Patriots: As a sports fan, witnessing Tom Brady’s career up close was everything you could ask for

Where do you even start?

Growing up as a sports fan, you ultimately learn that the greatest part of a local team winning a championship is the memories created along with it. Everyone has countless stories of where they were and who they were with for any of the titles we’ve seen since 2001.

Stunningly, Tom Brady provided every Patriots fan with six of those special occasions in a 20-year span. Was there some luck and controversy scattered along the way? Absolutely, but in the end, two wins over different variations of the Rams and wins over the Falcons, Seahawks, Eagles and Panthers gave us all moments and experiences that will last a life time.

With Brady officially retiring in a long Instagram post on Tuesday, an incredible era not just in Boston sports, but North American sports comes to an end. It’s strange that he would go out nearly on top after putting up MVP-caliber numbers at 44 years old, but what else was left for him to prove? The family pulling him away was real and while Bill Russell and a few other athletes have a legitimate case, Tom Brady should be considered the greatest winner in professional sports history. Winning six titles in professional football in a time of free agency is something that will go unmatched for decades at least. If you don’t believe me, just look at how much trouble Kansas City had closing out an upstart Bengals team last weekend.

Brady elevated his teammates in the biggest moments and was the consummate professional throughout his time here. We’ve seen over the past two seasons just how important his willingness to fall in line under the tyranny of Bill Belichick was. Why? Because everyone else followed, which in the end made “The Patriot Way” work as well as it did for as long as it did.

Fittingly, for a guy who had everything he did heavily scrutinized for so long, there was a bit of controversy with his retirement post. Brady mentioned everyone under the sun, except for the coaches, players and owner of the Patriots. Social media and the radio airwaves immediately blew up. Brady – in true 2022 fashion – screen shotted a thank you post the Patriots had put out and wrote “thank you, beyond grateful, love you all,” in what was honestly a pretty half-assed response to the outpouring of “what about us?” from the region. I personally don’t care much about the lack of an acknowledgment, but it was pretty odd, especially in a retirement speech, regardless of whatever was said prior to hm leaving for the Buccaneers or even when he returned this past season.

The main reason I wasn’t bothered by it was because of those memories. There are so many that will always stick out to me, but anyone who has rooted for this team over the last two decades could probably make a list of about 20.

The first one that will always stick out for me was the very beginning of his incredible career in 2001. As a 13, soon-to-be 14-year old kid who’s parents were getting divorced and didn’t know his ass from his elbow while heading to a new school, that Pats team was such a cool thing to latch onto in the middle of all the chaos.

While Brady led the team during the snow bowl the enormity of a rookie doing what he was doing was completely over my head. After all, I was a Bledsoe guy and was even holding a sign at the Saints game (Brady remained the starter that week despite Drew being cleared to play) that said “It’s Drew’s Team” in the pouring rain. That game was the week after the Rams loss in primetime and started the winning streak that, ironically, ended with a title in New Orleans.

I distinctively remember having zero doubt in my mind they’d win in Pittsburgh, which makes no sense because up until that point the only brief success I had seen were the 1999 Red Sox. I had the same feeling against the Rams, something I still can’t really explain other than complete disregard for how good the Rams were as a clueless teenager. The David Patten touchdown near the end of the first half is still my favorite play from that season aside from the game-winning field goal because it confirmed my belief I was going to see a championship sitting next to my dad in his Dracut home at the time. A pretty shitty year wasn’t so bad after all.

Two and three years later at a buddy’s house Brady created two more unforgettable moments with a thrilling win over Carolina (thanks again Vinatieri) and then over Philadelphia, prompting the late great Gil Santos to say “yes, it’s a dynasty!” We were in high school at that point and thought we were bad asses, sneaking beers while watching the game. Are you even a Patriots fans if you aren’t trying to drink Bud Lights at age 16?

