Tom Brady took Patriots fans to unimaginable heights. Can the team ever get there again?

FOXBORO — Tom Brady deserved something extraordinary, of course.

He’s currently a singular figure in both New England Patriots and NFL history. His jersey retirement earned a parallel to how the Boston Bruins celebrated Bobby Orr or the Boston Celtics immortalized Larry Bird.

Wednesday night at Gillette Stadium was unprecedented for a franchise that used to be a league laughingstock. No other Patriots player will wear No. 12 again, and Brady became the 35th person enshrined in the team’s Hall of Fame.

Tom Brady talks with New England Patriots CEO Robert Kraft during the 2024 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday.
Tom Brady talks with New England Patriots CEO Robert Kraft during the 2024 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday.

“Our goal was to create a once-in-lifetime ceremony for a one-of-a-kind player,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “I hope we accomplished that goal.”

Indeed. Now comes the difficult part. Kraft needs to make his fans care as much about the upcoming 2024 season as they did on this perfect Wednesday night.

The stars of the recent past were all around us. Patriots supporters filled the field seating, the upper deck and the posh suites to see a reunion of sorts. It was a long way from the ghost town that watched the close of a 4-13 campaign in 2023.

That was a flashback to the bad old days, and the hope is Kraft will be sparked to action by this jarring contrast.

Randy Moss was moved to tears by a standing ovation during his turn on stage — hardcore fans here have always been savvy enough to recognize true greatness when they see it. You can’t expect a current receiver on the roster to even remotely approach a reasonable equivalent.

Former Patriots coach Bill Belichick walks to greet former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on stage during the 2024 Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday night.
Former Patriots coach Bill Belichick walks to greet former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on stage during the 2024 Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday night.

“Ultimate competitor,” new coach Jerod Mayo said of Brady, his former teammate. “And that’s what I’m trying to get through to the guys in the locker room.”

The former occupant of the staff’s corner office basked in perhaps the longest applause of the night. Bill Belichick was back to honor the player who served as the perfect vehicle for his vision. Theirs was a marriage of great success and deep understanding, one that only unraveled after the 2019 season when the business side of the sport interceded.

Belichick recounted twice-weekly personal meetings with Brady – sometimes more – as his favorite experiences during his coaching career. He ultimately couldn’t survive the 2023 season, as a depleted roster and a desire to rebuild from the ground up forced Kraft to make what would have previously been an unthinkable decision. The man who helped set the wheels in motion for Brady to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with his hard-edged negotiating tactics and unflinching demands was done himself after more than two decades on the Patriots sidelines.

“Those were some of the best days I had as a coach in my entire career,” Belichick said. “I learned so much. I saw the game through his eyes – which, as we all can imagine, was phenomenal.”

Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (L) wears his red Patriots Hall of Fame induction jacket as he greets fans, flanked by Mike Tirico, the MC of Wednesday's event.
Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (L) wears his red Patriots Hall of Fame induction jacket as he greets fans, flanked by Mike Tirico, the MC of Wednesday's event.

Brady won his seventh Super Bowl during his Tampa Bay debut in 2020. It's open to debate whether or not he could have repaired a team that closed 4-5 in 2019 and was eliminated by the Tennessee Titans during one last forgettable playoff game here. One notion Brady put to bed for good on this night – the glory he experienced with Belichick was shared, not independent.

“It wasn’t me,” Brady said. “It wasn’t you. It was us.”

Quite succinctly, the Patriot Way – we heard plenty of references to that concept during a stunning period of dominance. New England ruled the AFC and the league in Brady’s time, capturing a trio of Super Bowls in quick succession a decade apart. The dynasty roared in the early 2000s and the mid-2010s, and few could approach the level necessary to keep pace.

“That first year, to be honest with you all, I hated Tom,” receiver Wes Welker said. “He was always, ‘Why did you do this? Why did you do that?’”

Who is that player now? Mac Jones was failed by Belichick and lasted three increasingly disappointing seasons at quarterback. Drake Maye is a rookie who’s a long way from a guarantee to start the Sept. 8 opener at Cincinnati. The Patriots have lurched from one set of hands under center to the next in the four seasons since Brady departed, and their cash spending – per ESPN, a number that ranks rock bottom in the 32-team league over the last decade – hasn’t been nearly enough to acquire the talent needed elsewhere.

Retired Patriots wide receiver Julien Edelman laughs after telling a joke during the New England Patriots Hall of Fame induction Ceremony for Tom Brady.
Retired Patriots wide receiver Julien Edelman laughs after telling a joke during the New England Patriots Hall of Fame induction Ceremony for Tom Brady.

Nobody could miss the oversized scoreboard, the lighthouse towering above it or the private club spaces that served part of the large crowd. Some followed the ceremonies by filtering out into the plazas and establishments surrounding the stadium to watch the Celtics finish off the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, moving within just one win of a championship.

That game and this parade from the past could be the only excellence they witness here in 2024. That we suspect it to be true before training camp convenes next month is a stark reminder of how much has changed – and how difficult that decorated past will be to touch again.

bkoch@providencejournal.com

On X: @BillKoch25

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Can the New England Patriots ever recapture the Tom Brady-era glory?

Advertisement