I’m a Bills fan who is about to do the unthinkable: Root for Tom Brady to win another Super Bowl. For those of you who don’t follow NFL rivalries closely, this is an act of apostasy akin to Rush Limbaugh campaigning for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or George W. Bush saying he was secretly rooting for Osama Bin-Laden during the War on Terror.
I’m sure this admission will infuriate many of my friends and relatives in Buffalo. But as Brady shoots for Super Bowl win number seven, I find that I simply have no hatred left in the tank for a man who is about as popular as coronavirus in my hometown.
I’ve been a Bills fan for more than 40 years and for nearly half that time, I watched Brady trample over my team like the bulls of Pamplona stampeding over selfie stick-toting bystanders. From 2001 to 2019, my team beat Brady three times and lost to him 32 times, often in lopsided affairs. The Bills won the AFC East in 1995, and then the Patriots won it 19 times before we finally won this year for the first time in 25 years, after Mr. Brady mercifully left New England.
No team suffered under his reign of terror quite like we did. In the football scheme of things, we were the Kurds and he was our Saddam Hussein, unleashing aerial attacks against a defenseless franchise with a perennially weak pass rush and zero Super Bowl wins. When we learned that our tormentor was leaving the Patriots just as the pandemic started in March, Buffalo’s mayor held a press conference, urging Buffalonians to “celebrate responsibly” at home. He wasn’t kidding. Three months later, a Buffalo area woman named Carole Scarsella became posthumously famous and beloved when her obituary, perfectly summarized in the Buffalo News headline, “Lackawanna woman died as she lived: hating Tom Brady,” went viral.
Brady didn’t just beat us on the football field. He offended the blue-collar sensibilities of Bills fans everywhere with his pretty-boy good looks and supermodel girlfriend. He even mocked our city once, in 2012, while detailing his father’s loyalty. “Even when I started my pro career, he traveled to Buffalo,” Brady said of his father. “I don’t know if you guys have ever been to the hotels in Buffalo — they’re not the nicest places in the world — but he would still travel to those [games].”
It was a subtle dig but the point was clear. We weren’t good enough for him, on or off the field – even our hotels were failures.
I’m a Catholic who was taught to love thy neighbor as thyself. But the truth is that for many years, I didn’t just root against Tom Brady. I wanted our defenders to tear his head off, or, at the very least, to dislocate his right shoulder. And when my wife and I had sons in 2007 and 2009, I taught them to hate Brady and the Patriots – just like a radical imam in an extremist madrassa might indoctrinate their students to hate America – because if you come from Western New York, detesting Tom Brady is the 11th commandment, thou shall hate Tom Brady.
And so, given all those years of torment, why have I now forgiven Brady for his football sins? Make no mistake, I’m not exactly “coming out” as a Brady fan. What I really wanted was for my Bills to face him in the Super Bowl and make dog chow out of him. But that fantasy didn’t work out. Instead, the Bills were pulverized by Patrick Mahomes and the cocky, trash-talking Chiefs, who now seem like the Patriots of old.
I now find myself seeing Brady in a new light. I’m grateful that he spurned Bill Belichick and the Patriots, conveniently leaving the Bills’ division and conference for Tampa, a team we have no history of quarrels with. And he is 43, five years younger than me, and says he could play beyond age 45, when his current contract expires. If he can do that, perhaps my all-time-favorite athlete Roger Federer can do the same. Hell, perhaps I can … oh, I don’t know, walk briskly around the block after dinner for decades to come?
In a world where seniority isn’t valued as it once was, and where many of society’s movers and shakers look like they’re young enough to use pacifiers, I choose to root for the Generation X quarterback who refuses to take a knee.
Will this sentiment make me the target of a fatwa in Buffalo? No, I won’t be Buffalo’s Salman Rushdie, because I think deep down my Bills Mafia brethren understand that it’s time to forgive Tom Brady for all the horrible things he’s done to us over the years. It’s time to heal. Go Bucs.