Tom Brady turns 40 tomorrow. In New England, there is never-ending speculation about his future and that of Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady’s backup and potential successor, whom coach Bill Belichick retained during the offseason despite ample interest from the Cleveland Browns. And yet, at the moment, here is what should interest you about Brady as much as anything else.
From March to May, according to data recently released by the NFL Players Association, Brady ranked No. 1 in merchandising sales among all NFL players.
So here’s the question:
Has the worm from Deflategate turned?
Of course, America loves a winner. And Brady has won more than anybody, at least in the NFL, where he has amassed five Super Bowl titles (the most ever for a quarterback) and a record seven Super Bowl appearances (also the most). And in February, Brady orchestrated the greatest comeback in NFL postseason history, pulling the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit to the Atlanta Falcons to win one of the most extraordinary Super Bowls in history.
So maybe it’s that simple. Likely, it is. But one can’t help but wonder if Brady has rehabilitated his image in recent months and years, mostly through amusing Facebook posts, social media interactions and commercials that have made him far more human and suggested he can more than poke fun at himself.
For example: remember the video posted on his Facebook page after he was named the Madden cover boy?
Or how about this — the Foot Locker ad in which Brady himself seems to poke fun at Deflategate?
If you haven’t seen these, watch them now. Even the harshest Brady critic must show the hint of a smile. (This means you, Gordon Hayward.)
Remember: as popular as Brady and the Patriots are in New England, they are reviled in many corners of America. Brady has been on the NFL’s most-hated list more than once, and on some he is ranked as high as No. 1. Again, some of that is tied to winning. Champions are often loved and reviled with equal force, because there is always a certain measure of envy that accompanies the greats. And for every hater, there is an additional fan who buys Brady merchandise out of spite, the equivalent of the merchandising middle finger.
Naturally, as Brady approaches his 40th birthday, he is also approaching the end of his career, no matter how many times he tells us that he wants to play until he’s 45, even 50. Patriots coach Bill Belichick himself has expressed some doubt about this, which is presumably why he has resisted trading Garoppolo despite the fact that he could lose his backup quarterback at the end of this season — and for nothing. According to some reports during the offseason, the Cleveland Browns were willing to offer the No. 12 pick in this year’s draft for Garoppolo. Belichick turned it down, with NFL insiders like Adam Schefter going so far as to say that the Patriots would not have traded Garoppolo for two first-round picks –or even four first-rounders.
Does this mean Brady is about to implode? Hardly. After all, he has defied time and logic thus far. But as Brady has approached this milestone birthday, he has ramped up his off-field marketing efforts, going so far recently as to say it has been his “dream” to play in China someday. (There are a lot of consumers, after all, in the Far East.) Whatever the case, Brady now seems more popular than ever, which cannot help but make one wonder if many fans realize that they have precious few opportunities to see the GOAT.
In the end, maybe it’s that simple.
With his most recent title, Brady reached Jordanian status.
And who doesn’t want to be Michael Jordan?
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.