REGGIE HAYES: You don’t have to like Tom Brady to enjoy watching him play

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in the AFC Championship game in Foxborough, Mass. (Photo by the Associated Press)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in the AFC Championship game in Foxborough, Mass. (Photo by the Associated Press)

I enjoy watching Tom Brady play quarterback.

There, I said it. It’s a heretical statement around here because if you have any affinity or interest in the Indianapolis Colts, you are required to hate Brady and the New England Patriots. (I’m unsure where that hatred goes if Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is indeed the new Colts coach, but these are confusing times we live in.)

When it comes to Brady, having an appreciation of what he has done and continues to do on the football field doesn’t sit well with people who aren’t hardcore Patriots fans. It’s my understanding that, due to some shady ethics on the part of the Patriots, coach Bill Belichick and Brady over the years, any enjoyment of Brady’s play flies against all that is good and decent in the world.

Yet here’s the gray area where I reside: I don’t root for Brady. I still appreciate his football performance. And I like watching him play. Can we have some nuance here?

I’m always puzzled by the detractors some of our greatest athletes face. Detractors, to use the cultural vernacular of the day, are “haters.” LeBron James faces it, perhaps more than any other great player of our time. Jackie Robinson and others who broke racial barriers dealt with a more egregious form of hate, of course. But in modern terms of “haters” targets, James ranks at the top.

Brady deals with a similar situation.

He will be playing in his eighth Super Bowl, attempting to be part of his sixth championship team. The debate over whether Brady or Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of their time has little or no debate left to it.

Brady led the Patriots back from a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth quarter of their 24-20 win in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. It was his fourth playoff win after trailing by 10 or more points in the fourth quarter. The most recent one prior to Saturday was the Super Bowl comeback against Atlanta last year.

It would have been fun to see the Jags knock off the Patriots, and yet I couldn’t help but marvel and, yes, enjoy Brady directing the comeback. I like watching great athletes rise to the occasion. Why would I prefer to see mediocrity? That makes no sense. With Brady, we might be watching the best quarterback ever. It’s fascinating to see what he can do.

Brady’s latest heroics came after he suffered a hand injury that allegedly put his participation in the game in jeopardy.

I don’t believe Brady would have missed the game short of a broken hand. There’s too much pride at stake, too much commitment to greatness. If he could play, he would play.

His fourth quarter performance (9-of-14 passing, 138 yards, two touchdowns) ranked alongside his best comebacks.

Maybe you don’t like Brady’s personality. Maybe you don’t like the fact he’s married to a supermodel, has enough money to buy several small countries and sometimes lets his not-small ego spill into supreme arrogance. Maybe you really disliked his smugness during “Deflategate.” You can’t honestly deny him his due as a terrific clutch performer.

Brady turned 40 in August. That’s old for a field-goal kicker, let alone a quarterback, which happens to be the most demanding position on the field in terms of the physical and intellectual requirements.

He believes he can play until he’s 45 or older. I’m intrigued. I want to see if that’s realistic. I want to see if Brady can maintain his excellence and fend off Father Time longer than any quarterback ever.

In the strictest or loosest definition of the term, I’m not a Brady fan. But I enjoy watching him play.

My age and my profession have excised the love-or-hate attitude of many sports fans. When it comes to art, music and other entertainment, I like the experience of enjoying the best. Why wouldn’t I relish it with sports? Brady won’t play forever. I’ll soak in the sight while he can still do it.

And if Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has a better day on Super Bowl Sunday come Feb. 4, I could probably find a way to enjoy that, too.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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