The sight of Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform still seems a bit strange for New England fans, who were accustomed to him as quarterback of the Patriots for 20 years. But many Pats fans will be rooting for him to beat Green Bay on Sunday and advance to another Super Bowl. AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

The NFL is holding its conference championship games on Sunday and Tom Brady is playing in one of them.

Of course he is.

In his 21st season, he is about to play in his 14th conference championship game – 14! – the first 13, of course, while wearing the colors of the New England Patriots.

He won nine AFC championships with the Patriots, six Super Bowls, 17 division titles. He led the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, rallying the Patriots from 28-3 down in the third quarter to a 34-28 overtime win over Atlanta.

But Sunday he wears the gaudy colors of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they play in the NFC championship game against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at 3 p.m. The winner heads to Super Bowl LV in two weeks.

The Packers, No. 1 seed in the NFC, are favored. Big deal. Brady made a Hall of Fame career proving everyone wrong. He was the 199th pick of the 2000 draft, remember? He never forgot.

The game is on the road. Big deal. Brady and the Patriots won three of their AFC championships on the road.

It’s going to be cold. Big deal. Brady once won a playoff game in Gillette Stadium – 17-14 over the Titans on Jan. 10, 2004 – when beer froze in cups before fans could get back to their seats.

So here Brady is, at 43, on center stage again, with no signs of slowing down. And everyone is transfixed by what they’re watching. The Buccaneers were network darlings during the regular season, popping up on your TV screen seemingly every week. And last Sunday’s 30-20 Tampa win at New Orleans, a game pitting Brady against Drew Brees, was the highest-rated TV show since the Super Bowl last February, averaging 35.5 million viewers.

All of a sudden, after fans across the nation rooted against him and wished him nothing but failure and doom and bad luck, they can’t get enough of the guy with the Hollywood smile, legendary work ethic and unparalleled success.

Here in Maine, it’s no different. He may no longer be a Patriot, but fans are stilling rooting for the guy who raised New England from an NFL afterthought to its greatest dynasty.

“I am absolutely rooting for Tom Brady,” said Stephen Schwartz, a lawyer at Schwartz & Schwartz PA in Portland. “He’s entertaining and his level of excellence is just something to emulate in any and all walks of life.”

Schwartz is a lifelong Patriots fan and attends three to five games a year. While disappointed that Brady walked away from the Patriots after the 2019 season, Schwartz said, “He gave us 20 years of conference championships, Super Bowls and division championships. He constantly did things to help the team, taking pay cuts and restructuring his contract so we could bring in better players. He did everything he could.”

Don Crisman, the Kennebunk man who is about to attend his 55th consecutive Super Bowl, would love to see Brady play in the Big Game one more time. While he thinks Green Bay is the better team, he won’t bet against Brady.

“I rooted for him during the season and I’d like to see him have additional success,” said Crisman, a Patriots fan. “I don’t know the whole story behind his departure, but the guy performed miracles here in New England that we’ll never see again. I’d like to see him be successful. And I’d like to see (former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski) make a couple of catches too. I will be rooting for them Sunday.”

Bill Goodman, the girls’ basketball coach at Cheverus High in Portland, wishes Brady’s last year with the Patriots had been better. But, he added, “I am rooting for him for what he did for us for 20 years.”

Goodman, a lifelong Patriots fan, can understand why Brady left the Patriots. They didn’t provide him the offensive weapons he needed to succeed. Tampa Bay has – the Bucs had the NFL’s fifth-best offense overall and were third in points scored – and that’s why he’s back in that old familiar place.

“I’m rooting for the guy,” said Goodman. “He’s the best ever.”

And, said Schwartz, he’s probably still got something to prove.

“I think this is going to be a great game,” he said. “These are two legends, Brady and Rodgers. Rodgers, you know how badly he wants a ring. And Brady, in a way, has something to prove. He wants to show he can have a huge level of success without Bill Belichick. And so far he’s done pretty well.”

Saco’s Jim Walsh, a Patriots season ticket holder for 17 years, has mixed emotions watching Brady and Gronkowski advancing through the playoffs.

“I think a lot of people will be cheering for him and Gronk and wanting them to win, and I guess I’m one of them,” said Walsh, the assistant principal at Sacopee Valley High School and a longtime Maine high school football coach. “But it’s not like when I’m cheering for the Patriots. I don’t care if the Patriots go 2-12 or 14-1, I’m always going to cheer for the Patriots.

“I don’t have that passion here. I hope Brady does well and proves the naysayers wrong.”

More than anything, Walsh said, echoing the sentiments of many New England fans, “I certainly respect the guy. But I’m sad that he’s not still with us.”


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