For nearly 20 years, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had the NFL pinned down like a grade school bully. On Tuesday, that era ended when Brady announced he would not be going back to the Patriots, likely so he could start fresh with Tampa Bay at 42 years old.
Though neither Brady nor Belichick are retiring yet (and may not for a while), their careers have been defined by the other as much as by their own selves. So as they go their separate ways, now is a perfect time to revisit one of the most dominant, brilliant, occasionally obnoxious and seemingly never-ending dynasties in American sports history.
Here are just a few moments that members of SB Nation staff will remember the most from the Brady-Belichick partnership. You probably won’t be surprised to see we have a wide range of memories. Feel free to give us your own — the good, the bad, the stupid, ALL OF IT — because there is a lot to choose from.
When he replaced Drew Bledsoe
I was a Michigan fan as a kid, which means I was hip to Brady’s moxie, poise, chutzpah and grit before it was cool (indeed, I was hip to it even when Michigan fans refused to be). I was 13 when I watched him replace an injured Drew Bledsoe on a Sunday evening early in the 2001 season. I ran and told my dad what was happening. As Brady eventually led the Pats to the playoffs, I felt immense validation at having been in from the very beginning on one of the greatest sports underdog stories ever.
Then the Patriots wouldn’t stop winning, Brady grew more alien, and I no longer wanted to call myself a fan. Though it seems distant now, it’s worth remembering that there was a time when Brady was universally beloved.
— Louis Bien
When he made John Madden look stupid and started a dynasty
The Patriots were 14-point underdogs in Super Bowl XXXVI. It made sense. New England was rolling a backup quarterback who nickel-and-dimed his offense to the top of the AFC against The Greatest Show on Turf Rams. His low-wattage passing attack was a cavalry, and Kurt Warner’s offense was nothing but tanks.
I was 17 when this game happened, filled with optimism despite growing up with a Pats team whose only motivation to climb out of the AFC East basement was to get pelted with rocks over and over again in the playoffs. A small group of us watched this game from a friend’s basement — the furnished chunk of a split-level ranch. It was middle-school teacher nice; pool table, bar we weren’t allowed to touch, 32 inches of pure RGB beauty broadcasting the game from New Orleans. Paradise, really.
And it felt that way when New England raced out to a 17-3 third-quarter lead, even if we knew it wouldn’t last. St. Louis unsurprisingly came back to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Brady got the ball back with 81 seconds left, then dropped back to pass despite John Madden’s protests; he wanted the Pats to play for overtime against a scorching-hot Rams’ offense that had just mounted a 21-second touchdown drive.
“With no time outs I think the Patriots, with this field position, you just have to run the clock out,” Madden opined from the broadcast booth. “You have to play for overtime now. You don’t want to force anything here. You don’t want to do anything stupid.”
Brady did no such thing. Like he had against the Raiders in Foxborough three weeks before, the young quarterback calmly dropped back and sliced up the St. Louis defense with a thousand small cuts. Five yards here. Six yards there. A 23-yard sideline strike to Troy Brown, who deserves so much more recognition than he actually gets. Madden’s tone changed:
“I kinda like what the Patriots are doing ... This is amazing. This is something, I’ll admit, I don’t think they should have done. But they had the guts, they have the quarterback, and they did it.”
Then, finally, the moment:
We exploded from our spots on the edge of the floral-upholstered couches. Cool ranch flecks flew from our hands and into the atmosphere. My buddy Matt grabbed me and we collapsed, screaming, into a delirious hug on the floor. Sports had never made me feel that way before. Everything was a dumb, sloppy mess, and it was amazing.
“That’s the way you should win a Super Bowl,” concluded Madden, appropriately convinced of just how damn wrong he was about Brady.
— Christian D’Andrea
When he grew his hair long
What was happening there? Look, Brady is an objectively handsome man. That long hair nonsense that happened in 2011 was just such a bad look. Please don’t do this again. Oh, and remember when he dropped that pass in Super Bowl LII against the Eagles? That was fun.
— Caroline Darney
The tuck rule
It’s not mature nor proper to blame a loss on a bad call. There are dozens of things that happen through the course of a game that affect the outcome. For instance, the Raiders were much too conservative during the fourth quarter of their 2002 Divisional Round matchup against the Patriots in snowy Foxborough.
But that game will always be remembered for that pivotal moment. In the final two minutes, Brady fumbled the ball, but the call was overturned because of a rule that said that even if a quarterback loses control when in the process of tucking the ball back into his body, it’s an incomplete pass.
