There was this old “Saturday Night Live” skit from the late 1990s — a wicked parody of the long-running Broadway musical, “Cats” — that comes to mind. At that point, “Cats” was nearing the end of a triumphant, 18-year run, one of the most successful and decorated productions ever and a winner of countless awards.
By the end of it, though, almost everyone was just plain tired of “Cats.” New Yorkers loved to make fun of what had become a tourist trap and a bit of a cliché. People across the country who had seen years worth of TV commercials promoting the “the magic of ‘Cats’” had tuned out. We wished then that we could rid the bombardment of its theme song, “Memory,” from our collective memories and poke that signature, ubiquitous yellow kitty eyeball once and for all.
And that’s the heart of what the SNL skit poked fun at: Even the people working backstage on the musical were bored out of their damned minds.
It feels a little like how we are with Tom Brady now, 18 years — and counting — into a brilliant, historic run of a career that still resonates on the biggest stages.
Consider Brady’s “Tom vs. Time” behind-the-scenes documentary and his quote from it: “If you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life, because I’m giving up mine.” People roll their eyes at that, too, these days. It almost feels like a line from an Andrew Lloyd Webber production, and we’ve seen that musical time and time again.
Except for this: You might be bored, but Brady isn’t. He's no caricature of his younger self. His teammates are as engaged as ever. The cast from the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX-winning team of three years ago was completely different from the Super Bowl LI team last season, and darn it, if the Patriots make it all the way again this season, they’ll have reinvented themselves once again in remarkable fashion.
Come see the show. Look at it through fresh eyes. Don’t mock the leading man, either, because even at age 40, Brady is doing things that most quarterbacks in the primes of their careers could not even dream of touching.
This is your 2017 season MVP, as voted on by the 18-person panel at Pro Football Weekly, and it's not some lifetime-achievement bestowal either. This is the we’d-love-to-give-it-to-someone-else honor, but how do you go against a player who led the league in passing yards, finished third in passing touchdowns and was good enough to be named first-team All Pro?
All without his security blanket, Julian Edelman, who suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. All while the Patriots’ defense blew countless assignments the first month of the season and Brady’s offensive line was putting him perilously in harm’s way. All while the world expected — and maybe even not so secretly hoped — him to fail on some level, ready for someone else to take the throne.
Not this year. Not yet, anyway.
Although Brady slipped a little down the stretch, throwing interceptions in five straight games from Weeks 11 to 15, he was picked only eight times all year. Brady also completed at least 70 percent of his passes in nine different games this season, and he threw for two or more TD passes in 10 games. It’s all on par with Brett Favre’s brilliant 2009 season for the best ever by a 40-something passer in the league’s nearly century-long history.
Brady might take a “Tom vs. Time” approach to extending his career to almost unseen lengths and heights, but he also defines his personal success through what the Patriots can accomplish as a team. In that vein, Brady leading a 2-2 Patriots team to 11 victories in their final 12 games — with seven of those coming on the road, and one in Mexico — was just as important as him hitting certain dizzying passing plateaus.
And just when it felt like things might be crashing down around him, or the end might be drawing near, following the release of an ESPN report about rising tension in the Patriots locker room, Brady closed that door, too, in an infrastructure-week win, ho hum.
This MVP award might be based on regular-season achievements, but his strong play (35-of-53 passing, 337 yards, three TDs, no interceptions or sacks) following a sluggish first quarter in the divisional-round victory over the Tennessee Titans reminds us that Brady in theory is just now entering the part of the season where he really gives us his best work.
“I’ve been around long enough, 18 years, there have been so many nice things said about me … it just goes with the territory,” Brady said after Saturday’s 35-14 win. “I just try to be consistent, show up and be the best I can be every week for the team. Regardless of whether I am the worst quarterback in the league or the best quarterback in the league, or somewhere in between, it’s just my job to do the best I can for us every week.
That vaulted the Patriots into their seventh straight (!) AFC championship appearance, and their 12th time overall in the past 17 seasons. Brady is doing the same things now in the twilight of his career — and in some ways, he’s far better — than he was when he became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at the time way back in early 2002.
“We don’t really take it for granted around here,” Brady said. “I know how hard it is to get to [a conference championship] game. We’ve very blessed to do it. It takes a lot of things — a lot of good fortune, a lot of hard work …
“I think our team has proven over the course of the year that we can win important games against good teams … that’s why you keep moving on. The reality of the NFL is that what we did this week will have nothing to do with what we do next week. We’re going to have to go repeat it, so we have to go right back to work.”
That’s the kind of quote Brady has churned out hundreds of times after his 196 regular-season victories and his 26 postseason wins. It’s standard fare by now. It’s, well, “Cats.”
You know this run won’t last forever. You know the end is somewhat near. You’ve seen this leading man for so long now. It’s easy to eye-roll through yet another double-digit playoff victory, the latest being Brady’s 13th in New England. But maybe it’s time to appreciate him and this team for what they are before they’re gone for good.