There are some things in sports that just don’t look right.
Willie Mays in a New York Mets uniform after playing 21 seasons with the Brooklyn/San Francisco Giants.
Michael Jordan suiting up for the Washington Wizards after winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls.
Johnny Unitas leaving the Baltimore Colts following a 17-year run to end his career with the San Diego Chargers and Joe Montana exiting the San Francisco 49ers for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Legends are meant to go from start to finish with the same team, like Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the NBA or Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Stan Musial and Derek Jeter in baseball.
Legendary, once-in-a-lifetime athletes like Tom Brady are not supposed to spend 20 magnificent, hard-to-top seasons with the Patriots and then, with his 43rd birthday on the horizon, write his final chapter in another city with another team.
There are some things in sports that just don’t look right, and the sight of Brady wearing the colors of another team while far away from Route 1 in Foxborough, Mass., ranks right up there at the top.
What a run the Patriots went on after Mo Lewis of the New York Jets delivered a vicious hit on Drew Bledsoe during the fourth quarter of a Sept. 23, 2001 game at the old Foxboro Stadium.
That is how the Tom Brady Era began, and after sitting on the bench in the 2000 season, the sixth-round draft pick owned an entire region with his brilliance and amazing comeback ability.
But now it is over with Brady announcing shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday that he will not be back with the Patriots in the 2020 season, his next stop via free agency unknown.
“It has truly been the happiest two decades I could have envisioned in my life and I have nothing but love and gratitude for my time in New England,’’ Brady wrote in a social media post. “You opened your heart to me, and I opened my heart to you. And Pats Nation will always be a part of me.’’
The winner of six Super Bowl championships (and the most valuable player in four of them) who has thrown for 74,571 yards and 541 touchdowns with 6,377 completions is headed elsewhere.
Does it really matter where? No matter what uniform Brady is wearing, it is going to be a shock to the system every time he appears on television, finishing up a magnificent career in a place other than New England.
Think about all that Brady accomplished since replacing Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season, taking over a spot from a veteran and never leaving.
He put together game-winning drives in his first two Super Bowls against the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers and directed the Patriots to an 18-0 record in the 2007 season before they were upset by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
And his greatest win came at the end of the 2016 season when the Patriots, trailing the Atlanta Falcons, 28-3, in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, put together a comeback for the ages to win, 34-28, in overtime.
Watching the Patriots on Sunday afternoons or Monday nights was appointment television for an entire region with Brady running the show.
Never before had football been anywhere close to being this popular in the region. The Patriots bounced around from home to home before landing in Foxborough in the early 1970s, then played in a small-time facility before Gillette Stadium opened in Brady’s third season.
But there have been reports of disagreements between Brady and Bill Belichick for a little while now, and it has finally come to a head in a manner that is shocking, even if the signs were all there.
After beating the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl to end the 2018 season, the Patriots struggled down the stretch of the 2019 season and were bounced in the opening round of the playoffs by the wild-card Tennessee Titans. Brady, without many weapons, started showing his age a bit.
Brady went over to owner Robert Kraft’s house on Monday night to let him know he wouldn’t be returning to the Patriots in what must have been a highly emotional meeting.
“How do I possibly sum up the depth of my gratitude to Tom Brady for what he’s given us these past 20 years, or the sadness I feel knowing it’s ending?’’ said Kraft in a statement released by the team. “I love Tom like a son and I always will. He has brought so much happiness to me personally and to all of our fans.
“I had hoped this day would never come, but rather that Tom would end his remarkable career in a Patriots uniform after yet another Super Bowl championship. Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to reach an agreement to allow that dream to become a reality.’’
Belichick also had praise for Brady, whose final pass with the Patriots was an interception returned for a touchdown.
“Tom and I will always have a great relationship built on love, admiration, respect and appreciation,’’ said Belichick. “Tom’s success as a player and his character as a person are exceptional. Nothing about the end of Tom’s Patriots career changes how unfathomably spectacular it was.
“With his relentless competitiveness and longevity, he earned everyone’s adoration and will be celebrated forever. It has been a privilege to coach Tom Brady for 20 years.’’
Sunday afternoons will still be a time to gather around the television and watch the Patriots, but it will never be the same, not with Tom Brady out of the picture.