The 2006 and 2007 endings as a freshman and sophomore in college were and still are the two worst losses I will see as a New England sports fan. In fairness, I obviously wasn’t alive for the 1986 Sox collapse, but with a roommate who was a Giants fan (and a Knicks and Rangers fan) along with a dorm room full of Dolphins, Redskins and Bills fans, the misery after that 07 game was never ending. Still, that entire season was incredibly fun for that exact same reason and is a year I’ll remember vividly.

The 2011 AFC championship will always go down as a top-five Brady game for me simply because I was lucky enough to have fantastic seats and it was my first ever championship game in person. Another buddy of mine and I decided we absolutely had to be there since it had been a whopping four years since the Patriots last went to a Super Bowl and we honestly thought Brady could be done if they didn’t win. Dumb asses. Almost $400 each later, we were headed to see Pats-Ravens. After buying a grill the night before and not realizing we had to assemble it because we were idiots, we drank our beers, were lucky enough to have a couple people let us use their grill and then went in to watch one of the most memorable games in franchise history.

Brady’s sneak where he leapt over the goal line late in that game is the most lasting image for me because we were down near that end zone. Obviously, Cundiff’s missed kick is burned in my memory too, but it’s Brady’s leap and near broken neck (or so it appeared) I’ll always remember.

Everyone and their grandmother has a 2014, Deflategate, Seahawks story. That fourth quarter is arguably the greatest fourth quarter in any game by a quarterback in NFL history given just how good the “Legion of Boom” really was. When Butler made his interception, I shoved my buddy so hard he took a step back and nearly put himself through a wall, all while we were yelling “he F’ing picked it!” That moment doesn’t happen without Brady’s ridiculous fourth quarter. Let’s not forget coming back from being down 14 points twice against Baltimore three weeks earlier too.

Much like 2014, 2016 speaks for itself. Everyone has a story and moments they’ll never forget with 28-3. Even after one of the first scores to begin the comeback, I can still hear a friend of mine saying “damn, they still need to get multiple two-point conversions too” and it hit me at that point that maybe this was it. The dynasty was finally ending. Again, I’m an idiot. The Falcons crapped in their Huggies and Brady did what he always does, leading the comeback of a lifetime. I paced around a buddy’s basement for the entire fourth quarter and overtime. If I had looked at my “steps” for the day or how far I had traveled I legitimately think a mile or two wouldn’t be out of the question.

The ensuing dog pile in that basement after James White crossed the goal line is the type of memory that everyone watching and rooting for the Patriots that night has and will have forever, and it doesn’t happen without Tom Brady.

The final “top of the mountain” moment for fans in 2018 was very different than all those others. 2017 should have been another one, but Belichick’s unwillingness to play Malcolm Butler cost Brady and all of us another special night.

There was a clear sense of things coming to an end and little did we know just how much turmoil was going on between the three most important people in the organization throughout the last two seasons. The 2018 AFC championship game was ultimately the more memorable game, but the final throw to Gronk against the Rams and the eruption that took place in another friend’s house in Waltham is hard to forget for me.

It truly sucks the way everything ended here and the fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were even words coming out of Brady’s mouth or from his fingers in what is one of the most important retirement speeches or statements in the last 50 years is sickening. Still, fans can’t really get mad at him for anything after what he gave us for 20 years.

In New England, Tom Brady has kids named after him. Tom Brady has dogs named after him. Tom Brady has at least one jersey or a photo of himself hanging in 99% of homes in (at least) five of the six states here. Tom Brady gave every single one of us more than just bragging rights over other fan bases.

Tom Brady provided each of us with memories and moments that will last a lifetime. How many other athletes (David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Larry Bird and that’s probably it?) can say they had that much of an impact on so many lives?

The greatest professional athlete in North American sports history is walking away and luckily, New England was at the center of it all.

Six Super Bowls. 20 years of unquestioned dominance. Countless vivid memories.

As a sports fan, you couldn’t ask for anything more.