s no denying he’s one of the best of all time, but he’s been spoiled by having the best quarterback to ever play the game at his disposal. No matter who Belichick brings in, who is he going to throw to aside from Edelman?
Brady will find a way to get that illusive seventh championship. Super Bowl 54 is at Raymond James Stadium next February. It would only be fitting for the greatest of all time to play win a Super Bowl in his home stadium.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. But it did. And the Man in the Hoodie is at the center of it. I’m not saying the Patriots are going to morph into the post-Jordan Bulls – Chicago hasn’t been to the Finals since basketball’s GOAT faked Bryon Russell out of his shoes and drained that foul-line jumper in ’98 – but don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers have a better record than the Patriots this season.
By RYAN MCLAUGHLIN