Who stole your regular clothes, Tom?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a picture worth when it only needs four words to tell its story?
Those words are “That doesn’t look right.’’
Those were the words that immediately came to mind this week after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released the first four photographs of Tom Brady wrapped in pewter, white and red rather than red, white and blue. The newly minted Bucs’ quarterback looked the same. The name on the back of the jersey was the same. Certainly we’ll get used to the idea that Brady is no longer a New England Patriot after a 20-year run that may have been the most remarkable career in pro football history, but that new uniform just didn’t seem to fit quite right.
In this age of salary caps, free agency and planned obsolescence, it comes as no shock that Brady ended up in another uniform in these his declining days. Yet no matter how I turn the pictures, it just doesn’t look right.
Imagine Jim Brown in the colors of the Denver Broncos? Think of Mean Joe Greene with a fleur de les on the side of his helmet. Conceive of Lawrence Taylor sporting Bengal tiger stripes rather than the letters NY on the side of his plastic hat? If it doesn’t fit, you must resist.
We all know that the Late-Career Shuffle is a dance that has been a staple of pro football for decades and we understand that it is growing more acute with each passing season and every rise in the salary cap. Guys don’t finish what they start, which is why we fans now root for laundry far more than the players we grew up admiring.
It happened to Unitas and it happened to Namath and it happened to Montana and it happened to Favre. So we are forced to accept it with Brady too but didn’t it feel good that it didn’t happen to Elway and it didn’t happen to Marino and it didn’t happen to Starr?
Certain players, it just seems to me, should end up where they began. Tom Brady is one of them. Not end up there with one of those phony made for TV one-day contract press conferences that is supposed to make everybody feel like the guy’s heart always stayed with his original employer. Those events always left me cold. They’re silly. They’re phony. And they don’t change the fact that the guy left, either voluntarily or by having been given the boot (as was the real truth behind Brady’s departure).
You think because Jerry Rice will always be best remembered as a 49 we can forget he peddled his wares all over the NFL as he faded into an ever-declining shadow of what he once was? Who will forget Emmitt Smith getting clobbered wearing a Cardinal-colored jersey or O.J. looking like a cheap knockoff of what he once was in Buffalo after they handed him a 49ers’ helmet and said “Turn on the Juice’’ when the power was already out?
When I saw those Brady in Bucsville photographs I can’t say I thought of new beginnings. Rather I thought of sad endings. Maybe it will all work out and Brady will return the Bucs to the Super Bowl. (How many people outside of Tampa even remember they ever WENT to a super Bowl?). But I doubt it.
Frankly, those pictures of Brady in pewter made me want to puke. Not because he didn’t have a right to go and not because Bill Belichick wasn’t happy to see him leave. Frankly, it was probably time to move on for both of them. No the nausea came in a wave for the simple reason that Brady, like Unitas, Montana, Rice and only a handful of others, is one of those rare guys whose end to his athletic story should have been written where it began. A fairy tale shouldn’t end with the ogre eating the hero on a pewter plate.
The truth is no matter what Tom Brady does in pewter what will be etched in stone are those nine Super Bowl games in red, white and blue. He may win another Lombardi Trophy in Tampa - and one hopes he does - but it will be the biggest footnote in sports history because how does he top that comeback against the Falcons while slinging the ball all over the lot with a Patriots’ logo on the side of his helmet not some swashbuckling pirate flag?
So ahoy matey! Folks in Tampa may like the cut of your jib in pewter and red but at first blush all I could think to ask the guy in those photographs was this: What the hell are you wearing, Tom?