The list of greatest athletes in Boston sports history during my lifetime looks something like this:
1. Tom Brady
2. Larry Bird
3. Everyone else
No offense to The Truth, Pedro, Big Papi, or The Big Ticket, but judging from body of work, success, and entertainment value, it’s always been Tom Terrific, The Hick From French Lick, and then the field.
Every game, Bird and Brady made you believe. No matter who made up the supporting cast, what the scoreboard read, or how talented the adversary was, victory felt imminent (this probably made defeat tougher to swallow, but whatever). Despite each winning titles early in their careers, the competitor within never faltered. Even in the twilight of their respective careers, Bird and Brady always managed to come back with wrinkles to their game that they had mastered during the offseason. The great ones are wired like that – relentless by nature, demanding the best of themselves, and the people around them.
Unfortunately, with the release of Aaron Hernandez following his arrest Wednesday, it appears Bird and Brady’s career arcs could possibly conclude the same way — marred from mitigating circumstances well beyond their control.
In 1986, the Celtics were firmly positioned in a fortuitous circumstance. With Bird in his prime, the franchise already had captured three championships. Red Auerbach managed to keep a watchful eye on the future and traded Gerald Henderson to the Sonics for a future draft pick. That pick ended up being the second overall selection in the 1986 NBA Draft, Len Bias, an immensely talented forward, who would help Bird and the veterans both in the present and the future.
Only that never happened. While celebrating his new employment, Bias subsided to a cocaine overdose. He never donned Celtic Green.
Tragedies happen in life. Bias used drugs, and the allegations levied toward Hernandez are even more nefarious. Some will question the Patriots’ judgment. We’ll hear Wes Welker’s name (whose contract negotiations, or lack thereof, are mutually exclusive of Hernandez’s alleged transgressions), the derision of “The Patriot Way,” and the lack of credence placed on reported “character issues” Hernandez was flagged with before the draft. Truth is, keeping the championship window open means bending the rules, and no one saw this coming.
But even without a healthy Rob Gronkowski or Hernandez, I think Brady and the Patriots will win 12-plus games each season for the remainder of Brady’s career. Remember, the great ones are like that – they make you believe. Even if, this time around, the adversary is Father Time.
Franchises see the door open, know that Father Time is their enemy, and try to pry the window open as long as possible.
Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__