The violence of the game seldom seems to touch him. Tom Brady plays football the way El Cordobés fought the bulls, the way Jean-Claude Killy came down a mountain, the way any number of James Bonds, 007, escaped any number of villains. He mostly stays away from the trouble, clean and smart, fast and efficient.
That was why the cut on his nose seemed like a big deal this week. Tom Brady had a boo-boo.
“Is the nose broken?” reporters wanted to know after the New England Patriots methodically dropped the Tennessee Titans, 34-14, at LP Field in Nashville on Sunday afternoon.
“Does it hurt?”
The first long weekend of the season provided the usual 16-game byproduct of ill health as the NFL machine whirred and thumped, enlivened living rooms across the country, but belched out the usual numbers of ripped and torn ligaments, broken bones and full-bore concussions, often accompanied by that designation “out for the season.” These injuries were duly recorded, sometimes with a sympathetic side comment, but mostly listed as so much normal business, part of the statistics along with passing and rushing totals, yards per gain.
The cut across the bridge of Brady’s nose was different. This involved the leading man in the production, not one of the character actors. This was the Boss, the star of NFL stars, not someone else in the E Street Band. Stop the presses. Frank Sinatra had a cold. Tom Cruise had a stomach ache. Brad Pitt had a headache. Justin Bieber had a pimple. Tom Brady had a banged-up schnozz.
Kamerion Wimbley, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end, signed as a free agent in the offseason by the Titans, escaped the block of Patriots lineman Nate Solder and pulled down the New England quarterback in the second quarter. Wimbley, who appeared on the television show “American Ninja Warrior” in the past year, rolled over Brady at the end of the play, and his knee slipped through Brady’s facemask. This was followed by the requisite crunching sound.
The play came on third down, so Brady went to the bench for medical treatment. He wound up with a piece of cotton in one nostril, a bandage across the nose. The idea that anything serious had happened was dispelled quickly. He played the rest of the game, finishing with 23 completions in 31 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions.
These were not the statistics of someone in great pain.
“I’ll be fine,” Brady reported about his injury after the game. “I needed some of that anyway.”
Some of what?
“Scars. I never mind a little blood.”
His image in 13 years as an NFL quarterback never has included much blood. He never has been Brett Favre, say, scuffling out of a bar room crowd to throw a pass as he falls on his face. He never has been Ben Roethlisberger, staring trouble in the eye, or Michael Vick, finding ways to run away from it. He has played his own game. There are parts of assorted quarterback approaches in what he does, but no one has put them together the same way. He is the ultimate stylist. If the position could be played in a tuxedo, he would be the first one to do it.
He is the football version of Joe DiMaggio. He goes to the right places at the right times. He does the right things. He isn’t the strongest or the fastest, but he is the bestest. His game is grace and brains and ability, a quick release combined with a mind that calculates decisions faster than everyone else. Hard things look easy. Easy things aren’t even noticed.
His personal life, married to one of the most beautiful and famous women on the planet (more Joe DiMaggio), has taken him into situations far beyond sports. He is gossip-page famous in a gossip time. He shows up at fashion show runways, at art museum openings, at movie premieres. He is building a mansion near Los Angeles, selling a townhouse in Boston, owns properties in assorted other spots. His haircut of the moment usually is a bigger debate among spectators than anything he might choose to do on third and long or fourth and short.
Thirty-five years old, he is at the top of his profession. He is at the top of just about everything. He missed one season when he was a rookie, hardly played. He missed another when he blew out his knee in the first quarter of the first game of the 2008 schedule. He’s been to the Super Bowl five times in 10 full seasons. No one ever has done that.
“He’s the one guy in the world … when I see him, I’m really star struck,” actor Ben Affleck, a Boston native and California neighbor of Brady, told the Boston Herald this week. “I just want to say, ‘You are the [bleeping] best and he’s just, like embarrassed. ‘What’s it like to be the best quarterback ever, ever in the history of the game?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, there’s been a lot of great quarterbacks,’ all humble and [bleep] and I’m [bleep] that! You’re the best!’
“But seriously, he’s very impressive … he should have five rings. It kills me …”
The news a day after he injured his nose was that, while Brady wore the bandage to practice during the morning, the bandage was gone when he went to a team charity benefit at a local bowling emporium at night. He was fine. The scar, if any, will be small. The sack by Kamerion Wimbley was the Titans’ only sack in the game. Brady will be fine for the season ahead, at least for next week. He will be fine for the fishbowl life he leads.
“He’s such a good-looking guy,” wide receiver Wes Welker said in a fine teammate appraisal of the situation. “Obviously, he gets banged up and he’s probably the toughest metrosexual I’ve ever come across.”
Stop the presses.