One of my many personal nightmares, as a Chicago Bears fan, is of course the 2010 NFC Championship game. The one where Jay Cutler got hurt and launched 1,000 ships of idiotic takes he, the Bears, and really we as a city never recovered from. And of course, it was the Green Bay Packers. Oh, what we might have had in Aaron Rodgers’s brain melt had he never had this.
Anyway, after Cutler didn’t make it out for the second half, the Bears had to turn to Todd Collins. He was 39 at the time. Todd Collins at 27 wasn’t much to talk about. At 39, well, you can probably figure it out.
He threw only four passes, but it was obvious to anyone watching that he didn’t want to play. He had come to back up and collect his paycheck and prayed he never had to get into a game. He probably shat himself when news that Cutler was out came to him. He chucked the in any direction that he could later claim was the first read, but mostly just got him the reward of never getting close to getting hit. He was looking for the bench and the exit the moment he stepped between the lines. Three and outs were his Valhalla.
Last night, Tom Brady looked like Todd Collins that day.
I couldn’t pretend to know or even suspect all the things that have time and freedom to somersault around the vacuous space between Brady’s ears. Clearly, he can be convinced of anything, and that he’s spent 20-plus years now simply getting his shoes shined and his hair styled by everyone hasn’t given him much of an urge to fill it with anything substantial. He’s the perfectly constructed empty shell, which is all he ever needed to be.
In that cranium void, Brady knows attention equals good, compliments and tributes equal good, which is why he’ll subject us to another offseason of hopping back and forth over the retirement line. Through whatever backward and roughly hewn calculations he’s come up with, he knows that having writers and reporters talking about him coming back and fans asking him to come to their team is good. He knows the possibility of retirement will engineer an update of all the video packages, and the tributes that were trotted out last winter and spring, which makes him feel good.
But he doesn’t actually want to play. You saw that against the Cowboys. He’s always been a baby about getting hit, but last night was the biggest example of him doing whatever he could to avoid it. Including some inexplicably bad throws. He just wanted to get rid of the ball. He wanted to be off the field. He didn’t want any part of that.
He’s had the same look on his face that he’s had all season, which is of a guy who’s ended up in a neighborhood he doesn’t recognize. Didn’t there use to be a bank here? Was that always a park? In those moments, you can truly see that the calculations don’t add up. He likes all that other stuff, but in those moments you see that he doesn’t really like playing anymore and is truly mystified why he thought all the other stuff was worth actually suiting up and getting on the field.
Yeah, we know about all the comebacks. But in a two-minute drill, he can throw five-yard passes to his heart’s content. The pass-rushers get tired and are less likely to hit him. He’s under less threat. He’s lucky the Bucs’ defense kept him around enough games to do that.
It’s understandable, after 20+ years there has to come a point where the physical toll is something you no longer want to put up with. Maybe he thought he would never get touched. Maybe he convinced himself, in the child-like fascination he has with himself and what’s being said and written about him, that he wouldn’t be hit or that he could stand up to it again. That sort of thing can blind perception of what’s real and what isn’t.
We’ll do it all again. He’ll probably figure out a way to go play for someone new, and the change of scenery will invigorate him. The hundreds of “Welcome to (Miami/Vegas/Wherever), Tom!” signs and puff pieces will fill his insatiable need for affirmation and attention. He clearly doesn’t know what he’d do when that all goes away, because it’s all he knows.
But the actual football? He’s left that behind. Doesn’t have much interest. He’ll do it because he knows it means the other stuff. A dog will stay for treats, after all. And Tom has always been the fanciest of dogs. And a whole new set of teammates will wonder why there’s this much stuff going around a guy who doesn’t want to be out there like they do.