NFL Preview, Part 3: Brady’s Quest for No. 4

NFL Preview, Part 3: Brady’s Quest for No. 4
September 6, 2013, 1:00 pm
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Welcome back to the preview (Part 1 is here, Part 2 is also here), which today moves from the NFL to New England. It’s all Patriots. Although Part 3 is more about just one Patriot.

When Paul Pierce was traded to the Brooklyn Nets this summer, he left many things behind. Mostly, we’re talking friends, fans, the only NBA city he ever played in and the only franchise he ever played for. But for his buddy Tom Brady, who kicks off his 14th season with the Patriots this Sunday, Pierce left behind something special. Something historic and bittersweet.

The title of Boston’s longest-tenured athlete.

The fact that Brady now holds this distinction isn’t all that shocking, but there are still ways to put it in perspective. For instance, can you name the Red Sox starting pitcher on the day that the Patriots drafted Brady?

It was Ramon Martinez. That’s insane.

But in general, everyone around here is well aware of Tom Brady’s longevity. These days you can’t talk or even think about Brady without his age leaping to the forefront. In turn, there’s no escaping the challenge that lies ahead for No. 12. Basically, that the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl (at the time), and then the youngest to ever win two Super Bowls and then three Super Bowls and then OH MY GOD HE HAS SO MANY YEARS LEFT. HE MIGHT WIN SEVEN SUPER BOWLS — now must become one of the oldest quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl just to make it to No. 4.

I say “just” as if a fourth ring is some minor accomplishment, but obviously that’s just relative to the way Brady’s career was trending in 2005, back when it looked like he might not ever lose a playoff game. In reality, a fourth Super Bowl is an enormous deal. In terms of Brady’s career, it’s everything. It’s pride. More than that, it’s redemption. Even more than that, it’s closure.

Brady needs that fourth title. That’s why I believe him when he says he wants to play into his 40s. I think he’d play into his 60s before retiring with only three rings. The next one is all he cares about. That’s why he keeps restructuring. That’s why he was back at OTAs. He knows he’s running out of time. That’s why his patience has runs so thin that he’s one step away from assaulting one of his own receivers during a game.

In that sense, even though I started this by comparing him to Paul Pierce, Tom Brady’s more like the NFL’s Kobe Bryant. And I mean that as a compliment. In fact, I know that Brady would take it as a compliment:

“I actually saw Kobe Bryant for the first time when they went to the Finals in Boston,” Brady said before Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis. “He's someone that I really look up to and admire, because of his competitiveness."

It makes sense. Him and Kobe have a lot in common. They’re two superstars who reached the pinnacle of their profession at a very early age and are still excelling way past their primes. Two borderline psychotic competitors with goals beyond what most people can even comprehend. Recently, both took sizable hits (Kobe, with his ACL and Dwight Howard; Brady with his best friend leaving for his biggest rival and his most versatile target in jail on a murder charge), but have remained predictably confident. However, they’re also both well aware of one undeniable fact:

They can’t do it by themselves.

No one cares about Kobe (at least not right now), but later today, in part 4, we/I wrap up the NFL Preview with a look at Brady’s supporting cast.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine