The sun is not supposed to set on football. Arena and indoor leagues are here to ensure it never does. They carry us from the final moments of the Super Bowl to the FBS kickoff on Week Zero, and for the past 33 springs and 33 summers they’ve discharged their mission. But this year, for circumstances beyond its control, football has gone dark. Not a sunset, mind you. More like a momentary eclipse that nevertheless sends us searching for light, and for the last two weeks that has led us to NFL’s hot stove league.
In all of collegiate and professional sports it’s currently the only thing with a pulse. Free agency may be just paper football but it has been loaded with intrigue for a fortnight, headlined by speculation about Tom Brady. From Brady’s announcement last Tuesday that he would not be resigning with the New England Patriots to his formal signing by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday, news coverage on his future has rivaled that of COVID-19.
For those who’ve followed the story, Brady’s move was not unexpected. During the season, he sold his mansion in the Boston suburbs and stepped down as co-chair for a local charity with which he’s been involved for the past 16 years. After the season ended, he articulated his intent to bolt through mouthpieces such as ESPN’s Jeff Darlington. Yet it’s still a shocking transaction that will change the axis of power in an NFL dominated by one team for two decades, and it’s all brought to us by the ego of one man.
Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick has written much of professional football’s modern history, from Super Bowl rings and Spygate to cutting four-time Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy over a contract dispute and passing up another ring by benching Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII. Anyone that has crossed him – or threatened his claim as the true progenitor of professional football’s greatest dynasty – has been run out of town. Until now, he’s been given a pass from fans who cite the six championships he has won, championships that kept coming after each egregious act. But the rift with Brady that caused the latter to bail will come with a cost, not just to New England fans but to all of us.
It’s been said that a winning Yankees team is good for Major League Baseball. The same can be said of the Patriots and the NFL. Anyone who’s ever gone to the stadium for a game against the Patriots knows the atmosphere is unlike anything across the four major sports. More often than not, Brady has been the object of that energy. Every team brings out its best against Brady and the Patriots, and every fan is at maximum amplitude. It’s good to have a villain, and the Patriots have always been happy to play their part.
Now, in a bid to prove to the world it was he and not Brady most responsible for the Patriots’ success, Belichick has denied us all the chance to bring down the dynasty and exact our revenge for years of oppression. Watching New England without Brady will be like taking in a Doors concert after Jim Morrison’s death, and beating them will become as commonplace as a pastor’s sermon every Sunday.
Belichick’s refusal to sign Brady to a multi-year contract in 2017 or last August – or to show him any respect after drafting Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014 – set this chain of events into motion, and now that it has stopped we’re looking at a less-than-mediocre team elevated to a slightly better-than-mediocre one at the expense of stripping a perennial powerhouse to a bubble team. The NFL has regressed to the mean. Belichick has started a new form of socialism that would make Robin Hood and Bernie Sanders proud.
Arena football is not without its share of egotistical coaches, but at least most player movements are for the betterment of the game. The former Atlanta Havoc of the AAL gave up WR Malachi Jones in 2018 after one game, and he went on to become the AFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year later that season. That same year, the Richmond Roughriders likewise released QB Arvell Nelson to join the AFL and he took Arena Bowl MVP honors. Just recently, the Massachusetts Pirates set QB Sean Brackett loose to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL. It’s rare to find transactions in the arena game that are motivated by spite.
The Belichickian winter was harsh in New England, and even though spring is here the fields are far from fertile. Belichick has wagered that his junk is bigger than Brady’s, and the repercussions will water down the NFL’s product far more than adding an extra game or expanding the playoff field ever would.