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Tom Brady versus the haters

Sunday’s matchup between the Patriots and the Buccaneers isn’t just a football game. It’s a battle for moral high ground

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady waits to run onto the field before an NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady waits to run onto the field before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. Brady will return Sunday to play at New England, site of his greatest successes as a pro football star.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

Thou shalt not hate.

It’s not officially one of the Ten Commandments, but it hovers over them all, like a stadium dome.

That’s why it’s clearly wrong for New England Patriots fans like myself to hold a grudge against the greatest quarterback of all time for finding greener turf down south. It’s business, that’s all. Nothing personal. Until you remember that Hulu ad.

You know the one, or maybe you don’t, he’s been in so many. This one aired during the 2020 Super Bowl. In it, a somber Tom Brady walked around a dark stadium and said all good things must come to an end, that the best know when to walk away. But then, when all of New England was starting to sob, he said, “I’m not going anywhere” and smiled.

The next month, Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We were played; he got paid. And now Pats fans are left with an ugly raft of emotions that, when expressed, make us look disloyal and petty, not him.

To help cope with my raging case of Brady Abandonment Syndrome, I reached out to Jeff Benedict, author of the 2020 book on the Patriots, “The Dynasty,” among other books. A longtime resident of Connecticut, he’d understand. He must be a longtime Patriots fan who feels spurned.

“Actually, in my growing up years, I rooted fervently against the Patriots,” he said. “I grew up a Miami Dolphins fan. We went to Foxboro Stadium every year and rooted for Miami.”

But Brady left us for Bruce Arians. And worse, took Rob Gronkowski with him. Rob Gronkowski who had just yesterday said, teary-eyed, that football had wrecked his body, left him in so much pain that he no longer wanted to play.


New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shakes hands with a fan as he leaves the field after losing an NFL wild-card playoff game to the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020.

Charles Krupa, Associated Press

And now Brady is making TV commercials that make fun of Patriots fans who feel betrayed.

“I don’t think anybody should use the word ‘betrayed.’ I don’t think the word betrayal fits Tom Brady in any way. ... It’s hard to point to someone in football history who gave more to a franchise than Tom Brady gave to the New England Patriots,” Benedict said.

“In the case of Tom Brady, it’s fair to say there might not be any other athlete who’s done more for a region than Tom Brady has done for New England. Couple that with the fact that he played here for 20 years, which, in football years, is like an eternity.”

So, like, we’re supposed to be grateful?

Grateful that he left?

Grateful that he might embarrass the Patriots’ shiny new quarterback Mac Jones and former teammates like Kyle Van Noy (who had the good sense to return to the Patriots after an unfortunate dalliance with the Dolphins)?

Grateful that he might, as some Boston sportscasters predict, effectively end the Pats’ 2021 season in their fourth game?

That’s a tall moral order.

But there are other scenes in this morality play, such as the continuing drama over who done who wrong in the apparently fraught relationship between Brady and his former coach, Bill Belichick.

Boston sports radio has been all over this lately, with talk radio host Adam Jones suggesting that a nefarious Brady may have orchestrated recent media interviews given by his father, Tom Brady Sr., and his trainer, Alex Guerrero, in order to sow chaos prior to Sunday night’s game.

But then again, sports radio in New England these days is rife with haters, so much so that “The Toucher and Rich Show” is running a contest to determine “the No. 1 Brady hater.”

Brady hate, of course, isn’t a new phenomenon. But Brady hate in New England is.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Marcus Hayes recently recounted reasons that people across the country dislike Brady, who, by all appearances is a devoted family man and generally nice guy, despite a penchant for eating avocados for dessert.

“Despite all of my precautions against prejudice, I secretly root for Tom Brady to fail. Given his chronic successes, this is a frustrating pursuit,” Hayes wrote.

The Buddha, or maybe it’s the internet, tells me that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die — or to lose a game that’s expected to be the most watched of the NFL’s regular season.

Benedict, however, remains cheerful, free of the resentment, envy and wrath curdling the souls of lesser mortals like me. He will be signing copies of “The Dynasty” at Gillette Stadium’s Pro Shop on Saturday, beginning at noon.

“It’s going to be great,” Benedict said of the game, which airs at 6:20 p.m. Mountain on NBC. “I’m calling it an event for a reason: There aren’t that many things on live television today that are good that cause the country to tune in. Usually, when the whole country tunes into something these days, it’s because something unfortunate has happened.”

That’s certainly one take. Another is that something unfortunate has happened: Tom Brady will be wearing a Bucs uniform when he charges onto New England’s field. This may not be betrayal, as Benedict says. But it won’t look like loyalty either.