Brady's days as a great QB are done
Usually, a tiny hat is just a tiny hat. A unique fashion choice. Brave, even. Daring.
But when Tom Brady went out this past weekend in a tiny hat and a curiously buttoned shirt, it struck me as more than just a snapshot of someone who was recently victimized by a persuasive haberdasher. Brady's tiny hat was not just a tiny hat. It was the cap on his football career.
But let's forget miniature hats for a moment and focus on football. Brady will turn 32 years old during the preseason. This will be his 10th season in the NFL. He'll lead an aging offensive unit on a team that is considered the dynasty of the decade -- but hasn't won a Super Bowl in more than four years. New England's division rivals have improved dramatically since Brady last played an entire game 15 months ago. And -- oh, yeah -- he is coming back from a significant knee injury. It takes most players 24 months to recover fully from an ACL and MCL tear. Whereas Brady's time line was set back by a bacterial infection in the surgically repaired knee. And with New England's insurance policy, Matt Cassel, gone to Kansas City, Brady will be under pressure to perform immediately at 100 percent. There is no Plan B.
If Brady were any other player in the league, all of the above would resign a fan base to a down season and give fantasy owners sleepless nights. Yet the Patriots are installed as the favorites to win Super Bowl XLIV. Umm OK. Whatever.
But back to the tiny hat.
Four years ago, way back to a time after Brady won his last Super Bowl, he admitted to "60 Minutes" that football wasn't necessarily doing it for him. "Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there is something greater out there for me? A lot of people would say, 'This is what it is. I reached my goal, my dream.' Me, I think, 'God, it's got to be more than this.' I mean, this isn't what it's all cracked up to be."
Since then, Brady has gone about proving that there is, indeed, a lot more than football. He left his actress girlfriend, took up with a supermodel, had a baby with his actress girlfriend and married the supermodel. In that order. Then he had the best statistical season of his career and -- on the brink of leaving his quarterbacking peers in the dust -- suffered a crushing upset loss in the Super Bowl. A few months later, he skipped the first voluntary team workouts of his career to travel the world with his future wife. After that came the knee injury, which was followed by more jet-setting. Eventually, he got married to his supermodel girlfriend -- in ceremonies replete with matching dog scarves and gunfire -- who, soon after, told Vanity Fair that she sees Brady's child with Bridget Moynahan as "100 percent" hers.
Somewhere in all of that was Spygate. And tiny hats. Lots and lots of tiny hats -- or, at least, tuxes and scarves and Gisele feeding him lunch poolside.
And good for him. No one should begrudge Brady a thing. There isn't a guy out there who would turn down traveling the world with Gisele Bundchen on his arm.
It just probably means that Brady is done as a football player.
At first it seemed Brady was just experiencing a different part of life. And we could good-naturedly laugh at him for wearing an ascot to a postgame news conference. But in the past 14 months, those photos have really started to pile up. And this past weekend's tiny hat reached critical mass: Brady is no longer dabbling in a different lifestyle. He is living a different lifestyle.
So why would he step back onto the field to get hit in the face over and over by huge, muscle-bound opponents 10 years younger than he making the league-minimum salary and with nothing to lose? Only an insane person would do that.
Brady will do it because he has to. His team is counting on him. But he'll never be the same Tom Brady. He won't be a great quarterback again. He's now Tom Brady, international fashion icon.
The Patriots helmet is just another one of his eccentric hats.
DJ Gallo is the founder and sole writer of the sports satire site SportsPickle.com. He also is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine and has written for The Onion and Cracked. His first book, "SportsPickle Presents: The View from the Upper Deck," is on sale now.