During the Patriots bye week a month ago, Do Your Pod was joined by "Man in the Arena" director Gotham Chopra. As I told him on the show, it was a pleasant surprise to hear the most inside of Tom Brady insiders say that he himself is a Patriots fan who was just as put into an emotional body bag by the breakup as I was. But at the same time confirm what some other guests who cover the team had said previously: That it wasn't this super acrimonious split. Brady and Belichick weren't throwing lamps, slamming doors and yelling "I can't take it anymore!" or "Why don't you go live with your whore Bruce Arians?!?" while the downstairs neighbors call the cops. It was more a mutual parting of the ways. Business, not personal. More contractual than acrimonious.
Which is not what we were being fed in 2017, which is the focus of Episode 8 of the series, which dropped this week. That would be the season of the infamous Seth Wickersham article that predicted, more or less, the end of the Brady-Belichick-Mr. Kraft holy trinity. ESPN detonated that little bombshell on January 5th of 2018, as the Patriots were on their playoff bye, getting ready to take on Tennessee in the Divisional round. And predictably, it sent a radioactive mushroom cloud over the postseason that could be seen from the surface of the moon.
At the time I pushed back against a lot of the report. For example, Brady being upset he never won the Patriot of the Week award, because it doesn't exist. Belichick having a secret lunch with Roger Goodell, which was disputed by Ginger Satan's own office, which is not exactly lousy with Pats supporters. How Jimmy Garoppolo lost his TB12 Fitness privileges and was sent to San Francisco at the trading deadline out of pure resentment. One, Jimmy G worked out at Brady's club whenever he wanted to. Two, Belichick traded him because he had to, since his QB1 was having an MVP season and his QB2's contract was up. Or how Brady insisted on being called "Sir" or "Mr. Brady" or "Lord High Exalted Mystic Ruler" by everyone around him, or whatever honorarium Wickersham claimed he was demanding, because it's so obviously a ridiculous claim.
Sure, now through the prism of history, we can assume that a lot of the broad themes of the report were accurate. The Brady-Belichick marriage was at the beginning of the end. Though the more important point is that whatever was going on between them, they went to the frigging Super Bowl and then won the next one. Every QB/Coach couple should be so lucky to have a relationship that contentious. But in the latest "Man in the Arena," Brady is having none of that talk. Hell, the episode itself is called "Nobody's Business." In his own words:
“More and more, I think the joy was being taken away. It wasn’t about my football performance anymore. It was about so many other things. I think people always use the word ‘humanize.’ ‘Oh, you’re such a human.’ No fucking shit I’m a human. Everyone feels like they’re entitled to everybody’s thoughts and opinions all the time. Mind your own fucking business. ...
“I think we’re in such an era of life where everyone thinks that they should get to know everything. And the reality is I don’t believe you should. I think there’s things about relationships that are just private. When two people have conversations that are in a private room, they should remain private."
Which is, one can argue, a strange flex from someone who is now on his second self-produced series about his life and career. But put yourself in his shoes and have some guy from a news outlet that spent the last two years acting as the state-run media wing of the NFL's Ministry of Propaganda smearing you every chance they got, trying to convey to the world your private feelings. Particularly your feelings toward the man who is the most important figure in your (then) 18-year career. Who wouldn't be pissed about that? Only someone who's not "a human."
He also says exactly what I just said about the Garoppolo deal, while denying any resentment toward his backup and intended heir to his throne. Then expands on what all that tabloid rumormongering did to his frame of mind:
“It was just drama. It was just soap opera stuff. Even though we were being very successful, even though I was playing great, it didn’t matter. I was still dealing with the constant negativity. The media were gonna cause division, make people take sides. I think the noise was just getting louder. Even though you block it out, they want to make it louder to make sure you hear it.”
Hear, hear. Bra-fricking-vo. I've said all along that if there's anyone he wanted to get the hell away from and get down to the palm trees and sunshine where he won't have to deal with them anymore, it wasn't his coach or his owner. It was the media. The Boston media especially. The ones who all bought into the Deflategate scam and mocked his denials, who accused him of selling Snake Oil to his fans, and investigated whether he was ripping off the Special Needs kids he put his time and money into helping. There were only so many years he could invest into working and playing his perfectly spherical ass off only to be an object of media derision for their clicks and ratings. Who needs it? And I'm glad he took the opportunity he gave himself to finally say what he truly feels, instead of staying the slow lane of the dreaded high road.
Gronk on the other hand, confirms what was painfully obvious watching his last couple of seasons in New England: He hated his job. That football had become drudgery:
“There was a lot of guys, including myself, that just weren’t really having a good time. We would just show up to show up, go out to practice. I mean we did what we needed to do, we were winning games still. It definitely was taking a toll on me."
And when they lost to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII:
"Just walking into the shower, talking to a couple of players, like, ‘Yo man, great season, but I’m glad it’s over.’ It was long, it was eerie through the whole year. The energy, the atmosphere was just always off. It felt good to walk off the field and know that I didn’t have a game the next week.”
And Brady seems to second that emotion:
“Any time you’re in a 20 years relationship with different people, one year, one experience doesn’t shape my relationship. And then some relationships got strained. That’s just, that’s what they were. … I did know that if things were going to continue the way they were heading, that I couldn’t do it anymore.”
That is a harsh admission. But when a team gets a play or two from winning a championship and the talk is mostly about how glad they are it's over? That's all the evidence you need that there was some seriously bad group dynamic juju and change was needed. So just to bottom line this, the more time that passes, and the more success Brady, Gronk, and now Belichick have as they've moved on from each other, the more you realize this ultimately could be one of those solutions that work out for the best for all involved. You certainly can't deny they all seem happier than they did in that inexplicably weird 2017 season.
In the words of Elton John, "The change is gonna do you good." This one ultimately did.