Tom Brady doesn’t give the average fan much to empathize with. Brady is 34 years old, better looking than an Australian movie star, married to the blue-eyed Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and has three Super Bowl rings.
Did I mention that he was hilarious when he hosted Saturday Night Live, where he also proved he is a very good sport playing the only person at a carnival who can’t throw a football to win a giant teddy bear and even fumbles the ball.
And speaking of SNL, as Jason Sudeikis, playing Jesus in a recent sketch on Tim Tebow, put it, “Tom Brady? If I’m the son of God, that guy’s gotta be his nephew.”
In terms of connections to working people, Brady is probably to the average NFL fan what Mitt Romney is to the average voter. And Brady could probably buy and sell Romney, especially if he and Gisele have a joint bank account. According to Sports Illustrated, Brady, who is winding up the first year of a four-year, $72 million contract, will be pulling in about $30 million this year in salary and endorsements. Gisele earns about $45 million a year which, according to Forbes, makes Tomsele the highest-paid celebrity couple of 2011, even more than Brad and Angelina.
It’s no wonder that, to most fans around the country, the Patriots, who are three-point favorites over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, are probably the most hated team in the National Football League. Brady may be the only athlete in professional sports with at least two websites dedicating to despising him. No other team and no other quarterback would be capable of making a New York team America’s sentimental favorite.
In Indianapolis, where the game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium, Eli Manning jerseys are outselling Tom Brady’s by three-to-one. One 17-year-old girl told a reporter, “I just love him [Eli] so much. He has that baby face.” And one 53-year-old Material Girl who is performing the half time show says she would rather date Eli than Tom.
Sure, Eli, with his L’il Abner drawl and blue-collar image are the country’s favorites, even though his unglamorous Giants are just 9-7 this year and will become one of the worst regular season teams to take the Super Bowl if they win. What a contrast Eli and the Giants are to that sleek, finely tooled corporate Patriots machine.
But ... how much of this picture reflects reality? It is Eli Manning, son of Archie and brother of Peyton, who, after all, is the child of football’s royal family. In fact, to look at their respective histories in organized football is to wonder which one should be considered the underdog. Eli was a star before college, topping Parade’s All-America High School list; Tom didn’t even play organized football until he was a freshman in high school, and his team lost 8 of their 10 games. Manning was a college star and the first player drafted by the pros in 2004; Brady, who played for Michigan, was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft.
Matt Damon has been making the rounds on TV recently telling the story of having dinner with Brady this past spring and he wouldn’t have a glass of wine: “This guy’s fanatic,” Damon says, “he’s always in training.” Ernie Accorsi, the former Giants general manager who drafted Eli, told me a couple of years ago that “the guy I want to take my team downfield with the game on the line is Tom Brady. Well, I’d like Eli to do that, too, but right now the guy who does that best is Tom Brady.”
Of course, that was before the Giants’ spectacular upset over the previously unbeaten Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, where Manning shockingly stole Brady’s thunder by taking his team down the field with the game on the line and winning 17-14. If Tom Brady needs more motivation for this game, he’s got it in the form of revenge.
What does the man who has everything possibly want? Payback. For the past four years, Brady has had to live with the humiliation of seeing Giants fans wearing sweatshirts with “18-1” emblazoned across the chest, mocking the fact that the 2007 Patriots were unbeaten before losing the Super Bowl to the Giants but that the team had trademarked “19-0” before the game. “If it wasn’t clear to me then,” said Brady earlier this year, “I definitely learned on that day that it doesn’t matter how many games you win during the regular season or if you have a perfect record. What matters is winning the last game.”
I could use up several paragraphs reciting Brady’s football achievements, but essentially they’re summed up in this: If New England wins this time, Brady will not only have his revenge, he’ll have a fourth Super Bowl ring, which will tie him with the guy who was his idol growing up in San Mateo, California, Forty-Niners quarterback Joe Montana.
So let’s acknowledge that Tom Brady, like you and me, is human after all, and that like you and me, he bleeds after getting a forearm smash from a blitzing linebacker and he hurts after being cheap-shotted by a 300-pound lineman. Can’t we all take a moment to bow our heads and say, along with Gisele, who emailed her family and friends asking for prayers for her husband, “I kindly ask all of you to join me on this positive chain and pray for him so he can feel confident, healthy and strong. Envision him happy and fulfilled, experiencing with his team a victory this Sunday.”
Will someone say Amen for God’s nephew?