DENVER — Larry Bird wrote a fine autobiography with our own Bob Ryan in 1989 and the back of the tome included a bonus section in which Larry talked about his favorite and least-favorite arenas.
A sampling: “I don’t like playing in New Jersey. I knew I wasn’t going to like it the first time I walked in the building. I never liked to shoot there . . . There are few places I hate more than the Kingdome . . . I never liked the Silverdome . . . I’ve had some bad games in Oakland, including my 0-for-9 game during my second year . . . It’s always a tough game in Denver, both because of the Nuggets themselves and because of the altitude.’’
Which brings us to Tom Brady’s personal House of Horrors — Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Brady is 2-7 in Denver (and one of those was against the Tim Tebow Broncos). In Pedro Martinez parlance, Mile High is Tom Brady’s “Daddy.’’
It all started . . . back when it all started for Brady, in the autumn of 2001. The Broncos had just opened their new crib and Brady was in his early days of replacing Drew Bledsoe (remember “Drew gets the job when he’s healthy — nobody should lose their job due to injury?”). Making his fifth career start, Brady threw four interceptions in a 31-20 loss as the Patriots fell to 3-4 on the season.
Tom got one in the win column a couple of years later when Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams called for one of the magic plays of all time when Lonie Paxton intentionally hiked the ball off his own goal post so the Patriots could take a safety, kick away, and get the ball back for a Tom TD drive and a 30-26 win.
Since then, it’s a Bad Luck House. Brady has lost six of his last seven in Denver, including two AFC Championship games.
Brady was 10-0 lifetime in the playoffs, a three-time Super Bowl champ, when the real darkness of Denver first came down on his haloed head on Jan. 14, 2006. It felt like the Belichick-Brady playoff combo might never lose when — Brady dropped back on a play called “84 Red” and chucked it toward Troy Brown, who was waiting to catch a third-quarter touchdown pass that would have put the Patriots in the lead. And then . . . Champ Bailey jumped the route and intercepted the pass 4 yards deep in the end zone. This produced one of the greatest football plays of all time with Bailey streaking 103 yards down the left sideline before he was chased down (think LeBron blocking Andre Igoudala in Game 7) by Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson near the goal line. The game was over and so was Brady’s unprecedented playoff perfection.
In 2009, a Broncos team coached by Josh McDaniels beat Brady and the Patriots, 20-17, in overtime at Mile High. In 2014, Peyton Manning outplayed Brady and the Broncos thrashed the Patriots, 26-16, in the AFC Championship game. At Mile High.
Brady and the Patriots lost a pair of games in Denver last season, blowing a 21-7 fourth-quarter lead in a 30-24 loss (remember Chris Harper’s muffed punt reception?), then losing the AFC Championship game, 20-18. That was the day Brady was sacked four times and hit another 20 times as he lost his third straight AFC title against Manning.
When it comes to Brady failures, there is no other venue that comes close to Mile High. He’s 6-8 lifetime in Miami, and no worse than one game under .500 in any other stadium. Given his lifetime of NFL success, it is truly amazing that Brady could be 2-7 in one stadium.
“I think they’ve had really good teams,’’ Brady explained when asked about it this past week. “More so than where you play, it’s how you play. We just need to play better than the way we’ve been playing out there. It’s a great place to play . . . It’s definitely one of the louder places, so our communication is going to be really important.’’
Does he still think about all that time he spent picking himself up off the turf in Denver last January?
“Yeah, I think you always remember those feelings and you remember the circumstance of the game,” he said. “I watched it a bunch this offseason.’’
Ouch. Rocky Mountain Low.
What does Belichick think about the notion of Mile High Kryptonite for Tom Brady and the Patriots? What are the unique challenges about playing in Denver, Bill?
“The Broncos are a good football team.’’
Year in and year out, there are plenty of good football teams in the NFL. But nobody owns Brady like the Denver Broncos at Mile High.