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dan shaughnessy

Tom Brady vs. the Patriots in Foxborough will be our biggest regular-season game — ever

Fans in Gillette Stadium may be torn on Oct. 3 — probably rooting both for and against Tom Brady.
Fans in Gillette Stadium may be torn on Oct. 3 — probably rooting both for and against Tom Brady.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

We’ve known that this moment was coming. Now we know exactly when.

Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be in Foxborough Sunday night, Oct. 3, to play the Patriots on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

Save-the-date cards are in the mail. Oct. 3 is circled on every New England calendar. Alerts are set on cellphones. Days off from work are being scheduled for Monday, Oct. 4. Game tickets are going for one million dollars. Steve Burton and Dan Roche are planning to live in a trailer on Patriot Place for the week leading up to the game, delivering live “Tom is Back” updates three times per hour.

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Scores will be settled. Points will be made. Tom will force passes to Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski just to prove a point. Bruce Arians will give Alex Guerrero an all-access pass and a workstation with TB12 signage on the Bucs sideline. Super G will work from a DraftKings booth in the lower concourse. Tom’s dad will give dozens of interviews and tell everybody how happy Tom is. Brady-the-GM will order some Tampa roster transactions at halftime.

Bill Belichick will mix it up and take the football when the Patriots win the toss. Then he will scheme and snort and scribble notes into his mini-notebook with the mini-golf pencil he keeps behind his ear. When Brady takes over behind center, Belichick will send the Patriot defense up the middle after Tom takes the snap. Bill will sacrifice coverage to send the house at Brady.

Tom will miss a couple of plays after taking a big hit, but insist it was nothing and tell everybody, “It’s not like I had open-heart surgery.”

When reporters get to Belichick after the game and start asking about what it was like to coach against Brady, Belichick will answer every Brady question with, “We’re on to Houston.”

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Has there every been anything like this?

No. There has never been anything like this.

Red Auerbach never came back to the Old Garden to coach the New York Knicks against the Bill Russell Celtics. Arthur Fiedler never returned to Symphony Hall to conduct the New York Philharmonic.

Brady is coming to town. He’s coming here to beat Belichick. He’s coming here to beat Bob Kraft. He’s fighting for truth, justice, and the Tompa Bay Way. A good portion of the Gillette crowd will be on his side.

This is going to be one of those nights when there’s nonstop cheering no matter what happens. The 8:20 start assures that, in Brady’s words, the crowd will be “lubed up.” If the Patriots score a touchdown, fans will cheer. If Brady throws a TD pass to Gronk, the crowd will go wild.

How will Patriots' fans react when Tom Brady returns to Gillette in October?
How will Patriots' fans react when Tom Brady returns to Gillette in October?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Remember the “returns” of Bill Parcells and Roger Clemens? Those were both huge deals — not as big as this one, of course, but wildly anticipated nonetheless.

The Return of the Tuna in September of 1997 was a mega-event, accompanied by much acrimony.

Parcells had restored respectability when he first came to the Patriots in 1993 (Kraft always wants full credit for fixing the Patriots, but Parcells rescued Foxborough a year before the Freedom Fighter). In his fourth season, Parcells took the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI, which was “ruined” when it was learned that Parcells was quitting after the Big Game.

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After being torpedoed by Kraft on Draft Day ’95, the Tuna said he wanted to buy his own groceries. When the commissioner sorted out the mess, Parcells was allowed to take over the 1-15 Jets and Kraft hired former Jets coach Pete Carroll.

Three games into the following season, Carroll’s undefeated Patriots played host to Parcells’s Jets at the old Foxboro Stadium in the first Tuna Bowl. Fans arrived wearing “Grill the Tuna” T-shirts, and the Patriots had to block a 29-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds to push the game into overtime. When Adam Vinatieri’s 34-yarder won it in the eighth minute of overtime, Parcells said, “I had to throw up in my mouth.”

After leaving the Patriots, Bill Parcells returned to Foxboro Stadium with the Jets.
After leaving the Patriots, Bill Parcells returned to Foxboro Stadium with the Jets.GREENE, BILL GLOBE STAFF PHOTO

Two years later, Clemens came to Fenway to face off against Pedro Martinez in the third game of the 1999 American League Championship Series. The Rocket had first “returned” to Fenway with the Blue Jays in the summer of 1997 and given Dan Duquette the stink eye when he walked off after whiffing 16 Sox. Boston fans were somewhat neutral about him in a Toronto uniform, but such was not the case when he came back with the Yankees in ’99.

We advanced the big playoff duel with “Rocket vs. Pedro” tale-of-the-tape comps. I gave Pedro the edge in wins, ERA, WHIP, walk-to-strikeout ratio, and “command of the English language.” Our sports section ran a full-page ad from an apparel company in which Pedro vs. Rocket was compared to (among others) “Connors vs. McEnroe, Roe vs. Wade, Coke vs. Pepsi, Good vs. Evil, and People vs. O.J.”

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Some serious hyperbole there.

It turned out to be no contest. Winning their only game of that series, the Sox routed Clemens and the Yankees, 13-1. Pedro pitched seven innings of two-hit ball, fanning 12, while Clemens lasted only two innings, giving up five earned runs and six hits. Late in the game, Boston fans chanted, “Where is Roger?” then, “In the shower.”

Now we get Brady vs. Belichick. After 20 seasons. Nine Super Bowls. Two hundred and 19 regular-season wins. 30 playoff wins. And six rings together.

This is way bigger than any Tuna Bowl or Rocket reentry. It is our biggest regular-season game ever. Nothing less.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.