Two weeks after David Ortiz played his final baseball game for the Boston Red Sox, I’ve come to a painful realization: Tom Brady may be the last great sports hero New England will have for a long time.
Ortiz’s departure is finally real. Sure, we now realize that bat won’t be in the middle of the lineup on April 3, 2017. But we also realize that there may never be another athlete for whom New England sports fans have such ingrained and amazing memories. Other than Tom Brady.
Having realized this, I naturally boil with fury every time I remember (and I don’t need much reminding) that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took four games of watching Brady away from us this season. Precious moments that we can never have back. Having said that, perhaps the Brady suspension was a blessing in disguise. We got to see what life on Earth is like with unpredictable quarterbacks and goose eggs at home. And then, as expected, because we’re spoiled, Brady returned and didn’t miss a beat in his first two games back (6 TD, 782 YDS, 0 INT). New England sports fans must appreciate every moment that 39-year-old Brady is on the field. While he hasn’t shown his age — and even appears to be getting younger — that day will come eventually. That day will change everything.
Brady and Ortiz are great because they won when nobody else had. And then they won some more. The Red Sox, of course, were coming off of 86 years without a title when they won in 2004. Ortiz then won two more championships with the team (2007, 2013). When the Patriots won in 2001, it was the first Super Bowl championship in the team’s 41–year history. Ortiz’s clutch play was essentially the reason the Red Sox won in 2004. A lot of people argue that the early Brady Super Bowl teams were anchored by a great defense — and they’re right. But Brady still played at an elite level during those early Super Bowl years, at the most important position in sports. Brady has gone on to win three more championships since 2001 (2003, 2004, 2014) and has made the playoffs in 13 of his 15 seasons.
If Ortiz and Brady were amazing players with great stats but never won championships, they would be Boston greats but would never achieve the hero status that they have and will continue to have forever. But they’re in their own league because they were able to win titles for fans who, for the most part, had never seen their team win.
This is where they’re different from the Boston Celtics’ big three team of 2008, who ended a 22-year championship drought. They were a fun, lovable, exciting team that won a championship with the core group of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. All three players, particularly Garnett and even more particularly Pierce, will go down as Celtics greats. That 2008 season was an amazing season and a great time in Boston sports. But because they failed to win as much as they should have, those players will never be in the same league as Larry Bird or Bill Russell.
So who do we have left in Boston after Brady? Who will be the next legend to retire? If we’re sticking with players, Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t really count, even though his departure will mean the end of the “Patriot way” and perhaps all the victories that come with it.
Pierce has revealed his plan to sign with the Celtics for a day to retire in green. Even though Pierce doesn’t rise to the Ortiz/Brady pantheon, that will be an emotional day because he was a player who stuck it out through thick and thin.
Other possibilities are limited. The Patriot’s Rob Gronkowski will likely end his career as the best tight end ever. But he still needs a few more years — and a few more championships — before we will view him in the same category as Big Papi and Brady. Are there any other candidates playing today? The closest I can muster is Dustin Pedroia.
Kids growing up today will certainly have their own stars. Their own heros. But it is hard to imagine the next New England sports icon that will be able to do what Ortiz and Brady have done for Greater Boston. We’ve already lost one of those guys. Let’s appreciate Brady while we can and be thankful that we’ve lived through one of the greatest sports eras that any city or region has ever seen.