I have very few rules in life, but this is one of them: Anytime something happens in a Patriots game that prompts more than 350 readers to e-mail me with some sort of Tom Brady-Jason Street “Friday Night Lights” connection, I have to sort things out with an all-Brady mailbag. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers:
Q: Give us a retroactive running diary of your thoughts from 10:14 a.m. PT to bedtime on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008. Did you go through the seven stages of grief? Did you cry? My roommate thinks you cried. I don’t think you cried but you probably looked like Coach K every time Duke is about to get eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, glassy-eyed with a quivering lip. Just go through the whole day for us. Yes, these are your readers.
— Kenny, Ann Arbor, Mich.
SG: Really, it wasn’t exciting enough for a diary. I was catatonic for about 20 minutes. I called my dad a few times. I thought about the bad karma from last season and all those Eff-You TDs that apparently came back to haunt the Pats. I tried to figure out who was in more trouble: the 2008 Pats or my 2008 West Coast fantasy team. (The answer: both.) I found myself looking for Brady’s ACL anytime the ball was near the 50-yard line. I kept swearing at Dan Dierdorf, who apparently got a $1,000 bonus every time he mentioned Brady’s injury, only I couldn’t mute the TV because of the 1 percent chance the crowd would start randomly cheering as Greg Gumbel yelped, “And here comes Tom Brady out of the tunnel!”
By the second half, when it was apparent Brady wasn’t returning, I zipped through the last six stages of grief and knew he was done for the season. Then the Pats nearly blew the game, momentarily distracting me and everyone else because — let’s face it — they needed the win, and you can never count out a Bill Belichick team with an easy schedule. (Just humor me.) By midafternoon, the Pats were 1-0 and I was talking myself into Matt Cassel or Vinny Testaverde while secretly hoping Brady would return after the Week 4 bye. And then the Grim Reaper came in the form of a text from a well-connected buddy at 4:32 p.m. PT: Brady was done.
What a surreal feeling when your season gets assassinated before it really starts. It has happened only two other times with my teams — Nomar’s wrist injury right before the 2001 season, and Bird’s heel surgery six games into the 1988-89 season — and each time Boston had a shred of hope to recover in time for the stretch run. (Of course, neither the ’01 Sox or ’88-89 Celts did.) Getting final word on the Brady injury felt like being an actor on a cop show and identifying a murder victim at the morgue: Yep, that’s it. That’s the 2008 Pats season. You can pull the sheet back over it. Thanks.
Beyond that, Brady has never been anything but a stand-up guy, fierce competitor, clutch leader and everything else. Along with Bird and Bobby Orr, he’s the only Boston star in my lifetime who had a 100 percent approval rating with his fan base. Hell, even the Boston media liked him, and it hates everybody. So that part was sad. You never want to see someone suffer a potentially career-ending injury, not even if it’s Chad Ocho Cinco.
And as my crestfallen father put it, “I’m not like you. I don’t gamble. I don’t do fantasy. I could care less about the other teams and what they’re doing. I only care about the Patriots. I was really looking forward to this season. I wanted revenge for that stupid game we went to. And the season just ended in eight minutes. It’s like it never happened. It just goes to show you what a shame last season was — you get so few chances to do something great like that, and we had a chance, and we blew it.”
Pops was right. By nightfall, I had talked myself out of the karma thing and talked myself into the NFL being a completely arbitrary sport; the players have gotten too big and fast, major injuries seem to be happening more frequently, and you’re always one play away from having the likes of Bernard Pollard randomly end your season because he dove for your QB’s knees with a running back straddling him at the precise moment your QB was stepping forward and planting his left leg to throw deep. It’s the cruelest of the four major sports. You never know when the rug will get pulled out from under you.
