For a brief Internet moment yesterday, the Patriots season was over before it started, and one of the most depressing summers in Boston sports history added another notch onto its fancy little belt.
In the end, it was just a scare. We think. To this point, we don’t know the full extent of Tom Brady’s knee injury, or how much it might linger throughout the summer and/or into the season. That said, we know that there will be a season. He didn’t tear his ACL again. And ultimately, the only serious fallout from the whole ordeal is the money you’ll have to spend to clean yesterday’s vomit off your keyboard.
Anyway, late last night, after all the crazy pills had worn off, I was reflecting on Brady’s career — past, present and future — and all that the Pats stood to lose had yesterday’s worst case scenario become a real life nightmare. I thought back to the play that ended Brady’s season in 2008, the play that we all thought ended his season in 2013, and stumbled on a random, common thread that means absolutely nothing in terms of today, but offered an interesting perspective on Brady’s career on the whole. You ready? Honestly, you might want to sit down for this. Here we go:
On both plays, just before Bernard Pollard introduced himself to the world and Nate Solder was pushed into Brady’s knee, the quarterback was throwing a pass intended for a receiver out of Marshall University.
In 2008, it was Randy Moss. Yesterday, it was rookie Aaron Dobson. And today . . . BOOM!
Of course, Marshall isn’t a school necessarily known as an NFL factory. When you think of Thundering Herd program, you’re more likely reminded of the tragic 1970 plane crash or the tragic 2006 Matthew Mcconaughey movie before you are anything that actually happened on the field. As it is, over 118 years of Marshall football, only six wide receivers from the school have caught a pass in the NFL. Still, Marshall alumni have played an interesting role in one of the greatest quarterbacking careers of all time.
When Brady took the field against the Jets in 2001, after Mo Lewis knocked out Drew Bledsoe, No. 12’s first pass was a completion to Patrick Pass, and that was followed by three straight completions to Troy Brown (from Marshall University). That was followed by a nine-yard completion to Jermaine Wiggins (who played at Marshall for two years). That last one was called back because of a penalty, but the role that Wiggins and Brown played in New England’s eventual run to the Super Bowl can’t be overstated.
Then there was Moss, with whom Brady set all kinds of NFL records, and who caught the pass thrown right before the 2008 season went up in a cloud of Pollard. And then, this past April, the Pats selected Dobson in the second round of the draft. He’s had a great camp so far, and finds himself behind only Danny Amendola on the receiver depth chart. He was the target of yesterday’s nearly tragic pass attempt. He’ll soon become the seventh receiver in Marshall football history to catch a pass in the NFL, and amazingly, the third to catch one from Tom Brady.
Like I said before, the Brady/Marshall connection doesn’t matter all that much. For all we care, Dobson could have spent the last three years working at Marshalls. If he can catch a pass, he can catch a pass. But in terms of putting everything in perspective, here's something that blew my mind:
Troy Brown graduated from Marshall in 1992.
Aaron Dobson was born in 1991.
Man, Brady’s been doing this for so long. And yesterday’s brief scare served as powerful reminder of how fortunate New England is that he’s still doing it.
Powerful, and completely unnecessary.
You know, I could have spent these last 700 or so words breaking down all the reasons the Pats would have been screwed by a significant Brady injury, or what might happen if another significant injury rears its head. But honestly, I might as well write a column about what happens when the sun burns out. Everyone gets it. It’s not something anyone wants to think about. For some Pats fans, it’s not something they’re even able to.
“Are you up on this?”
I sent that text to a friend yesterday afternoon when the Brady news initially popped up on Twitter. This guy is literally the craziest, most invested Pats fan I know. He has a framed picture on his bedside table of his hand (HIS HAND) touching the Lombardi Trophy at a Super Bowl after party in Houston. He still hasn’t recovered from the fact that Vincent Brisby ignored a Facebook friend request sent more than five years ago.
“Are you sitting down?”
“Oh boy. I could check Twitter, but I’d rather hear it from you. My heart is racing.”
“Solder pushed back into Brady’s left knee. Limped off the field.”
“Crap. So no left tackle?”
“Ummm . . .”
I eventually cleared up the confusion, which led to him to the brink of a breakdown. (He’s currently recovering nicely, under 24 hour supervision.) But in retrospect, I want to submit our conversation to the American Journal of Psychology. I mean, read that again. I told him that Brady was injured and his brain literally couldn’t process it. It went into defense mode, producing some mangled interpretation that somehow made everything OK. Or at the very least, “more OK.” Manageable.
Nothing’s manageable without Brady. Maybe someday, but not right now.
There will be plenty of time over these next few months to wax on everything that he means to this team and this town. All that’s on the line between now and whenever he decides to walk away. Brady started this whole amazing era in Boston sports back in 2001, and with Paul Pierce gone and David Ortiz only under contract for one more season, Brady will be the one who officially ends it.
For now, New England can only be thankful that this season still exists, hopeful that Brady wins one more ring before saying goodbye, and damn sure that if he does, some guy from Marshall will play a major role.
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine