HOUSTON – My daughter is 12 years old and doesn’t follow the NFL too closely. She can probably name five players, and one is still Peyton Manning.
Yet, she still knows what has become the universal rule: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the enemy.
“Eww, you got a Tom Brady magazine?” she said, looking at the kitchen table.
It’s just Sports Illustrated. It comes every week. This week just happened to have Brady on the cover.
“Oh. But still,” she said with as much disdain as she could muster.
Everyone hates Tom, unless you’re already a Patriots fan. When ESPN basketball analyst Jason Williams mentioned Saturday on “College GameDay” that Brady was the greatest quarterback ever, the kids on hand in Gainesville, Fla. booed in unison. When the Denver Nuggets, an NBA team two time zones from Foxborough, want fans to boo louder when the other team shoots free throws they put a picture of Brady on the Pepsi Center video board … and the fans always respond. Ask that casual fan at your Super Bowl LI party if they have any feeling about Brady, and they’ll probably look like they just sucked on a lemon.
When Sporting News made a list of the 40 most hated NFL players ever, Brady was ranked fifth. He was between Greg Hardy, who was suspended for a domestic violence incident, and Ray Lewis, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice after being charged with murder. Brady has never been in trouble with the law. Brady is three spots ahead of Bill Romanowski, who spit in J.J. Stokes’ face, broke teammate Marcus Williams’ eye socket when he punched him and admitted to using steroids and HGH. It’s not even surprising because Brady shows up on “most hated” lists all the time.
How did we get here with Brady? His case is unlike any other in sports. Nobody hated Joe Montana, unless he was beating your team in the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning wasn’t universally disliked, just criticized for not winning enough. People might have hated the media fawning over Brett Favre, but nobody seemed to truly hate him, at least until his annual retirement drama.
LeBron James’ heel turn might be a good comparison to Brady, but the hate against him started with his ill-advised “The Decision” show. And that has seemed to mellow over the years, where the dislike of Brady continues to grow. It seems the only reason to hate Brady – who is pretty much a perfect underdog story, a sixth-round pick who has a great argument as the best quarterback ever after leading the Patriots to seven Super Bowls in 16 seasons – is that he and the Patriots are too good. Deflate-gate is a reason given now, but that was an over-punished misdemeanor, and there’s still no evidence about what Brady actually did. People hated Brady before deflate-gate, and that dumb controversy just gave people an excuse to express it. Brady was named fans’ least-liked quarterback in January of 2014, more than a year before deflate-gate ever became a story.
When you watch how Brady handled himself during Super Bowl week, you wonder how anyone could hate him. He choked up talking about his dad, and the story about his mom battling illness should draw sympathy from anyone. He has endless praise for teammates. No matter how many times he’s asked, he will not brag about his career or proclaim himself the greatest ever. It’s hard to imagine a player of his stature being humble, but he is at every turn. He was unfailingly polite throughout his hours of media availability this week.
“He’s a personable person and an overall great guy,” running back James White said. “You might think he’d keep to himself because he’s older than most guys, but he’s personable with everybody. He knows everybody in the locker room. He knows all the rookies’ names, everyone who steps in the building. He’s all about the team.”
James Develin came to New England as an undrafted fullback from Brown, who was signed to the Patriots’ practice squad after being released off Cincinnati’s practice squad. He was on the bottom of the NFL ladder, and one of the game’s kings took interest.
“I remember the first day I showed up to work with the Patriots, he was one of the first people to come over and introduce himself to me,” Develin said. “It did surprise me. But now knowing him for five years, it’s just the type of person he is.
“Tom is just an everyday guy. He’s a good person. A real person.”
Teammates love him, and opponents respect him.
“Players don’t hate Tom Brady. We love Tom Brady,” Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders said. “Past and present, we think Tom Brady is the best who ever did it.”
“Before I met Tom Brady I was like, ‘This Tom Brady guy, golden boy,'” said Atlanta Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney, who has battled Brady for many years going back to their college days. “Then I met him, and I couldn’t hate him anymore. He’s just such a great guy. The way he carried himself, his demeanor, he’s chill, cool, calm, collective. I started really respecting the type of guy he was off the field. So it’s hard to hate him.”
Maybe there’s a little bit of ill will about Brady complaining to the referees. Baltimore Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs won’t say Brady’s name, but that seems like performance art and a guy getting himself fired up to play against him.
Then why the hate from the fans? Derek Jeter’s teams won a ton, like Brady, but most fans seemed OK with him. Michael Jordan had some haters, but way more wore his shoes and had his posters on their wall. Brady just smiles, dissects defenses, makes Super Bowls and the public outside of New England just despises him even more.
Brady does have it all, and there are surely some issues with that. He is historically great on the field. He’s a good-looking guy and is married to a supermodel, Gisele Bundchen, who happens to make more money than her famous quarterback husband. Maybe people still remember him leaving Bridget Moynahan, who had his first child, though everyone involved seems fine with that now. Or it’s deflate-gate, his political leanings or the tantrums when penalties aren’t called for hitting him. But it’s a little strange, even to him.
“I live a great life. I do,” Brady said in January of 2014, according to the CBS affiliate in Boston. “I’m not sure. I’m not sure. You’d probably have to ask all those people that you polled. But you’re right, there’s nothing I’d like to do more than play football for the New England Patriots. And yes, I have a great family, so thank you.”
When the Patriots play the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, a lot of people will root against New England. They’ll say want the Patriots to lose because they hate Brady, and they might not even know how that started.
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