Tom Brady left town 10 weeks ago. That’s it. It’s only been two and a half months.
But in that short time, one of the worst questions of the last 20 years has emerged, and I’m afraid it’s lurking in a corner of your neighborhood:
Brady or Belichick?
As in, who’s more important? Or, what would one’s career be without the other? There’s the familiar, how many Super Bowls would they have won on their own? And: whose side are you on now that they’ve separated?
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The big question, which leads the army of the other annoying ones, is not new. I used to wait for it as I appeared on radio shows in other markets. I’d sit there patiently, knowing that it was coming toward the end of the interview in the form of, “One last thing before we let you go… and we’ve been debating this here for a while….”
Then my stock answer: Fortunately, in New England, we don’t have to look at it that way. It’s the perfect combination of quarterback and coach, and they work best together.
I’d finish with whatever duo analogy I was feeling that day (Lennon and McCartney; Thelma and Louise) and then hang up, feeling sorry for the people outside of New England who just didn’t get it.
Then Brady messed around and went to Tampa.
Suddenly the question that never had to be New England’s began popping up in New England. Tom Brady or Bill Belichick? It’s the ultimate intoxicant that doesn’t need an answer, and still sucks you in anyway.
It built slowly after Brady left the Patriots. He went on with Howard Stern and said the Brady-Belichick debate was a “shitty argument.” He told Stern, “To have him allowed me to be the best I can be, so I’m grateful for that. I very much believe that he feels the same way about me, because we’ve expressed that to each other.’’
It seemed that most people, especially here, agreed that picking just one was unnecessary.
You have memories and “3-28” shirts and Richard Sherman memes because Tom and Bill were together. It seems silly to take sides now. That feeling got a challenge when Rob Gronkowski came out of a 13-month retirement and absolutely picked Brady over Belichick.
The Tom or Bill lines got even heavier last week when Brady had the nerve to voluntarily organize a group of his new Tampa teammates, trying to get a head start on the season. The controversy being that he’s willing to do for the Bucs what he didn’t for the Patriots.
For 18 seasons in a row, Brady walked and talked and even negotiated like a Patriot. He attended voluntary camps, pretended to be happy throwing to Chris Hogan, and never publicly shared his thoughts with Howard Stern. He was a company man. He was that as a 23-year-old kid wearing a backwards baseball cap, and he was that as a 40-year-old man wearing a grown man’s fedora.
I’m sure Belichick wasn’t pleased that his quarterback skipped voluntary workouts for two years. Then again, the coach got outsized quarterbacking value — in every way imaginable — in those 18 that Brady was there.
Besides, I always get some cheap entertainment when I imagine where the outcries about voluntary camp are coming from. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked with some folks over the years who volunteer nothing and, on the contrary, want days off for everything from Sweetest Day to Arbor Day to Canadian Thanksgiving. Don’t make me name names.
But seriously, beyond that, what is it about this particular tandem that makes people want to assess the individual value?
Most of the time in dynasties, the partnership is praised rather than parsed. Did anyone feel the need to pick Red or Russell? Popovich or Duncan? Montana or Walsh? In the last example, which Brady knows well because it’s his hometown team, Walsh is linked to Montana even though Montana won his last Super Bowl without him.
Even before Brady went to Florida, the Tom or Bill question was out there. I dismissed it then because it was someone else’s problem. Now, I’m convinced, it’s there to taunt me.
No matter what happens, don’t let the either/or, this or that people win. Tom is in Florida, Bill is in Massachusetts and the right answer, still, is both.