It was a fumble, a turnover that would have ended the game, allowing the Raiders to move on while cementing Charles Woodson as a national hero. I’d like to think that loss for New England would have nipped the Patriots’ dynasty in the bud, but years of intense therapy (and a dash of common sense) led me to believe otherwise. But it’s still fun to believe the Patriots are built on a foundation of lies.
— Eric Stephen
Brady and Moss against the Dolphins
As a Patriots fan, I could have chosen a number of different plays and moments from that glorious 2007 season, but two moments that still delight me took place against the Dolphins in Week 7. The Dolphins were 0-6 at the time, and the Patriots were in the midst of an undefeated season. On the first possession of the game, Brady found Donté Stallworth for a touchdown, and from then on it was obvious that the Dolphins were in for a long day.
But the big story of the offense that season was the connection between Brady and Randy Moss. Not only was Moss playing well after leaving Oakland, he looked even better than he did in his Minnesota days. He was doing ungodly things to defensive backs. Brady would finish the season with a record 50 touchdowns, of which Moss caught 23. I couldn’t wait to see what the two would do against Miami.
It only took until the beginning of the second quarter for them to connect in the end zone, and it was glorious. From the Dolphins’ 35-yard line, Brady launched the ball deep after a play-action fake. When the ball came down, Moss was just past the goal line. The ball was slightly under-thrown, but no worries. Moss stopped his run and jumped over two defenders to catch the ball for a touchdown.
That play was an archetypal display of Brady and Moss’s unstoppability. Even when the ball was less than perfect, and two defenders were in position to stop the play, Moss erased the disadvantage.
A few minutes later, the same thing happened again. Brady launched the ball deep, this time from even farther out, and found Moss in the end zone blanketed by two defenders. Again, Moss caught it. He landed on his feet and the two defenders fell to the ground. Then he simply handed the ball over to the referees, because the play was just business as usual.
It encapsulated the feeling of that season: excellence as routine. And there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. It’s too bad the Super Bowl was cancelled that season due to the weather or something like that.
— Zito Madu
Brady and Belichick’s mutual friend
A story in four parts:
Congratulations to Tom Brady on yet another great victory- Tom is my friend and a total winner!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2015
Belichick wrote Donald Trump a letter the week of the 2016 general election, which Trump read at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, the night before the polls opened. Belichick confirmed that it read:
Congratulations on a tremendous campaign. You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media, and have come out beautifully — beautifully. You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable. Hopefully tomorrow’s election results will give the opportunity to make America great again. Best wishes for great results tomorrow.
“Donald is a good friend of mine,” Brady told WEEI in December 2015. “I have known him for a long time. I support all my friends. That is what I have to say. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s always been so supportive of me — for the last 15 years, since I judged a beauty pageant for him, which was one of the very first things that I did that thought was really cool. That came along with winning the Super Bowl. He’s always invited me to play golf. I’ve always enjoyed his company.
“I support all my friends in everything they do. I think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s achieved in his life. You’re going from business, kind of an incredible business man and then a TV star, and then getting into politics. It’s a pretty different career path. I think that is pretty remarkable.”
— Natalie Weiner
Never forget that his last pass with the Patriots was a pick-six
Brady didn’t have much of a choice but to take a chance. The Patriots were trailing the Titans by one point with only 15 seconds on the clock, starting a last-gasp drive at their own 1-yard line.
So he dropped back into his own end zone and tried to quickly get the ball to Mohamed Sanu for a first down. Instead, he threw a pick to ex-Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, who jogged in for the touchdown to send his former team out with an early playoff exit:
PICK-6!— NFL (@NFL) January 5, 2020
The @Titans extend their lead with nine seconds left. #Titans #NFLPlayoffs
: #TENvsNE on CBS
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/EF5fHZbZSf pic.twitter.com/AOcwqlTSlc
At the time, we knew it *could* be the last throw Brady ever made in a Patriots uniform. But most of us didn’t think it would really happen. Would the six-time Super Bowl champion, the greatest quarterback in NFL history, the man partially responsible for the most dominant dynasty most of us have ever seen in this league really end his career in New England with a pick-six?
As it turns out: yes.
Now that I think about it, it’s kind of fitting that, of all quarterbacks, he’s replacing Jameis Winston, whose Bucs career started and ended with a pick-six.
— Sarah Hardy