Anyway, I must have been in denial for most of Sunday because I even had the “I wonder if we can talk Daunte Culpepper out of retirement” conversation with someone. The weight of Brady’s injury didn’t fully hit me until I was watching “Mad Men” on Sunday night and Joan Hollaway (the curvy, vindictive redhead in Don Draper’s office) gleefully fired her new office rival, Don’s new secretary, Jane (a saucy, manipulative ice queen who’s quite possibly the best-looking actress since the Jaclyn Smith/Cheryl Ladd combo in “Charlie’s Angels”). And I was sitting there thinking, “Are you kidding me? I’m losing Brady and Don Draper’s secretary in the span of 12 hours? Really? That’s my day today?” I thought about going outside and turning on my car just to see if I would be blown up like Jack McKay. Then I took a deep breath and decided to keep the faith that she’d get rehired … and wouldn’t you know it? Don’s horny partners rehired her. So at least one good thing happened on Sept. 7, 2008.
Q: If Brady is Jason Street and Matt Cassel is Matt Saracen, does that mean Sammy Morris should drink himself into a stupor and blame himself for Brady’s injury like Tim Riggins did?
— Tom F., Warwick, R.I.
SG: Sorry, that ubiquitous “Friday Night Lights” comparison just isn’t working for me. Street got paralyzed from the waist down (a lot worse than a torn ACL), and Saracen was a sophomore with promise (not a career backup like Cassel). If you’re looking for a Hollywood comparison, it’s clearly “Varsity Blues” (click here for my review): Brady as Lance Harbor (the golden boy with a smoking-hot girlfriend who blew his knee out in the first game), Cassel as Jonathan Moxon (the career backup who never imagined he’d actually play), Wes Welker as Tweeder (the team’s most reliable receiver even though he’s 5-foot-7), Laurence Maroney as the starting running back with every tool who never gets touches in the end zone and kills your fantasy team, and Bill Belichick as Bud Kilmer (the Hall of Fame coach who isn’t afraid to bend the rules). Everything is there except for Billy Bob, the lovable fat guy who scored the championship-winning TD in the movie; we don’t have a Billy Bob unless Vince Wilfork can gain another 100 pounds between now and December. You would have remembered these similarities, but the only thing anyone remembers from “Varsity Blues” at this point is Ali Larter’s whipped cream sundae and the fact their stripper-teacher (as numerous readers have pointed out) looked exactly like Sarah Palin.
Does this mean I think Cassel can save the Pats’ season in Mox-like fashion as Brady leans on crutches and calls plays like Lance Harbor did? I mean, stranger things have happened, right? Remember what happened to the 1999 Rams and 2001 Pats? There’s a precedent here, dammit! Sure, neither of those teams lost a first-ballot Hall of Famer coming off the greatest statistical season in the history of the quarterback position, but still … there’s a precedent here!
More on Brady’s injury
With Tom Brady’s knee injury, the Patriots plummeted from an exclamation point of an unbeaten 2007 regular season to a huge question mark in 2008.
Q: When the Pats let the only reason they won any Super Bowl leave (Adam Vinatieri), I told you they were cursed. Look at what’s happened since he left! This curse is going to make that Curse of the Bambino thing look like nothing. Why didn’t you listen?
– Edward H., San Diego
SG: Look, you can’t play the curse card unless it has been at least two generations of misery. I’m making that call right now. With that said … could one of my rich readers please trademark “The Curse of Adam Vinatieri” so Dan Shaughnessy doesn’t get there first? Thank you.
Q: If we go back to 1:15 remaining in February’s Super Bowl, the Pats have (since) suffered the Tyree catch, the Burress TD, the near-miss Hail Mary to Moss and then Brady’s season-ending injury at 7:38 of Week 1. Could this be the worst 8 minutes, 53 seconds in NFL history?
— Howard L., Las Vegas
SG: Apparently, you missed the Rams-Eagles game. Don’t rule out the 2008 Rams giving us the worst 960 minutes in NFL history. But you’re right, in terms of stomach punches, that had to break the record for “most legitimate stomach punches within nine minutes of NFL action,” with Brady’s knee injury giving birth to a whole new Level of Losing: The “Left At The Altar Loss,” when you’re waiting for months and months for the season to start (like planning a wedding), then you have your fantasy drafts (the bachelor party), then you have the rehearsal dinner the night before (making your starting fantasy lineups, making your bets, figuring out which games you’ll watch Sunday), then you go to the church for the actual wedding (getting in front of the TV for the 1 p.m. ET games) … and as you’re standing on the altar, you find out your bride either changed her mind or got run over by the limo driver. That was me and every other Patriots fan Sunday — we had our tuxedos on, we were ready to go, and suddenly we were sitting in a waiting room in a hot tuxedo waiting for medical updates on our comatose fiancee and halfheartedly trying to talk ourselves into one of the bridesmaids.
