Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Agony of Defeat: Understanding the Pain of Tom Brady and Reflecting on the end of my Football Career

Tom Brady (above) stares into the confetti after him and the New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI



They say that a writer shouldn't make the story about himself.  They say that it can be selfish and egotistical to insert themselves as a plot.  That's what they say; sorry if this story seems a bit self-interested.  I couldn't help it.  


I watched Super Bowl XLVI with a few friends.  We sat around an extravagant television, coincidentally cheering for the New England Patriots to defeat the New York Giants.  For some, it was because they wanted the Pats to win for gambling reasons; for some, the hate for the Giants was too much (yours truly); and, for others, they were legitimately Patriots fans and wanted their team to win.  

The game progressed, the Giants and Patriots exchanged leads, and New York eventually prevailed to become World Champions.  The G-men cheered amongst the falling confetti, raising the Lombardi Trophy and celebrated their fourth Super Bowl title. The Pats walked off the field, humbled from a consecutive Championship loss, by no other than the same Big Apple foe.

Tom Brady, the epitome of what many football minds consider to be the ultimate quarterback, has now lost two Super Bowls.  Somewhat forgotten are the three he won between 2001 and 2004.  Only four quarterbacks in the history of the league have at least three rings.  


But that doesn't matter.  The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately?" league, and Brady is feeling the pressure.  With only two playoff wins since 2008, and no Super Bowl titles in that time, time is running out on the former sixth round draft pick.  And he knows it.  


After losing last Sunday, Brady sat in his locker for half an hour, towel over his head, pads still on, wondering what had just happened.  In an article written by Dan Wetzel (LINK), Wetzel describes the scene as "...hushed whispers and thousand-yard stares."  He goes on to talk about Patriots owner Robert Kraft coming to the dressing room, finding and giving Brady a hug, and leaving him with some words of encouragement.  Brady nods, but never looks up, towel still over his head.


Brady honouring Myra Kraft after scoring a touchdown during Super Bowl XLVI


Kraft's wife Myra passed away last July after a battle with cancer, and the team wore a patch bearing her initials (MHK) throughout the season.  Brady, after completing a touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez in the 3rd quarter, tapped the "MHK" patch, then pointed to the sky, honouring Myra.  He didn't only want to win this for himself and his teammates.  He wanted this one for Robert.  He wanted this one for Myra.


Football is a funny game.  Because so little of it is played during a season (16 regular season games, compared to 82 in hockey and basketball, and 162 in baseball), each game can have so much impact on, not only the standings, but your life.  The chances of playing in a championship can be staggering, leaving one to work tirelessly at reaching that pinnacle.  Some can argue that Brady has already had the glory of winning three and reaching five total, and that no one should feel sorrow for him losing. Those people never knew the pain of losing.


Reading that Wetzel piece over and over again, it reminded me of myself when I was done playing football earlier this fall.  The other team taking a knee, watching the clock run out, opponents celebrating a victory, while I stood on the sideline, not wanting to take my equipment off.  I hated it.  I never felt so small.


The Hogs: (from left) Luke Reeves, Aladean Naghmoush, myself, Tony Vreman, and Aaron Lieberman


The worst part of it was knowing that I would never play the game again.  Hockey, baseball, basketball, and golf have the luxury of being played well beyond our youth. Football doesn't. 


People don't understand that, for 99% of players: Once they're done playing football in high school, they're done period.  That's it.  In Canada, unless you possess the rare combination of good grades and playing ability, your career on the gridiron is limited.  I was no exception.


Most linemen in Canadian University football (CIS) are, at the very least, 6"3 and 275lbs.  At the beginning of my final season, I was at 5"10 235lbs.  Safe to say, there wasn't going to be a growth spurt after turning 18.  I accepted that, though.  We had a lot of returning guys for our last season, and knew that we had as good a chance as anyone to win the Ontario Championship.  I would go out on a good note. 


What ended up happening?  We won, we lost, and everything in between.  We finished the season 3-3, losing games we should of won, but failed to capitalize on.  In the first round of the playoffs, we played at TD Waterhouse Stadium against the Lucas Vikings, and lost 36-22, ending our season, and most of our careers.  Lucas went on to win the provincial championship.  It should have been ours. 


The bus ride from the stadium was as somber a moment as I had ever been apart of. Players were crying, myself included, thinking about what had just happened.  No one said a word.


We arrived at the school, walked to our locker-room, and took a moment to think.  Our coach walked in and told us to keep our heads up, and that it's a new beginning in our lives.  Once he left, everyone started taking their gear off.  Everyone except me.


I didn't want to take my pads off. 


I couldn't do it.  I knew that once I took my equipment off, I'd never wear it again.  I'd never put on my helmet again.  I'd never put on or take off my pads again.  I'd never put my jersey over my equipment again.  The part of me that played football would be dead.  


Eventually, after most of the guys got undressed and left, I took my stuff off, piece by piece.  The whole time I cried, knowing this would be it.  I put my street clothes on, walked out of the room, and went home.  I cried when my mom gave me a hug, telling me she was proud and that she loved me.  I cried in the shower, cleaning the dirt and sweat off my body.  I cried putting sweat pants and a hoodie on.  I couldn't control myself.  The thing I loved most was taken from me, and I would never have it again.  


A few days past, and I felt a little bit better.  It took time getting used to going home after school around 3, instead of after football around 6.  The days got shorter.  My body was less and less sore as time went.  Bruises paled back to white.  Strength was lost.  I was now in retirement.


Fast-forward three months to present day.  I still miss the battle of going against an opponent.  I miss the trash-talk between me and the enemy.  I miss hitting someone as hard as I can.  I miss playing on Friday afternoons in front of our school.  I miss a lot. 


Most of all, I miss the room.  I miss getting dressed and laughing it up with the guys.  I miss chirping each other, ripping on someone about girls or getting yelled at by coach. I miss the brotherhood that came with being a football player.  The bond in this game is something that, unless you play it, you can never understand.  I went to battle with these guys, putting my body on the line for my quarterback and protecting my teammates.  Something like that links guys forever.  And I miss it.


I miss my brothers.

Brothers: the 2011 Oakridge Oaks

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