A long time back I worked on a demolition crew for a summer, ripping down a row of ghostly old blast furnaces. An abandoned steel mill. After the wrecking ball had finished, my job was to take the giant chunks of metal that were lying around the ground or in piles and turn them into smaller chunks of metal. The propane torch treatment. 4,500 degrees of sizzle.
One day, my assignment was to attack this massive I-beam, the size of a trailer, which was all twisted and bent and arching up in the air, like one of those hideous modern art pieces you see dumped in a park or on the museum grounds.
I cut at the thing for nearly an hour, burning away, the sparks and liquid metal spraying about, and finally it looked like I had made a clean cut all the way though. But somehow the beam was still holding itself together. I mean, it was absolutely shocking how it hadn't yet split apart, if even by the stress of its own weight.
So I walked over to the other side of the pile and soon found the culprit — a tiny, sliver of metal that was still intact and, I guess, holding the monster together. Nooo, that little thing, the size of a pinky? Impossible.
Anyway I reached in with the torch and blasted that little piece, and suddenly there was this great roar and the beam violently broke apart and the sections lurched and toppled away, and then for good measure the whole pile of wreckage it was resting on collapsed apart as well. Dear Lord … yes, I get the message.
I thought of that little sliver of steel as I watched Tom Brady toiling in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, and again against the Giants last Sunday. A pair of stinging losses for his team that once had been on the move at 5-1. Brady, toiling to keep his universe together, a chore for Atlas, clutching the weakened foundation in place with one arm. And the vaunted Belichick Patriots, suddenly seeming tattered and vulnerable at so many positions.
It was injuries that swept Peyton Manning off the stage earlier in the summer, and you see what has happened ever since — zero Indianapolis wins and counting. This ugly behavior coming from a Colts organization that has averaged nearly 12 conquests per year since 1999 — with Manning in command, of course.
I mention Manning because I can't help but think the same outcome would happen with New England if Tom Brady wasn't able to go for the Patriots for a season … or longer. I think they'd go to pieces completely. I think the beam would split in half and the entire pile of it would come crashing down.
Pull Brady from the mix and suddenly it's someone named Brian Hoyer … or Ryan Mallett, the rookie … handing it off to BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Danny Woodhead for a few. Then it's Hoyer or Mallett trying to work one to Deion Branch (age 32) or Wes Welker (age 30) on a quickie pattern, or to Gronkowski or Hernandez, those interesting tight ends, on a short seam or a curl.
They'd fiddle around that way for a while, and then the Pats would launch off another punt, and then you'd get yet another look at the league's bottom-rated defense (416.2 yards per game allowed), the Candyland Wall that Bill Belichick has strangely pieced together.
Actually, Brady already has missed an entire season before — well, 98 percent of one. This was back in 2008, when he launched a handful of throws in the Kansas City opener then collapsed — shredded knee, gone for the year.
A mystery man named Matt Cassel took over, and he held it together quite nicely, and the Pats put out yet another winning record. But that was because there were still fashionable names like Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and Ty Warren and Adalius Thomas around on defense. There was still an all-time deep baller to launch it to, a terror threat. Randy Moss.
Now you look at the Patriot names running around against Pittsburgh and the Giants and not many of them register. Chad Ochocinco? When you're good you can gimmick up your name all you want and nobody cares. But Chad can't get separation anymore. The fans have noticed this and changed again — Ocho-stinko. Choke-o-cinco, etc. Pet names. A celebration of Chad's nine catches this year.
Woodhead is the No. 2 tailback. At 5-foot-8 he tries. He goes hard … 148 hard yards so far this season. He comes from Chadron State. Chadron, sounds like a cologne. Green-Ellis, the No. 1 back, throws a bigger punch, but he's just another guy.
The real drop-off has come on the defensive side, Belichick's longtime fascination and toy box. There's no formal defensive coordinator on his staff. The Pats finished 25th in yards last season; this year they've come totally unhinged. The secondary can't cover a bar tab. The pass rush, relying on a cluster of free-agent hires, has 15 sacks in eight games.
In terms of Draft Day, GM Scott Pioli left for Kansas City in early 2009, and since then Belichick has gone his own way. You judge a team's draft by the higher rounds, and New England's picks haven't quickened the pulse. In '09 the haul was Pat Chung, Ron Brace, Darius Butler and Tyrone McKenzie. Last year, it was Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes. This year, the lone high defensive choice was injury-prone CB Ras-I Dowling, a second-rounder, who's now kaput for the year with a hip tear.
I think the Brady-free Pats vs. the Manning-less Colts would be a pick-'em game if they ever played it. Neither side would be favored. The History Channel would acquire the rights; hey, more disaster programming! They'd call it the Yesterday Bowl. The Beatles would perform at halftime, minus John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at Amazon.com. You can contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.