First things first, this is not a complaint about Rams-49ers being the matchup for the NFC Championship Game. The upsets in the Divisional Round happened fair and square, and both California teams deserve to play for a spot in the Super Bowl.
It should be a good game, too.
Also, I’m still the same guy who wrote, almost two years ago, “Tom Brady Is The Most Overrated QB In History.” And I still believe that, because even as a no-doubt, inner-circle Hall of Famer, it’s still possible to be overrated. There’s more in common between Brady and Derek Jeter than anyone in either New England or New York would like to admit.
Sorry, it’s true.
When Brady went to Tampa Bay, it was my sincere hope that he would fall on his face, that he’d be the second coming of Joe Namath on the Rams. He went out and won another Super Bowl, followed by another division title this season.
Now, after falling just short in a comeback attempt against the Rams on Sunday, Brady is out of this year’s playoffs. Even at 44, would he really retire after a season in which he led the NFL in completions, passing yards, and touchdowns?
That’s some other day’s conversation. This is about this weekend, and the quarterbacks remaining being Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo, Joe Burrow, and Patrick Mahomes.
Where’s the heel?
Stafford spent his whole career in Detroit, finally got out, and now has a chance to go to a Super Bowl. Garoppolo has been to a Super Bowl, but is easily (and not wrongly) the most maligned quarterback still playing, on a team that’s already drafted his replacement. Burrow has brought the Bengals farther than they’ve been in three decades. Mahomes has some annoying family, but every week makes at least one play that you’ve never seen before, or even thought you’d see before.
Had the Bucs won on Sunday, the full week of hype for Brady vs. Garoppolo, once teammates in New England, would have been unbearable. But actually seeing it? That could have played out one of two ways.
- Brady loses to Jimmy freakin’ Garoppolo, and we all laugh about it forever.
- Brady wins, sending Garoppolo toward an organization’s exit once again, while advancing to his 11th Super Bowl.
In the latter scenario, yes, the buildup to the Super Bowl also would be unbearable, but after a few days it always is anyway. And yes, there would be a chance of having to watch Brady, once again, win the big one and add to his legend. But we’ve seen that so much already, it hardly matters if he wins an eighth. But wouldn’t you want to see him lose a fourth?
The thing that makes Brady special, and the reason that it’s not just that you root against him, but have fun rooting against him, is his self-awareness. You could even see it in his hype video for the Rams game. He’s talking about the possibility of having lost, joking about having Rob Gronkowski eat a memory card, playing it all so cool with the knowledge that he’s got seven rings already and there’s nothing you can say that will hurt him, even calling him the most overrated quarterback of all time. Doesn’t matter, he’s got those seven rings and five Super Bowl MVPs. He cheated, got caught, served his punishment, came back, and won some more. So he’s going to have his fun and know that you’re rooting against him.
That is starkly different from, say, Aaron Rodgers, the loudest silenced man in the world. Rodgers needs to be loved, needs to be accepted, needs to get constant validation. Rodgers believes that he’s the virtuous one, that a woke mob really is after him and they’re the bad guys, that he’s been treated unfairly.
That’s why we’re glad to see Green Bay out of the playoffs, and not have to hear from the Pack Quack anymore. But if you’re not a Los Angeles or San Francisco fan, the NFC title game just doesn’t have as much heat without Brady there to root against. Rodgers is a villain. Brady is a heel. And if this is the end of his legendary career, it’s OK to admit it: we’ll miss Brady when he’s gone, all of us.