Former Patriots legend Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts Oct. 3 to face his former head coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in a game that included a little bit of everything — conflicted fanatics, nostalgic memories and 28.5 million viewers witnessing an all-time record broken in the midst of two all-time greats.
For you to understand why Al Michaels, play-by-play caller of Sunday Night Football, called this “the most anticipated game in memory,” you must know the story of Brady and Belichick. This dates back to 2000, and even though I hadn’t been born yet, the grandness of their story is timeless.
Tom Brady was selected 199th overall in the 2000 draft by the New England Patriots, a losing-record team which had just fired its head coach and hired a new one — Bill Belichick. Six quarterbacks were drafted that year before him, six. None of them was ever selected to a single Pro Bowl — Brady made 14.
Brady didn’t get much action until 2001 when Drew Bledsoe, Patriots’ starting quarterback, suffered a lung injury. Bledsoe had just signed the NFL’s first 100 million dollar contract and was expected to return once he recovered.
Belichick, however, had a different vision for his team. He had the courage to stick with the second-year quarterback that no one knew over the beloved star signal-caller. So yeah, you could say Bill liked Tom from the start.
Belichick’s controversial decision would change the fate of the Patriots organization. Together, Belichick and Brady gave the Patriots six total Super Bowls — tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in NFL history.
Regardless of the duo’s historic success, 2020 marked the end of an era. On March 17, 2020 Tom Brady announced he was leaving the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after 20 seasons with the organization. New England had lost its messiah.
This gave the Brady-Belichick story an unexpected plot twist. It was no longer about what they could do together, but about who could do more on his own. It was then to be seen — who had been more valuable for the Patriots’ relentless regime?
In Brady’s first season with the Buccaneers, he won Super Bowl XLIX in the 2020-21 season. In Belichick’s first season without Brady, the Patriots had a 7-9 record, his first losing record since 2002. Does this mean Brady won the divorce? Absolutely. Does this mean he was a more valuable component for the Patriots than Belichick was? Not at all.
Though we can agree that Brady was more successful than Belichick in their first year apart, it’s important to acknowledge that none of them would have accomplished what they did without each other.
Playing separately, both of them would probably have won a Super Bowl or two, but never six, or seven in Brady’s case. Top-tier players without top-tier coaching and vice versa results in a mediocre team — you need the best of both for a consistent reign of greatness.
Playing against each other for the first time, both legends felt they had something to prove.
As Brady returned to New England for the first time without a Patriots uniform, he was just 68 yards away from Drew Brees’ all-time passing yards record. Minutes into the first quarter, Brady became the record holder in Gillette Stadium, back where it all started — isn’t that poetic?
Not for Brady, as Belichick’s defense was getting the best of him thus far. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones had been able to score a touchdown in the first half, but Brady and the Bucs went into halftime without one, as the score read 7-6 in favor of the home team.
After coaching Brady for 20 full seasons, Belichick knows his pressure points and what he does best. Considering this, he was able to hold Brady to zero touchdowns, which is no easy feat regardless of their history.
However, the game’s about winning, and although Brady had the better overall team, he was able to drive the ball down the field and get a 19-17 win against Belichick — a defensive guru.
Do not let Brady’s all-time passing record overshadow Belichick’s defensive genius, especially after making his 7-9 team from last season put the fear of God in the defending Super Bowl champions.
Do not undermine Brady’s record either. His stats speak for themselves as he is undoubtedly the greatest player in NFL history, having more Super Bowls than any franchise in the NFL.
In the words of Bill Belichick, “To live in the past, is to die in the present.”
Both Brady and Belichick have gone their separate ways and showed the world they are worthy opponents. One can be praised without discrediting the other, and though it is possible for two legends to co-exist, our competitive nature in sports won’t let them do so in peace, because what fun would it be if we did?