In February 2002, the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, and a 24-year-old Tom Brady was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. With the country still reeling from the September 11 attacks a few months earlier, the game itself was staged as a tribute to a nation in crisis, determined to hold together against an unprecedented threat to democracy. The Patriots, in their red-white-and-blue uniforms, took the field as a team all at once rather than be introduced individually, as was the tradition in Super Bowls. This led the Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter to refer to the Patriots as the “United Team of America.”
Nineteen years later, as Brady, now 43, achieved his seventh Super Bowl victory—thereby cementing his position as the most successful quarterback in football history—much of the nation looked upon him with contempt. Never mind that many of those people couldn’t quite explain why; never mind that, as Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon suggested, Brady might be the last thing left in America that still works. Over nearly two decades, Brady’s Patriots became one of the most reviled sports franchises in every city southwest of Hartford. Even as Brady defected to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, his agelessness, his air of superiority, his infuriating brilliance in pressure situations, his famously spartan diet, his enduring marriage to a supermodel, and his political sensibilities all evoked a sense of utter weariness. Him again?