Brady in a 2009 game against the Washington Redskins. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
I am not a football fan, by which I mean that I can count on one hand the number of football games I have sat through in my life. The sport itself means nothing to me. I am aware of touchdowns, and the part where they kick the ball between those two posts, and something called “downs” of which I believe there are four. Beyond that it is a mystery to me.
But I recall watching the Super Bowl in my freshman year of college. The Patriots were playing the Eagles, and I was in enemy territory. Only one of the dozen or so guys I was watching with actually came from anywhere near Philadelphia, but they were all at least not from Massachusetts, which meant one thing: They hated the Patriots. In particular, they despised Tom Brady with a vitriol typically reserved for war criminals, pedophiles, and people from Connecticut.
Of course I was from Massachusetts, which meant that all their anti-Brady hatred was concentrated in my direction. Every play that favored New England was punctuated with shouts of “F–k you, Brady! F–k you, Leary!” Despite the fact that these subtle reactions from the crowd were my only means of interpreting what was happening on the screen, I felt compelled to defend Tom Brady’s honor. By the time the game was over, I was as into it as anybody else, and passing for a Brady super-fan. I cheered him on passionately when it seemed like I ought to, and fired back at the Eagles fans whenever the need arose. When the Eagles won, I undertook the ritual lamentations required of the losing side, and exchanged a few last barbed words with my companions. It is, I am sure, an entirely irrelevant detail that at this very viewing party I was given my first beer (and my second, sixth, et cetera).
I tell this story here to illustrate Brady’s unparalleled position in the Massachusetts pantheon. Even the most uninterested denizen of Patriots territory, on venturing into hostile country, is inspired to speak for Tom Brady the way a pilgrim in a different age might have spoken for his king, or as a Catholic might respond to sacrilege against the Virgin Mary. Since the dawn of the new millennium, he has been an integral element—perhaps the foremost single one—of the culture of the state and the identity of its people. Like Jack Kennedy for an earlier generation, you don’t have to like him (or even care) to love him; he is an ineradicable part of who you are simply by virtue of being from Massachusetts.
As most readers will surely know (given that even I know), Tom Brady announced his retirement from the National Football League this week. Though he spent the last two years of his career in Florida with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and comes from California by way of Michigan), he remains a Massachusetts icon, and it is with that greatest state in the Union that he most closely identifies. Given the timing of his announcement, his friendship with President Trump, and his superstar popularity, some have begun to speculate that the quarterback is going to launch a political career.
My instinct is that it would be virtually impossible for Tom Brady to lose an election in Massachusetts. If even I feel such intense loyalty to the man, I can only imagine the feelings he inspires in people who actually care. (Efforts by the liberal Boston Globe to manufacture a controversy over Brady’s supposed snub of Boston in his retirement announcement are, I think, clearly intended to preempt just such a run.)
He will likely be tempted to aim for the top spot in the State House. Incumbent governor Charlie Baker, an extreme-liberal Republican, announced in December that he will not be seeking reelection this year. Lackluster Trump orbiter Geoff Diehl, who was crushed by a 24-point margin in the 2018 Senate race—the same year Baker won reelection by 30 points—is currently leading the primary field for the GOP nomination. Patrick O’Connor, a schlubby state legislator to the left even of Baker, may throw his hat in the ring, and a handful of other long-shot candidates have already declared.
If Brady waded into this field—and he has until the end of May to do so—he would blow past all but the leader in an instant; then edge Diehl out in the September primary by a respectable margin; then claim a landslide victory against the Democratic nominee (likely snobbish Attorney General Maura Healey) in November. On Beacon Hill, Brady would be in the heart of friendly territory, able to bask in the adoration of his fans for as many years as he feels like running for reelection.
But this would essentially be a victory lap. There is not much a Republican governor can get done in Massachusetts—even Charlie Baker has been repeatedly hamstrung by the Democratic legislature. A triumphant return to Boston would be great for Brady’s ego, but likely nothing more.
He would be wiser to wait two years and mount a bid for the Senate seat Geoff Diehl lost so horrendously in the last election cycle. It would admittedly be bittersweet to see the author of The Two-Income Trap ushered out of Washington, but the prospect of a realignment Republican sitting for Massachusetts in the upper chamber is too good to pass up. Though this year’s Senate election is likely to deliver a Republican majority, every seat is precious—especially one considered safely blue (which it would be under contest from anyone but Tom Brady).
It does remain unclear, however, just how much of a realignment Republican Brady really is. He owns a red hat and is chummy with 45, but beyond that we know as much about Brady’s prospective career as I know about his former one. He is completely inexperienced in politics, and his policy inclinations are entirely uncharted.
I say let him figure it out as he goes; the man is good at thinking on his feet. If I can write a thousand words on a professional football player, then surely he can fake his way through six years in the Capitol.