While ESPN’s report on the rift between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is a stain, it will never come close to overtaking the New England Patriots legacy this century.
New England Patriots fans are still trying to absorb the fact future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady won’t be donning a Pats uniform any longer, at least not until the multitude of Super Bowl reunion teams down the road.
Brady leaving the only team he’s ever known at the pro level for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency was a gut punch. There’s no way around it.
Then on Sunday, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham wrote yet another article about the Patriots and the long-rumored rift between Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. While citing a number of incidents between the two personalities, one part of Wickersham’s report was telling:
"Brady made it clear that he was playing football until his mid-40s. He preferred to sign a deal to ensure that he retired a Patriot, but if the team refused, he was fine moving on. He wanted clarity. He met with Belichick, and the meeting ended with a “blowup,” a source said. He met with Kraft. He got mixed signals. Team president Jonathan Kraft told NFL Network in January 2018 that Brady had “earned the right” to decide when he wanted to stop playing for the team. On the other hand, that right never came in the form of a contract extension, at least not one Brady felt would last the rest of his career."
Simply put, Brady wanted long-term security. Belichick, meanwhile, was probably looking at the long-term future post Brady.
No matter how anyone spins it, the Brady-Belichick rift paints an ugly end to what has otherwise been a storybook tale for the better part of this century.
And that’s the legacy fans should remember.
Consider that legacy for a moment. Ever since Brady, an unheralded sixth-round NFL Draft pick from 2000, took over starting duties in 2001, the Patriots have missed the playoffs just twice. And they won six Super Bowls in that span. This is the kind of dominance paralleling the New York Yankees between the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s or the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.
In short, New England is the team of the century, not just the decade. No other spin on that argument would make sense.
Brady has solidified his holding on the best quarterback in NFL history, while Belichick will be remembered as the greatest head coach ever. Other notable names have gone before, yes. And they’ll always be in the discussion. But what Brady and Belichick created and maintained together since that storybook 2001 season is going to be nearly impossible to see again. At least for a long, long time anywhere across the league.
Rifts are a part of those legacies, too. Just ask Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, whose competition under another legendary head coach, Bill Walsh, with fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young inevitably prompted a move from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993. That ended the Niners’ dynasty of the 1980s, yet few look back at those particular incidents with any remorse in regards to what the 49ers did during their reign.
And in five, 10 or 20 years’ time, that’ll be the same argument between Brady and Belichick and all the Patriots managed to do.
Belichick will go on trying to lay the groundwork for the next era of football in New England, while Brady will try to put yet another storybook chapter together in Tampa Bay. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Instead, looking back at the memories and sheer dominance these two put together over the better part of two decades in New England will be the thing fans need to remember first and always, leaving this reported rift as a mere side note. Nothing more.