Tom Brady and the only thing that matters

Tom Brady and the only thing that matters
June 10, 2014, 2:00 pm
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Last week, there was a story on about how Tom Brady is no longer one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL. You probably heard about it because you’re a living and breathing sports fan who spends time on the Internet. In that case, the story was harder to avoid than a sour fart in an elevator — and it smelled about that bad.

Not just the story, but also the reaction to the story. The whole experience. The fact that no matter how many times the Internet takes the bait and gets nothing in return, the Internet never stops taking the bait. That writers looking to stir something up almost always succeed. Which only inspires more writers to do the same. Which only brings more suffering upon the ever-growing number of sports fans who are sick of all the yelling, and don’t care about meaningless and generally misinformed debates, but have nowhere else to turn.

Anyway, when it comes to stirring the pot, Brady’s an easy target for two reasons.

1. Fans are more emotionally invested in No. 12 than in any other athlete in Boston. For fans of a certain age, Brady’s mortality strikes a few deeper chords. He is THE athlete for an entire generation. He’s Larry Bird. He’s Bobby Orr. He’s Ted Williams. It’s not fun to think about the end of Tom Brady’s career, or to be reminded of its inevitability. It makes people passionate and angry, and writers/talking heads know that.

2. The “Brady in decline” argument is so easy. Breaking: 37-year-old athlete can’t perform at the level he did when he was 30!

How hard is that to defend?

In this case, the question of whether Brady is still a Top 5 quarterback is probably a fair one. At the very least, it might be interesting to lay out all the facts, compare them at every level, and see where it leads you. But that’s not what happened with this particular story. Instead, it was a writer starting at the end — with a headline — and then cherry picking a few relevant but biased stats to give off the impression that his click-bait-fueled opinion was a fact.

And it worked. It pissed people off. It brought the clicks. It made headlines. It clearly got back to Brady. And yesterday at Gillette, although never directly asked about the story, Brady answered questions that danced around the subject.

“I think that people watch the games on TV because there is a scoreboard,” he said. “I think that's what it is all about. If there was no scoreboard, then people wouldn't tune in and watch. There's only one stat that matters . . .

You can't sit here and compare one year to another year or compare this player to that player. I think winning games is the most important thing, certainly for this organization. When you come here, you learn that pretty quickly. Whatever matters to you as an individual, it's far distant to what the team goals are. And the team goals are one thing -- to score more points than the other team.”

It was a boring answer from Brady, but what did you expect? It doesn’t seem like he even cares that much, but again, what did you expect? Maybe there was a time when a story like this would’ve got under Brady’s skin. On the other hand, there was probably also a time when he would’ve loved to just be in the conversation among the Top 5 quarterbacks in the league. At different stages in his career, I’m sure the idea of being “a top 5 NFL QB” has affected Brady in different ways. And at this stage, I’m not sure it affects him at all.

First of all, because Brady’s no stranger to people selling him short. It’s been more than a decade since that was the case, but I’m sure the criticism sounds plenty familiar.

Second of all, because Tom Brady’s 851 yards away from becoming only the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 50,000 yards, and if he stays healthy this season, he’ll pass John Elway for fifth on the all-time list.

Because he’s already in the Top 5 all-time in touchdown passes.

Because he’s won more regular season games than all but two quarterbacks in NFL history, and has the highest winning percentage among any QB in the Top 50.

Because he’s won more Super Bowls than all but three quarterbacks in NFL history.

Because he holds the NFL record for most playoff wins.

Because, even if he’s not one of the five best quarterbacks in 2014, he’s still one of the five best quarterbacks to ever live. And at this stage in Brady’s career, he’s not going to let a 1000-word blog post written three-months before the start of the season undermine the perspective and knowledge that he’s picked up over the course of 15 long seasons.

He doesn’t have time for that.

Because he knows the truth.

Which is, that it really doesn’t matter.

Nothing matters but winning. Not stats, not stupid top 5 rankings. Brady’s already lived through some of the great statistical seasons in NFL history. He’s set more records than anyone can remember. And it still wasn’t enough. Not for him. Not for the fans. Not for the media.

At this point, he doesn’t care if he’s better than five other guys; only that the Patriots are better than 31 other teams.

But Brady not caring won’t kill the conversation. Believe me, this wasn’t the first time his potential decline has been in the headlines, and it certainly won’t be the last. There are many writers and personalities on the national level who don’t like the Patriots. Every year there’s a wave of former players making their way into the media, and the majority them suffered a great deal of Brady-inspired heartbreak. These guys are going to run with the chance to throw a magnifying glass on Brady’s eventual, inevitable decline.

Locally, writers and talking heads will do it because it digs into that emotional side of things and drives clicks and conversations. Every time that he has a bad game, there will be another round of commotion, as everyone scrambles around asking the question:

Does Tom Brady still have it?

But for all the screaming, and now more than ever, Brady knows that the answer will only and always lie in the scoreboard.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine