When thinking about a villain, most will think of a maniacal figure lurking in the shadows hellbent on destruction and devastation. In sports, the term is a little broader.
It is reserved both for athletes and coaches who have authored devastation and heartbreak for a fan base: Think Eli Manning for the New England Patriots. It also can be someone whose mere presence and personality makes your skin crawl: Think Floyd Mayweather (boxing skills aside) for most sane people.
Some athletes are born to be the villain. Some have it thrust upon them. For others, their achievements and greatness transform them into the villain, with that role serving as new-found motivation to desecrate their opponents.
When it comes to Tom Brady, his villainy is multi-layered. A sixth-round draft pick who became, in my opinion, the greatest quarterback in the history of football is a Hollywood story everyone would love if they slapped a Disney logo on it.
Or, maybe that movie ends with Brady leading the Patriots to a win in Super Bowl XXXVI. The 20 years that followed saw Brady slowly transform from a feel-good story into something else entirely.
A kid from the Bay who grew up idolizing Joe Montana, only to eventually join the 49ers legend atop the all-time quarterback hierarchy, is inspiring. Perhaps, in theory, you'd think those in the Bay Area would laud Brady's success.
He hasn't ripped their heart out time and time again like he did the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. The 49ers weren't on the other end of a Deflategate scandal that had absolutely no impact on a conference championship game walloping. That was the Indianapolis Colts.
Brady didn't erase a 28-3 Super Bowl lead to stun the 49ers into a meme-filled existence from which they can't escape. That was the Atlanta Falcons.
There is no direct correlation to the annoyance and dislike many in Northern California appear to have for Brady. There's no seminal moment for 49ers fans to point to, like Raiders fans have with the "Tuck Rule" game.
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With Brady, it has been villainy by 1,000 cuts. The NFL rags-to-riches story got old quick. The wins piled up. The arrogance from the Patriots and their fans grew. It festered under the surface of every other opposing fan base as they rooted not solely for their team to win, but also for Brady to suffer a humiliating defeat. A dream that seemed to never come true. Strike one.
After Brady and the Patriots ripped the Falcons' soul out of their chest in Super Bowl LI, the kid who grew up idolizing Montana had suddenly supplanted him in the eyes of many (mine included). I'll be the first to say that GOAT debates are among the most pointless exercises we undergo in sports. People have their opinions, and no stats, anecdotes or records are going to change that.
Like the American political landscape, most people have dug their trenches so deep that they are bound to stay in them until a killer asteroid vaporizes us all as we debate passing yard records and Super Bowl wins.
But with Montana's legacy under assault for the first time in two decades, 49ers fans started to assemble in defense of their GOAT. The idol of an age of supremacy long past must not be tipped over and replaced. So, Brady came to personify an assault on the greatness of the 49ers' golden era.
He became a constant reminder that the NFL had passed the 49ers by as they tried to rediscover their glory, while on a decade-plus long search for a quarterback to replace Steve Young.
Watching a Bay Area native who grew up bleeding red and gold win title after title and challenge Montana as the GOAT -- when they drafted Giovanni Carmazzi instead of him -- was a blunt force trauma that's been nearly impossible to recover from whether they admit it or not.
The distaste has lulled a bit in recent years, but then this past offseason came. Brady, a free agent, was interested in coming to the 49ers to replace Jimmy Garoppolo and do what his former protegee couldn't: Lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl title.
Brady, based on reports at the time, had forced the Patriots to trade Garoppolo in 2017, not wanting to have to look over his shoulder at the heir apparent as his career wound down. The 49ers were the beneficiary of Brady's thin skin, acquiring a quarterback who piloted them to a Super Bowl berth for pennies on the dollar.
Garoppolo became the 49ers' guy, the franchise quarterback they had longed to find since Young left (Colin Kaepernick should have been that guy, but that's for another column).
Now Brady, after being worn down by Belichick after 20 years in Foxboro, had the arrogance to try and replace their guy. Garoppolo's shortcomings became a topic of every TV debate show. The wolves were once again at the gates, and a different QB1 now had to be defended from Brady and his believers.
Surely, Brady would have presented a more immediate upside in 2020. But his end his near, and the 49ers Faithful didn't want to be holding the bag when the TB12 Method careens into a ravine.
The belief that you're always the better option no matter the person you're trying to supplant is an arrogance reserved for those who have known only success. Those whose minuscule failures in life have been forgotten, a distant memory of a time when you weren't a six-time Super Bowl champion who is married to a supermodel and believes in some weird pseudoscience witch-doctor medicine that can extend your prime long past when Father Time rings the bell.
And that is everyday villainy that's hard to connect with or root for.
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For what it's worth, I don't believe Brady is a villain. He's not the NFL's Joker trying to sow chaos, or Vontaze Burfict running around headhunting for sport. At his core, he's a nerdy guy who reached the peak of his profession and has rarely failed in any pursuit.
Success is hard for some to stomach and cheer. Jealousy takes over. Could-haves and what-ifs can torment the mind, and hate fills the heart even when you personally haven't been wronged.
Brady's path from Montana fanboy to Bay Area villain (and I use that term lightly), comes not from being a specter of defeat in the postseason or a division rival. It is not his on-field exploits that garner vitriol. Sure, the Make America Great Again hat, the coronavirus dismissal and the belief that drinking water can stop sunburns make him easier to dislike. It's all part of the package, but not a driving force.
But his presence and the ties to Montana and Garoppolo are a constant reminder that the quest to rekindle the 49ers' former glory still is ongoing. He has become a symbol for greatness lost, opportunities missed and paths 49ers fans wish would have been traveled.