Red Sox pitcher/outfielder Babe Ruth, a three-time World Series champion with Boston, was sold to the New York Yankees in January of 1920.
One hundred years later, New England woke up on a Tuesday morning in the middle of a national public health crisis and learned that Tom Brady has decided to leave the New England Patriots after 20 seasons that yielded six Super Bowl championships. Brady delivered the news in a goodbye message on his Twitter account at 8:45 a.m.
There will be plenty of days to dissect and analyze why Brady is leaving and where he might be going. We may never know whether the Patriots made a serious bid to keep him or whether they effectively pushed him away with a lowball offer. Or no offer.
As suspicions rise and conflicting stories surface, we’ll have slices of blame pie for Bill Belichick, Bob Kraft, Alex Guerrero, Gisele Bundchen, TB12, and all the other influencers in Brady’s life.
But none of that will change the hard fact that the most decorated football player of all time, a New England sports god on a par with Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, and Ted Williams, has played his final game with the Patriots.
This is not what our region needed in the early days of a coronavirus pandemic that has virtually shut down the entire nation, compelling most citizens to remain at home. By every measure, March 17, 2020, goes down as the most joyless St. Patrick’s Day in the history of Boston.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we have plenty of time to contemplate what Tom Brady did for the Patriots and the region.
Born as part of the upstart American Football League in 1960, the Patriots were largely a clown show for the first 40 years of their existence. Everything changed at the turn of the century when Belichick was hired and drafted Brady with the 199th pick in the spring of 2000.
Brady rode the bench as fourth-string quarterback in his rookie season for the 5-11 Patriots. In September of 2001, 12 days after our nation was attacked, Brady took over as Patriots quarterback late in a game against the Jets after New England’s franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe was demolished by New York linebacker Mo Lewis.
Five months later, on Feb. 3, 2002, the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, beating the St. Louis Rams, 20-17, on Adam Vinatieri’s last-second field goal in New Orleans. Brady was 24.
From the front page of the next day’s Globe: "On his way to becoming a Bobby Orr/Larry Bird of the new century, Kid Tom Brady produced one final miracle to complete the magic ride of 2001-2002. The wonderboy quarterback concluded his stardust season by copping the MVP trophy and becoming the youngest winning QB in Super Bowl history.''
Fast-forward to the Globe’s front page from Feb. 4, 2019 (just over 13 months ago!) and there’s a photo of 41-year-old Brady holding his daughter Vivian in his arms while confetti drops on their heads after the Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
"The Patriots ‘broke it open’ when Tom Brady came to life and directed a 69-yard touchdown drive to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead with seven minutes left,'’ read the Globe story.
Bookend Super Bowl wins. Same date. Same opponent. Same quarterback leading the Patriots to glory.
And there was so much in between.
With Brady under center, the Patriots won 17 AFC East titles and went to nine Super Bowls. They won three Lombardi Trophies in four seasons at the beginning of the century, then won three in five seasons at the end of Brady’s second decade.
They won Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston in February 2004 with Brady copping the MVP. They won another one in Jacksonville a year later. They went 16-0 in 2007 when Brady threw 50 touchdown passes. They missed the playoffs the following season when Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the season.
After the silly “Deflategate” controversy that would wind up costing Brady four games on the sideline in 2016, he and the Patriots played with a vengeance, winning Super Bowls in Glendale, Ariz., (Malcolm Butler’s interception), Houston (after trailing the Falcons, 28-3), and finally in Atlanta against the Rams.
Twenty seasons. So many moments and memories. The Tuck Rule. The high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship against the Steelers. The rivalry with Peyton Manning. Champ Bailey jumping the route. The chemistry with Randy Moss. Bernard Pollard going low. Quarterback sneaks into the end zone. Advising Foxborough fans to get "lubed up.'' Monday mornings on WEEI. Hideous hairstyles and outfits at the Met Gala. Chemistry with Wes Welker, then Gronk, then Julian Edelman. "Tom vs. Time.''
We saw him grow into the role of husband and dad. We saw him fret when his mother endured a bout with cancer a couple of years ago. We saw him embrace a lifestyle and workout regimen that kept him forever young. There was pliability and avocado ice cream and a religious devotion to TB12. And like Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button, Tom just got younger and better-looking every year while the rest of us got older.
Now he is telling us "my football journey will take place elsewhere,'' and New Englanders don’t quite know what to do with that.
Tom Brady? Playing for a team other than the Patriots?
This must be what it felt like when the Babe left 100 years ago.
Tom Brady. The best there ever was.