Q: I am giving this Cassel dude four weeks. If he doesn’t get better, I’m gonna jog through my routes and stop going over the middle. Cool?
— R. Moss, Foxboro, Mass.
SG: Just kidding. I wrote that one. But that has been the underrated part of Brady’s injury — the Pats didn’t just lose Brady, they might lose Randy Moss, too. His track record of quitting on bad quarterbacks is both extensive and frightening. I don’t even want to talk about this.
Q: Brady’s out. That really sucks. But it could be worse — you could be a Seattle sports fan. Let me break it down for you: The Mariners are struggling through one of their worst seasons ever. Our Sonics, the only team to win a professional title in Seattle, moved the team to Okla-friggin-homa and stuck us with the Storm. And the Seahawks — in Holmgren’s final year, mind you — are now without their TOP FOUR RECEIVERS! Imagine losing Moss, Welker, Gaffney AND Kelley Washington. Plus our quarterback is having back problems (including rumors of bulging discs), and our best running back left last week’s game with an injury. Of course, a 6-10 record might win our division, which means we get to lose in Round 1. Oh, and the travesty that was the excessive celebration call on Washington’s Jake Locker. But on the bright side … well, I give up. Be thankful you don’t live in Seattle.
— Dan Gomez, Seattle
SG: I have to say, that made me feel a little better. Maybe the good people of Seattle should form an organization called “It Could Be Worse,” in which they send e-mails to suddenly traumatized sports fans from other cities to talk them off the ledge.
Q: Very sorry to hear about Brady. Nobody wishes harm on these guys, no matter our allegiance. That said, the injury to Brady seems awfully like a Madden Dynasty moment. You know the one, right? You’re racking up incredible stats year after year and breaking your own records and set to own all the passing marks. Then … blammo, you get axed for the year, or sometimes the career-ender, by a blitzing weakside linebacker. It never ceases to amaze me how realistic that game is.
— Kevin H., Highland Ranch, Colo.
SG: Yep, except for the part where there’s no RESET button. That’s another milestone for that Brady injury — it’s the all-time “If this happened in Madden, I couldn’t have pressed the RESET button fast enough” moment. In fact, I was pressing it subconsciously even as Brady was limping off the field. Damn it all.
Q: As an Oregonian, I have to think that this is another perfect chance for John Joseph Harrington. He is smart enough for this offense, but in all likelihood would be thrust in within a week like Detroit, Miami and Atlanta. Give him five weeks on the bench and he’s your man.
— Scott, Portland, Ore.
SG: Two things scare me here: First, that it’s not even Week 2 and my readers are seriously suggesting Joey Harrington can save the 2008 Patriots season. And second, that I actually mulled the merits of that suggestion over for a few seconds.
(I mean, Joey was a top-three pick, he has never played for a good team, he has never played with a receiver like Moss … wait, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING????)
To: Tom Brady
Subject: Re: Our Deal
I’ve fulfilled my end of the deal. Now, your soul is mine. Can you please notify Belichick that I will be collecting him and his video tapes in the coming weeks once I finish with Archie Manning and sons?
— Kevin, San Diego
SG: (Cringing …)
Q: I’m still in the “bargaining” phase of coping with this Tom Brady injury. Is there any advice you can offer to help me get through to acceptance as soon as possible? In times like these, I turn to you, Mr. Sports Guy. Please help me make sense of all this.
— Tim B., Merrimack, N.H.
SG: I have five silver linings for you. First, the Patriots were in a no-win situation heading into the season: They were America’s villains, everyone expected them to win, and even if they won, they were supposed to win. That’s never fun. Maybe this injury will end up liberating them in a weird way. Second, the whole (cue up Pat Summerall’s voice) “the New England Patriots have chosen to come out as a team” dynamic shifted a little when Brady became a mega-celebrity and the offense started breaking records left and right — tackles could whiff on blocks, cornerbacks could give up big plays, linebackers could take bad angles, and none of it mattered. The offense covered up every mistake. Right up until the last two minutes of Super Bowl XLII. Now it’s a normal football team again — everyone has to do his job or the team will lose. Could that give them some extra motivation? Possibly. Third, did you see the AFC last week? Only Pittsburgh and Tennessee’s D looked good. It’s wide-open. Fourth, Brady or no Brady, the Pats have the easiest schedule in the league — the NFL did everything but schedule Georgetown and Columbia in December for them.
