Bridgewater, Massachusetts, February 28, 2021 – At the end of February, I went to Gillette Stadium about 20 miles west of home in Bridgewater, Massachussetts, and got my vaccination, first round. Sunny day with a brisk, cool wind blowing through the parking lot and chilling our long, socially distanced lines which snaked back and forth outside the stadium.
Massachusetts has opened a tier that includes people 65 to 75 and I’ve just turned 72. I happily, cleanly, and completely retired from my law practice, mostly criminal defense, just a year ago. Then came corona. Every day I count my blessings as I devote myself to my new career year of small-scale farming. I see almost no one. I’m outside all the time.
Our line at Gillette moved along at a good pace. You could not but feel sympathy with your fellow creatures, all of us finally hapless, sometimes frail, mostly elderly, some in Patriots or Red Sox gear.
We took an escalator up to the vaccination area, maybe halfway up the stadium. A nice young woman saw that I wore an indoor rowing t-shirt (from a contest in which my wife competes), and I learned that she’d been a college rower. She had me look down at the field, stripped of turf, as she gave me the virtually painless shot.
Naturally I reflected on the Brady era as I looked around. Our social distancing had me in a reverie about tight ends, slot receivers, wide-outs, Jermaine Wiggins, Troy Brown, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, empty backfields, and spacing on the field, whether in football or soccer or even baseball. Where do you play? Where do you line up? Shallow or deep? “Spread the field!” How many nights did we see Brady, often when the hurry-up wasn’t even necessary, come out in the no-huddle and run 10 or 15 consecutive passing plays. Just for fun. Like soccer. Or rugby. Move, move, move. Sometimes a set-piece, other times just, “You guys go out, the rest of you guys block!” It worked. Oh, how it worked!
I’d never even been inside Gillette before my vaccination. A couple of times in the day of the great Steve Grogan, the old javelin thrower from Kansas State, I’d gone to the miserable old concrete shell that preceded silly, pretentious Gillette. Can’t think of Brady without thinking of the last game ever played in the old dump, the Snow Bowl against the Raiders in 2002. Brady came of age that night and Adam “Adam & Leave” Vinatieri kicked the 45-yard field goal, down 13-10, with half a minute left. That kick, in that situation, in the swirling winds and blinding snow, ranks up there.
With Brady gone and the lock-down on, Patriots football seemed particularly pointless this year. I’m rarely in the car during lockdown, so I only caught a tiny bit of sports talk radio and heard or watched an hour or two of the Patriots this season. Total.
I sometimes take a five-minute drive to a parking lot of the local college, a pleasant spot overlooking a marsh with dry yellow cattails and big swamp maples, where I jump rope. Here’s what I heard the radio douches say on my way to my little corner of the parking lot.
Early in the season Tampa Bay apparently screwed up a kick-off return, and so the Boston radio hosts go on about how Brady must regret going to a place with such terrible coaching, and how something like that would NEVER happen under a Belichick team. As if. Then in October some dude was predicting that Trump would win and the NFL players would quit in protest. He wished. They then go off on the Boston College football team for not wanting to play in corona time. I shut it down and switched back to my recorded book about the Potemkin, Red Mutiny. Three or four minutes of sports radio – for the year.
In the past I’ve heard people like Tedy Bruschi and the great Troy Brown talking intelligently about football and what happens on the field. It can be interesting. More and more, though, the radio guys suck up to ownership and trash the players. They freak when somebody like LeBron forms his own team around him. They gnash their teeth when Gronkowski comes out of retirement to play with Brady, or when Brady helps ease Antonio Brown back into the game. Three cheers for the workers! As a number of players have asked, how many tackles has Belichick made? How many passes has he caught?
It was nice to see Gronkowski make key catches and throw some crisp blocks. One of my favorite sequences was when, late in the third, Tampa Bay, up 28 to 9, Brady can’t handle a high snap and races back to fall on it at the 35, still within field goal range, but only just. Ryan Succop tucks it snugly above the cross bar and inside the left upright from about 53. The final nail.
Farmers learn to hate waste, and to salvage everything. Be opportunistic. Make furrows to direct little water flows toward your plants. Make mini-dams to retain it. Save that goat and chicken manure from the neighbor. Prune back the berry canes and peach branches, burn them and burn some weeds with them. Mix the ashes into the compost. That field goal was all about thrift. Live with your mistakes. Salvage what you can!
That misplayed high snap oddly echoed the many times when, in huge moments needing a two-point conversion or a touchdown, Brady would fake as if the ball had been snapped over his head, jumping and frantically twirling in the air. You’d gasp, and then realize that the ball had been snapped directly to a running back, like Kevin Faulk, who’d ram it home. It always seemed to work.
These pleasant memories occupy me as I go about my farm work. No fewer than five neighbors let me use their land to tap maple trees, and cultivate for food and flower crops. Good sharecropping for me, free landscaping for them. I do all the work with hand tools and it becomes part of my training for seniors’ track and field. The “farmer’s walk” is a recommended lift. Carry one or two heavy objects from place to place. Beautiful in its simplicity. I’ve been carrying two five-gallon pails of sap for up to 350 yards for the last month. You can say of sugaring season, now, thank God, winding down, what Samuel Johnson said of Paradise Lost in his Life of Milton: “None ever wished it longer than it is.”
Anyway, health for all, health care for all, sport for the people!
It was all about Brady. It was never about Belichick, or, shudder, Kraft. In short, Brady could have walked out of the collected works of John R. Tunis. He’s consistently maintained his charity for people with Downs Syndrome. He’s always seemed gracious. He’s praised his teammates and opponents. He spoke against racism. He said that his relationship with Trump became “uncomfortable.” Diplomatic but definitive. Gisele has seemed to exert a good influence over him. And he played the game.
Does it matter that The Ringbearer brought home Number Seven with the Bucs instead of the Patriots? No.
Texas Red is a great young quarterback and the Chiefs (Change the name! Stop the chop! Dissolve the franchise! Dissolve all the franchises! Rebuild sports – and society – from the ground up!) are a good team, but, again, the last word belongs to Marty Robbins (from Big Iron):
There were forty feet
between them when they
stopped to make their play,
and the swiftness of the
Ranger is still talked about today.
Texas Red had not cleared
leather ‘fore a bullet fairly ripped
and the Ranger’s aim was
deadly with the big iron on his hip.