A Star Quarterback’s Alternate Reality

Football is a game of inches.  That’s the thought that goes through my mind every time I’m about to leave the huddle.

“…On two, ready…break!”

As I approach the line of scrimmage, I’m scanning the defensive scheme in front of me.  It doesn’t look good.  They’re stacked on the left side and, unless we get real lucky and some scrub player falls down, the running play they sent in is going nowhere.  I can feel my nerves begin to race.  I need to show these coaches something.  Everyone knows that pro football is about opportunity.  Eleven years in the league since my days at Michigan and it’s starting to look like I’m going to end my career as a perennial backup.  I’ve started a grand total of three games my entire career.  Every year some new ‘All-America’ kid shows up, and every year I have to prove I’m the best of the ‘second best.’

So I decide to change the play.  I quickly glance to the wrist strap on my arm and my list of options.  Right under the tape with “Brady” on it, I find what I’m looking for.  I’m hoping that between the few starters who are still in the game and the new guys struggling to make the team, they will pick up the audible and adjust.  I’m also hoping that some kid from some obscure place like ‘Pennsyltucky’ doesn’t try to make a name for himself and kill me.  Pre-season games suck.  No two ways about it.

The sweat is dripping down my forehead.  I hate Florida in August, but you’d think I would be used to it by now.  I feel the ball pop into my hands and I turn to my left to fake the handoff.  Just like clockwork the running-back, some new kid…I can’t even remember his name, doesn’t pick up on the new play call and slams right into the ball as I’m trying to pull it back in.  I know, I just know, by the look in his eyes as he passes me that he has no idea what his assignment is.  I’ve got this uneasy feeling as I take my drop that pressure is coming from my back side.  As I turn to dump the pass off to the right, I can see out of the corner of my eye that, not only did the running back screw this up, but I’ve got no one in the flat to dump the ball to.


I actually hear that sound come out of my own mouth.  It’s the sound your body makes when number 75 lands on you.  They have Wilfork listed at 325 but, like most “D” linemen in the NFL, there’s no way that’s accurate.  Maybe his leg weighs 325.  I can remember when we drafted him to the Patriots in 2004.  I never saw a guy in training camp eat like that.  He actually helps me up.  He grabs me by the back of my shoulder pads and pulls me up like a rag doll.

S’up Tom?  Your new team mustn’t like you much, man!” he says, with that broad grin.  That’s how he smiles when the barbeque arrives.

“Hey man, you losin’ a step?  I was expecting you sooner!” I stick it back to him.  Never let them know they hurt you.

I hear us call for the punt team and start my way back to the sidelines.  I was really kind of hoping that Belichick would go for it.  Third quarter of a pre-season game, we’re on their forty yard line…why not?   I keep walking.  The knee feels funny with every step.  I can’t tell anymore if it’s pain in the knee or the brace that I still wear for protection.  The rookie punter from USC strolls by me…what’s his name?  All I notice is the aqua Dolphin on the side of the helmet.  I’ve been gone from New England for almost three years now and I’m still not used to seeing that damn fish on our helmets.

“Have a seat Tom, you’re done for the night,” Belichick says in that dry monotone voice.

It’s hard to even be mad with Bill anymore.  He gave me a second chance, what more could I ask?  He’s got to go with his gut.  Parcells is looking for a Super Bowl here in Miami.  Belichick wants to win at least one before he’s done.  We were close in New England in 2007 but the pass from Bledsoe went clear over Moss’ outstretched arms into the first row of the stadium seats.  Parcells took Bill back into the fold in 2008 after his public fallout with Kraft over the very expensive and very empty palace in Foxboro.  Bill took all the blame as usual.   

I actually got to start a game in New England once against the Colts.  It was right after Bledsoe got hurt.  He came out of the Jets game after a violent hit in the shoulder by Mo Lewis.  Drew got hurt good on that play but was right back two games later.  That Colts game was, as my dad would have said, ‘my finest hour.’ 

I’m off my game tonight.  My son turned four today and I’m missing it.  He’s home with Bridget and my two year old daughter, with number three on the way.  California is a long way from here.  I want to be in this game, but God it feels like my life is on the other side of the country.  Waiting to play.  Waiting for someone to think I can do it.  Waiting.

The Patriots are crushing us tonight.  Man, are they bringing it.  That kid Mayo is a beast.  Just watching him makes my knee hurt.  When Drew retired, I really thought that was going to be my year.  2008.  The year that would not be.  Watson still sends me text messages with an apologetic tone.  The defensive lineman slipped his block.  I didn’t even see the guy coming.  We all know these things happen, hell, we play pro football.  There are some things that will always haunt us I guess about the lost opportunities.

I hear somebody behind me yelling, “Hey Tom!  Tom Brady!”  I turn around to see a freckle faced kid seated in the front row wearing a Patriots jersey, number 12.  What the hell is he doing in Miami cheering for me?  More to the point, why?

I have to remember to call Drew.  He was close on that Hall of Fame vote.  “Tons of yardage and stats but no Super Bowl,” is what they keep saying.  He had some really great years.  He’s one tough son of a bitch.  That hit from Lewis could have killed him.  That’s what his doctor kept saying.  “Just a few inches to the left and imagine what might have happened.”