Tom Brady and his New England Patriots got away with one Sunday night. By his own post-game admission, the future first-ballot, dead-certain lock for the NFL Hall of Fame “sucked pretty bad” in the AFC championship clash with the Baltimore Ravens, in which Bill Belichick’s athletic club eked out a hard-fought 23-20 victory and punched its ticket to next month’s Super Bowl.
It’s not often that coddled, overpaid professional athletes call themselves out for their own poor play. But Brady’s forthright assessment of his less-than-stellar effort during a Gillette Stadium brawl in which a botched chip shot and a gritty performance by the Pats’ much-maligned defense saved QB12’s bacon recalled a similar outburst by another superstar unhappy with his performance.
“Tiger Woods, you suck! God! Damn it!” CBS cameras captured Eldrick Tont snapping at himself after a poor shot during the 2010 Masters. (In perhaps the most colossal understatement in the annals of sports broadcasting, TV announcer Verne Lundquist responded to Woods’ eruption by noting, “I don’t think he’s pleased.”)
Brady (a reputed 10-handicapper) and Woods (0-2 as an honoree during Stanford football games) may appear to have little in common but for their iconic status, bum knees, and first marriages to fashion models. But the larger-than-life legends — who’ve been linked by such luminaries as Fred Couples and Coach Hoodie, along with Tiger and Tom, themselves, and even via a Harvard economics textbook — share at least two traits beyond their tendencies to tee up a certain verb to characterize his own sub-par play. Each is on the precipice of becoming the best in his chosen sport, and time is running out.
Woods may be older (36 to Brady’s 34 — he’ll be 35 at the start of next season). Unless officials implement full-contact golf, however, Woods’ field affords him more running room to overtake Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship titles and 73 PGA Tour wins. His quest has obviously taken a lengthy detour since his SUV backed into that hydrant, but Woods’ game was on the upswing at the end of last year and he could send a decisive message with a victory at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Sure, opponents like No. 1 Luke Donald, reigning U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy, and any given golfer on any given Sunday will have something to say about how many more (if any) official Ws Woods will add to the 71 tour victories and 14 majors he’s already stashed away. But whenever he pegs it up, it’s really just Tiger vs. the course and Father Time.
Not so for Brady, who faces his own mortality every time he peers across his offensive line at Ray Lewis and who conceded last week that “the clock is ticking.” Brady’s post-season rep took a hit when the 18-0 New Englanders lost that ’08 Super Bowl game to the New York Giants and the team proceeded to blow first-round playoff games in 2010 and 2011. But after Sunday night’s triumph — however lucky it may have been — Brady shares first place with his hero Joe Montana for most all-time career playoff wins (16) by a quarterback and on February 5 will be in a league of his own for most Super Bowl starts (five).
A win in the grudge rematch with Peyton Manning’s kid brother in two weeks would put Brady all square with Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most Super Bowl wins (four), while another trip to the big game next year would give him the chance to go where no QB has gone before. The hitch for Brady, of course, is that he’s always just one helmet-to-kidney hit (like the one the Ravens’ Lewis laid on him last night after the Ugg for Men pitchman scored the game-winning TD with a leap over the scrum) away from collecting his pension.
By this time two weeks hence we’ll know if Brady’s on his way to football immortality. We’ll also have a preliminary read on what this season holds for Woods.
In the meantime, let’s hope the cameras are rolling when the two fabled athletes exchange pleasantries at Pebble Beach next month. They may not play the same game, or even the same course at the same time during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am that starts four days after the Super Bowl. But Tiger Woods and Tom Brady definitely belong in the same “who’s the best ever?” conversation.