I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately.
Birthdays have a tendency to do that. Turning 46 a few weeks ago was a bit of a shock to the system, and in the days since it has been a constant thought in the back of my mind. Time. How much is left, and how much has passed.
There are events during that passage of time that can anchor us, that can snap us back to a moment, and over the course of 46 years I certainly have my share of such moments.
There’s a pizza place somewhere in New Jersey, just off I-95, that is one such anchorpoint in my life. I could not tell you what I ordered on that afternoon back in October of 2001. I’m not sure if it was any good, whatever it was. Those are the memories that get erased over time, washed away, never to return. I may have even loved it, in the moment.
But there are two things about that pizza place I’ll never forget.
First, the company. I was traveling back to school with a young woman. We’re now married, and have been for, well, a while now.
Second, a phone call. We were traveling back to school after spending some time with my parents, and as one did back in those days, you called to check in when you stopped somewhere on a long drive like this. This was before texting, friends. I called my dad as we stopped for lunch on that Sunday afternoon, at a pizza place in New Jersey that has been erased from my mind.
And all my dad wanted to talk about was this new quarterback for the Patriots.
It was October 21, 2001, and this new quarterback was making his fourth NFL start, against the Indianapolis Colts. He completed 16-of-20 passes that day, for 202 yards and 3 touchdowns.
And my dad was gushing.
About Tom Brady.
In that pizza shop, on a cell phone call that probably cost more than I’d care to admit, my dad talked about that new young quarterback, and how well he was playing, and how wonderful it would have been if we could have just delayed our trip back to school a few hours, so we could see that game together.
Some years later, that girl and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary. The traditional first anniversary gift is paper. Since we are often of the same mind, we ended up getting each other tickets. I got her tickets to see A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
She got us Patriots tickets. To see Brady and the Patriots take on Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium
That was the game where Brady juked Urlacher in the open field.
I’ll never forget it.
That’s the thing about constants. They are always there. Seared into your brain, ignoring the passage of time.
For over twenty years now, Brady has been a constant. In my life, in my family, and later, in a second career that I never thought would be anything but one man’s ill-fated denial of the failures of a previous life.
Twenty years of text messages, of phone calls during playoff games, of an infant son wearing his first Brady jersey, and a daughter later wearing her own.
So many memories.
Memories of being younger.
Brady announced his retirement this morning, a move that shocked me to my core. Perhaps it came from watching him over the years, perhaps it came for our closeness in age, or more likely it was a little of both, but I’ve often felt that I could get inside his mind a little bit. When he lost his final game in New England, in the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans, I said on the radio the next day that he would head to Tampa Bay to play for the Buccaneers.
Why? Because his entire career was built on proving people wrong. During his final days in New England Brady faced questions about his arm strength and an inability to dial up velocity on throws. So what better way to prove people wrong than to go play for Bruce Arians in his “no risk it, no biscuit” offense?
I thought we would see that again.
When I wrote just a few weeks ago that win or lose, this was not the end for Brady, I believe in my heart that he had one more run at proving the doubters wrong? “I’m washed up? Really? I’m going to the Raiders to play Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson twice each season, and I’m going to win another title.”
Instead, it has come to an end, on a windswept beach, with a goodbye message.
The thing about time is that it keeps moving. Despite constants, and anchors, it marches on. As I sit and reflect on Brady’s career this morning, I wonder if my belief that he was coming back for one more year had less to do with him, and more to do with me.
After all, every summer of training camp photos, and ever fall with him under center, anchored me back to a pizza place in New Jersey. Sitting across from the love of my life, with my future ahead of me.
Today is a reminder that you cannot be 24 forever.
Both for a quarterback, and a fan who watched him.