In professional sports, it is hard to win. Ask Cleveland football fans, who have watched their team only win one game in the last two years. Even the newly crowned Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles had never won a Super Bowl before in its 51 previous incarnations. The team they beat, the New England Patriots, had won their division 15 of the last 17 years, with eight Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl victories. The Patriots are the most dominant American sports team since the turn of the millennium, and they are a football dynasty.
Dynasties in sports are extremely hard to come by. The very nature of sports makes it difficult. The better the player, the more money a team has to pay them. Thus, a team can often only afford one or two true stars at a time, making it impossible to sustain a championship-level team. But the Patriots never had to worry about this problem. For the last 17 years, they have had both the greatest quarterback and the greatest head coach in football history. And with Tom Brady, the reigning MVP. and Belichick, his usual cold self, the Patriots were once again Super Bowl contenders. Everything is great, right? Well, maybe not.
When Patriots owner Robert Kraft hired Belichick to coach, he gave him control to run the team. Belichick’s unrelenting drive to win quickly became apparent, and his status as football’s greatest coach did too. Kraft never once questioned Belichick, and that worked just fine. Kraft had the best quarterback and the best coach. The only thing to question was just how long could Brady maintain his elite level. He was 35. Then he was 38. This year, he is 40. The Patriots now had star back-up Jimmy Garoppolo on the bench, wasting away his not-quite-so young-anymore career. Belichick had a decision to make, as the burdens of a dynasty came upon him. Garoppolo was about to ask for a lot of money: more than the Patriots could pay him, but what he deserved. In Garoppolo Belichick saw an opportunity to keep the dynasty. Someone who could keep bringing them Super Bowls for the next 15 years, not the optimistic four or five that Brady offered. But Brady is the best quarterback of all time, and as of yet has shown no signs of being slowed by age. How could you trade the face of the dynasty? And then the drama began.
Tom Brady attributes his success to his incredible training regime. He and his personal trainer Alex Guerrero began selling their TB12 training brand, and it was what Brady swore by—so much so, in fact, he began pressuring players to use his training services in place of what the team offered, putting teammates in an impossible position of choosing between their quarterback and their coaches. Garoppolo refused treatment from the TB12 staff, suggesting Brady tried to compromise the man who was challenging him for his job. The divide between Brady and his coaching staff tore open. A few weeks later, an incident in which Brady hurled profanity at his offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was well-publicized, and only heightened the tension around the team. Eventually, Garoppolo was traded out of the way to a struggling San Francisco team for a second-round pick. The Patriots acted like all was back to normal. Nope.
For one, a second-round pick for a Garoppolo was not an even trade, and one a great mind like Belichick would likely not normally make. So why did he? Let me offer a theory.
Belichick has always done what was best for the team, whether it made him popular or not. So he decided to keep Garoppolo for the shot at another decade of dominance. Kraft, a close friend of Brady’s, made both a personal and business decision to deny Belichick’s wishes and keep Brady. After all, he’s Tom flipping Brady. Belichick, to get back at Kraft, traded Garoppolo for nothing, and to a team that the Patriots won’t have to play.
To go even deeper, I’ll say this: You have two men, the greatest ever to do what they each do, with egos to match. Who is responsible for the dynasty? They each must think they are. Here was a shot for Belichick to prove it by getting rid of Brady, and Brady by promoting his brand across the whole team. After all, it’s a dynasty, and a dynasty can never have two kings forever.