Year End Pic Page (copy)

In his last game in a Patriots uniform, quarterback Tom Brady gets hit by Titans Harold Landry during the AFC Wilcard playoff game at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 4.

Up until this year, anyone in their 20s or early 30s couldn’t remember a time without Tom Brady leading the New England Patriots.

And that means they couldn’t remember losing.

So it must be quite a shock to them to see the Pats with so many losses in December — or ever.

The team that has been a perpetual playoff participant is already eliminated from the post-season party.

That happened courtesy of Miami last Sunday, and the Dolphins felt little remorse over dislodging the Patriots from their usual playoff perch.

It will indeed be a long, dark winter, to quote a famous politician — who’s about to take over 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

What will we do in January, other than wait our turn in the virus vaccination line?

A shot in arm is what we need in more ways than one.

Usually the regular season is just the preseason. The fun never really started until the playoffs.

We all expected to win, win, win, as another famous politician has said.

After all, there were nine Super Bowl appearances and six Super Bowl wins.

There was a total of 249 regular season and playoff victories. That’s a lot of wins, an average of 13 per year for Brady as a starting quarterback.

Rare was the season when at least 10 games were not won in Brady’s 20 years, 19 as a starter.

That happened once in 2002 when the team won “just” nine times.

In 2000, the record was a dismal 5-11, but that’s before Brady became a starter in 2001.

It won’t be that bad this year, but it could be close. It could be 6-10.

The team was 8-8 in 1999. Let’s hope for that.

The Brady era, which included 541 touchdown passes, 74,571 passing yards (42-plus miles), 39 comebacks and 48 game-winning drives, ended in March when the man, the myth, and the legend-to-be signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — even in the wake of that commercial in which he famously said, “I’m not going anywhere.”

But he did go somewhere, somewhere warmer, leaving adoring fans in the lurch, cold, muck and mire.

And so far so good for him and the Bucs.

He’s thrown 32 touchdown passes and has run up a record of 9-5 with two games to go and the playoffs looming large — again.

Alas.

He vamoosed about the same time coronavirus broke out and the world began its spiral into a petrifying pandemic.

His announcement came on March 17, two days after the Ides of which we must all beware.

It was not a total shock.

Everyone knew it was a possibility. No commitments were made and he seemed restless.

Maybe that much larger catastrophe helped divert attention and lessen the pain from the sports catastrophe into which we were plunged.

Brady, then 42, an age at which most quarterbacks have long since retired, left with the following quote on his social media.

“To all my teammates, coaches, executives and staff, Coach (Bill) Belichick, RKK (owner Robert Kraft) and the Kraft family and the entire organization, I want to say thank you for the past twenty years of my life and the daily commitment to winning and creating a winning culture built on great values. ... Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments.”

And with that, the GOAT was gone to greener pastures.

The bitter among us refer to the animal, not the acronym — which of course stands for Greatest of All Time.

By September, five months and hundreds of thousands of virus deaths and millions of virus cases had stricken the nation. Most of us were concentrating on staying healthy, especially those of us of a certain age who remember the time known as “Before Brady,” when losing was much more common than winning.

By then we had a football season to which we could look forward, even though Brady was gone.

It was a season to be played in empty stadiums, but at least it would be played.

TV viewers would hear crowd noise from games past.

Ironically, the cheers originally meant for Tom Terrific and his team would be background noise for a team without him.

Fans were not in a good mood or very optimistic just before the home opener against Miami, which went better than last Sunday’s game.

It was a cool, cloudy Friday afternoon before the Sept. 13 home game, and fans and families strolled through Patriot Place in the shadow of Gillette, eating, drinking, shopping and spending a little time gazing at the empty stadium.

But there were not a lot of people to be found, just as there won’t be this Sunday.

Only the ghosts of games past will be roaring through speakers, bouncing off the empty seats, concrete and steel in a bizarro-world echo chamber.

One fan, David Perosky of Westwood, said prior to the home opener that the situation was weird but he’d gotten accustomed to watching hockey and basketball pros play their games in empty arenas.

They might as well use the local high school gym or, for football, Tozier-Cassidy Field.

“It’s weird, but it’s been going on since March,” Perosky said. “Most fans don’t give a (expletive).”

Piped-in crowd noise now suffices for the usual tumult and the comforts of home make up for it all.

“Home viewing is better,” he said. “The beer’s cheaper and there’s no line at the bathroom.

“It’s weird but everything is weird now.”

Jack and Betty Sullivan of Ware stopped by after visiting friends on the Cape.

They were on the stadium overlook, which now resembles the overlook at Grand Canyon with people peering into the deep and empty.

Light boards in the stadium were flashing and flickering as if there was someone there to read them.

Jack said he was’nt expecting great things out of the team this year, even with the addition of Cam “Superman” Newton to replace Brady.

“This is going to be a season to build on,” he said. “We’ve got to hope for the best.”

Betty echoed the word of the day with regard to the empty seats.

“It’s very weird, but I think it’s going to be the new normal for a while,” she said.

But at least we can comfort ourselves with the thought that we got the best 20 years Tom Brady had to give.

Unless, of course, he’s still playing at 63.

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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