Fifth — and most importantly — they suddenly have the “Nobody Believed In Us!” factor on their side, which I’ve been arguing for the past year has emerged as the single most underrated force in sports. The ’08 Giants had it, so did the ’07-08 Celtics, the ’08 Jayhawks, the ’06 Cardinals … hell, even Rashad Evans had it when he coldcocked Chuck Liddell last week. Nobody believes in the ’08 Patriots without Brady. This might be a good thing, right?
Um … right?
(Oh, who am I kidding? We’re screwed. I will now attempt to hang myself with my Wes Welker jersey.)
Q: How long till Gisele sleeps with Brady’s best friend and Matt Cassel starts dating Belichick’s daughter? And there must be a Hurricane refugee out there somewhere with a killer arm.
— Mike, Milton N.H.
SG: Just stop. I’m not biting on the “FNL” connection. Tom Brady will not be playing quad rugby in six months. Totally different.
Q: How am I supposed to feel about this? On the one hand, I don’t like to see anyone get hurt and Brady seems like a good guy. On the other hand, Belichick, you and Randy Moss are all a——-. Talk about mixed emotions.
— Steve N., New York
SG: You know what shocked me? I thought for sure my mailbox would be littered with “HA HA! SUCK IT” e-mails, but people were actually pretty respectful — even the meaner e-mails were presented like the one above. In a weird way, the Brady injury renewed my faith in society a little. Maybe we’re more dignified than I thought.
Q: HA HA! SUCK IT!
— C. Roberts, Indianapolis
SG: Or … maybe not.
Q: Outside of the fans of every other AFC East team, the happiest person in the world today might be Bridget Moynahan. Seriously, no one thought to take away her voodoo doll after the Super Bowl?
— J. Ponton, New York
SG: I’d throw in all the Steelers — they’re the clear AFC favorites right now. But if I were the Patriots, I’d subpoena Bridget’s phone records to see how many calls were placed to a “B. Pollard” in Kansas City over the past few weeks. I am not ruling out the possibility of Bernard Pollard becoming the Shane Stant of his generation. By the way, this would be a fantastic Lifetime movie. Can’t you see them running the commercial with a female narrator cooing the copy? She’s a famous actress who loved him, wanted to marry him and even had his baby. He’s a famous quarterback who broke up with her because he fell for the world’s most famous supermodel. Now he just wants to play football, but she’s a mother scorned who wants revenge. Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Thomas Jane and LL Cool J star in, “Below The Knee: The Bridget Moynahan Story,” Sunday night on Lifetime.
One more note on Pollard: I watched the play in slow-motion 40 times, not to mention the other 440 times that the TV networks showed it … and I don’t care how badly Pollard felt or how he tried to spin it, when you’re on the ground and make that sprawling hiccup jump toward a quarterback’s knees as he’s throwing, bad things happen. Vince Wilfork did the same thing to J.P. Losman last season, and that wasn’t right either. It’s a cheap play — worse than a horse-collar tackle and a cut block, in my opinion. And both of those are penalties. Nobody should be allowed to dive at a quarterback’s legs unless he’s running.
Q: I hate Tom Brady. I hate the Patriots. I live in Cleveland and just would kill to have any success like that of the Patriots, or hell, even Boston sports in general. But I feel really bad that Brady got hurt. Can you explain this feeling to me?
— Alex, Cleveland
SG: Sure. This “South Park” clip explains everything.
Q: Brady’s injury gave me an idea for your mailbag: “If you had the power, would you take so-and-so’s injury yourself so that he could play? In this case, would you allow your knee to be blown out, have surgery and go through rehab if it meant Brady’s knee never got injured and he played the whole season? Or if you’re a Vikings fan, would you give yourself a sprained knee so Adrian Peterson could have played all 16 games? How severe would an injury have to be before you said, “No way I’m taking on that so that (insert star player’s name here) could play.”
