FILE – In this Jan. 4, 2020, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass. Tom Brady is an NFL free agent for the first time in his career. The 42-year-old quarterback with six Super Bowl rings said Tuesday morning, March 17, 2020, that he is leaving the New England Patriots. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, FIle) AP

BRUNSWICK — The news was coming, and it was something that everyone living in New England had to dread hearing.

No, I am not talking about the coronavirus. It is Tom Brady. To think that next season, Brady will be wearing a different uniform. It is something nobody wanted to reflect on, think about or even consider.

Movement in the National Football League is a way of life. As the NFL Network says, it is NFL Free Agent Frenzy. Every year, there are players that move to other teams.

But, Tom Brady not running out to the huddle wearing that New England Patriots uniform will seem weird, but not unprecedented.

I remember when Joe Montana became a Kansas City Chief. It was weird. Yes, the colors were similar, as the 49ers and Chiefs both wear red. But watching the man who at the time everyone called the greatest of all time, or G.O.A.T., still was strange.

When Brett Favre left the Green Bay Packers, replaced by Aaron Rodgers, we all asked why? When Steve Young came on to relieve Montana in San Francisco, NFL fans asked the same question. In both of those occasions, Packers and 49ers fans had to wonder what was next, could they return to the Super Bowl and win another championship?

In New England, there are big-time questions. Who will play quarterback? Nothing for nothing, but I’m not sure in my wildest dreams that I would want to be in that position, the old saying you don’t want to be the guy who replaces THE guy. This athlete better have real thick skin. What if the Patriots go 7-9 next season, failing to win the AFC East? What if Brady shows up in Tampa Bay and turns the Bucs into a Super Bowl contender?

Lets pump the brakes a bit. Head coach Bill Belichick is still in Foxborough. Robert Kraft still owns the team. The Patriots still play in perhaps the weakest division in football, with the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins on the schedule twice next season, though the Bills and Dolphins seem like certain contenders next season.

What worries me is the losses occurring on both sides of the football. Two linebackers gone. Brady gone.

The 2020 New England Patriots will undoubtedly look much different. Heck, they could become a running team, relying on ball control and solid defense to earn wins. Anything and everything is on the table now.

As for Brady, lets give him his props. When he took over as the starter in 2001, I had just moved to Maine. From an outsider looking in, the Patriots were a mess. We called them the lovable losers, where a matchup with them meant a sure win.

Fast-forward 20 years. As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, the Patriots have been THAT team, beating the Steelers in just about every way possible. They have beaten Pittsburgh on the road in the AFC Championship, twice! The Steelers haven’t come close to winning in Foxborough since Brady stepped behind the center after Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury in 2001.

The Patriots have won six Super Bowls in 20 years. Put that into context. The Steelers won their first Super Bowl in January 1975, beating the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6, in Super Bowl IX. The Steelers have earned six Vince Lombardi trophies since that January day … and it has taken 45 YEARS. Brady and the Pats did it in less than two decades. Wow!

Most Patriots fans consider last season a failure. I maintain, it wasn’t Brady’s fault. Throwing to a less than impressive receiving corps, he still threw for over 4,000 yards, a feat that quite frankly is amazing in itself. To me, Brady accomplished a ton last year with a team that had the talent to maybe win nine games instead of winning the AFC East again and coming within a win over the Miami Dolphins in the season finale of earning a bye in the playoffs.

From those outside of New England, discussions turn to deflated footballs and Brady’s four-game suspension for his supposed role. Trust me, when Brady retires and he later becomes eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, there will be those that will argue that Tom cheated.

Folks, I believe the time has come to put that well into the past where it belongs. Brady is the G.O.A.T. Not because Bob Conn says so, though as a fan of another team, I believe I have some cred. He has been the best quarterback in the league for a long, long time. Better than either Manning brother. Better than Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, or any other name you want to bring up as an argument over the past two decades.

Are Super Bowls titles the reason he is G.O.A.T.? No! Is sustained on-field performance the answer? Absolutely not! It is the whole picture. Brady has done it all, and as football fans, we should each wish him success in Tampa Bay. It is the right thing to do.

BOB CONN is The Times Record Sports Editor. He can be reached at [email protected]


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