BOSTON—On the walk from the Kenmore Square T stop to Fenway Park, young men peddle “Fire Goodell” and “Free Tom Brady” shirts to eager buyers. It’s baseball season but it’s open season on the NFL in New England.
At Roger Goodell’s store, the story remains the same. Tom Brady’s jersey reigns as the best seller at NFL.com among the players who have actually played a down in the NFL (the bestselling shirts belong to rookies Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston).
This astounds mainly because Brady has donned the same #12 for the same team for the past fifteen years. He didn’t change colors like Peyton Manning or change numbers like Michael Vick. Flying Elvis overthrew Pat Patriot before Brady arrived in New England. Yet the three-time Super Bowl MVP beat Russell Wilson, Odell Beckham Jr., and Colin Kaepernick in sales.
Tom Brady, suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season, beat all those guys in the standings last season. The Super Bowl win explains the sales spike. But contempt for the NFL, and fans rallying behind their beleaguered hero, explains much, too.
In the 30 other NFL markets, fans support the suspension. But in New England, as sales of Brady gear obliquely indicates, Patriot Nation circles its wagons in defense of the king of their offense. The four-game suspension for alleged knowledge of football deflation prior to the AFC Championship Game strikes Brady admirers as breaking a butterfly on a wheel and the Wells Report issuing a “more probable than not” guilty verdict appears on the fiction shelf.
Like new Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Tim Tebow coming in at #15 on the list, and last year’s rush on Michael Sam jerseys, buying a Tom Brady jersey at this point ranks as statement purchase.
And many beyond Ted Wells make statements on Deflategate.
An Auburn, Massachusetts, woman’s obituary declaring “Brady is innocent,” Pats-fan protests at NFL headquarters (four arrests!) and Gillette Stadium, newlyweds delaying their honeymoon until the commissioner frees Brady to play football, and a Norwood, Massachusetts, theater declaring on its marquee “All Welcome Except Roger Goodell” speak to varying degrees on the intensity of the devotion to Brady—and the contempt for his nemesis in New York.
And should all that not prove cathartic enough, the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 10, the game that kicks off the 2015 NFL season. Tom Brady may not be in attendance. But, based on his whereabouts on NFL opening night throughout his nine-year tenure, the commissioner will likely be there.
So will 68,000 of Tom Brady’s closest friends.