— John B., Valley Stream, N.Y.
SG: Excellent idea. I think it depends on your mindset as a sports fan in that specific time, as well as your age. For instance, I wouldn’t absorb Brady’s injury because I wouldn’t want to be on crutches for a few months when I have two young kids, and besides, they won three Super Bowls this decade. But let’s say you’re my friend Mike Tollin, a die-hard Philly fan who’s a little older than me and has older kids. If the Mets and Phillies were tied with a week to go and Ryan Howard’s wrist was broken by a pitch, would Mike do the switcheroo and take the broken wrist? Well, I called him and here was his first response:
“The left one or the right one?”
We talked it out for a few minutes and Mike ultimately decided he would sacrifice the left wrist in any scenario, but he’d sacrifice the right wrist only if he was guaranteed a World Series trip because, “That’s my writing hand, my BlackBerry hand and my shaving hand … and I wouldn’t be able to play basketball for six weeks … although I guess I could run …” For all I know, he’s still debating it. I’m going out on a limb and saying Philly needs to win a title soon. For everyone’s sake.
Q: Where does Brady’s knee rank on your list of the most devastating Boston injuries? I mean, I thought this was gonna be the best year of Boston sports ever. Am I just spoiled? This feels worse than following a team like the Chiefs or Dolphins last year. I mean, you knew they were gonna lose each time they took the field. But this is as if Michael Phelps was giving the U.S. men’s swimming team a motivational speech just before the final relay and a shark jumps out of the water and ate him (a la Samuel L. Jackson in “Deep Blue Sea”).
— Ethan B., Brookline, Mass.
SG: How soon everyone in Boston forgets — there’s no way this was more crushing or depressing than Bird missing the entire ’88-89 season just a few months after the famous shootout with Dominique; John Havlicek separating his shoulder during the ’73 Eastern Conference finals against the Knicks; Nomar (coming off a .372 season) hurting his wrist before the 2001 season started; or even Tony Conigliaro getting beaned by Jack Hamilton during the “Impossible Dream” season. That’s the five-headed Mount Rushmore of most devastating Boston injuries.
Now here’s what I would argue: It’s the most devastating fantasy injury of all time.
|Fantasy: By the Numbers|
Tom Brady’s injury had a profound effect on Week 1 of the fantasy football season. Fans who started Brady lost 72 percent of Week 1 matchups. Meanwhile, Brady owners were scrambling for help on Monday. Of all trades completed on ESPN.com, 23 percent involved teams who owned Brady.
More Fantasy Football
When you remember Brady was a top-seven pick in every league and played exactly eight minutes of the season … I mean, how could that ever be topped? The only comparison: Bird’s aforementioned injury, when he lasted six games before packing it in. I specifically remember someone in my fantasy draft (ours counted only points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks back then) taking him in the top six and having his season killed within two weeks. But eight minutes? Has an injury ever affected more people, between the Patriots fans and the fantasy owners? And that’s before we get to everyone who might potentially waste their top waiver-wire pick on Cassel this week, or the way this affected Moss, Welker, Maroney. … Really, this was the first fantasy apocalypse that didn’t involve Daunte Culpepper. I picked Brady sixth overall in my West Coast league. There’s no going back. My NFL season and fantasy season were murdered on the same play.
If there’s one silver lining, it’s this: Brady has 12 solid months to recover for the 2009 season, right?
Q: As a long-suffering Bengals fan, I immediately recognized the Brady hit as reminiscent to Kimo von Oelhoffen’s hit on Carson Palmer in the 2004 playoffs. After the injury, Palmer’s doctors said “it was career-ending.” Obviously, Palmer was able to recover, but in my opinion, he has never been the same. I certainly have never been the same. I still suffer from ghost pain and unexplained fits of crying. I’m probably not doing such a good job of consoling … uhmm … at least you’re not a Bengals fan, right?
— Josh, Charlottesville, Va.
SG: (Smoking a Marlboro Light, walking around in a trenchcoat, drinking scotch …)
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.