FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady will play in his 14th conference championship game when he leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox), a fact that has sparked widespread emotions among New England Patriots followers.
Some are all aboard the TB12 Train and would like nothing more than to see Brady win his seventh Super Bowl championship, a result of how appreciative they are of his accomplishments. Others simply can't go there, perhaps with the thinking that seeing Brady raise a Lombardi trophy in a Buccaneers jersey might lessen what it meant when he did so with the Patriots.
Then there are those who might feel a little bit of a both, depending on the moment.
Twitter provided a snapshot of differing viewpoints among Patriots fans.
I have this conflict of emotions with Brady winning and wanting to be happy for him, but confused about how/why it had to end here. Always felt Belichick should've met TB in the middle and gave him a few decent weapons at the end. Enough that wouldn't cripple the franchise...— Michael Magaletta (@mikemagz07) January 18, 2021
Tom Brady is #1. Love watching him wherever he plays but will always be a Pats fan. Belichick made a big mistake. BB & TB12 better together but TB12 with anyone better than BB & anyone else. #patriots @MikeReiss— rpipunter (@rpipunter) January 18, 2021
Still hate watching this— Smbruins1 (@smbruins1) January 18, 2021
Disagree. He is not a great man. He's greedy and a traitor. I never thought I'd say this but I hope Rodgers take him down. Brady did the Pats wrong.— Christina (@bluereader0) January 18, 2021
One can only imagine how Patriots owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft are processing what has unfolded.
Last year at this time, before Brady had signed with the Buccaneers, Robert Kraft told NBC's Peter King: "My hope and prayer is number one, he plays for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires."
And in March 2019, Jonathan Kraft told the crowd at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: "What keeps us awake at night is how we're going to stay at least at a consistently above-average level -- if not competing for championships -- when the coach and the quarterback who are such important elements of the group that puts a football team together are no longer with us."
The Patriots still have the coach, Bill Belichick, and are coming off a 7-9 season in which they didn't qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
But they don't have the quarterback, and Brady's presence in another conference title game provides a natural springboard for some Patriots followers to revisit why.
The answer -- as many answers are in football -- is complicated.
Here is a simplified viewpoint from a longtime team reporter:
Brady had been decisive in his intention to play until age 45, and had the Patriots decided to commit to that at any point prior to 2019, he likely would have spent his entire career in New England.
But Belichick, with no history to fall back on when it comes to quarterbacks playing at a high level to that age, was reluctant to do so, which created more of an "uncharted territory" year-to-year dynamic.
This opened the door for Brady to consider what football life might be like elsewhere -- and for another team to woo Brady with more of a longer-range vision for him.
In turn, Belichick -- who has since noted how the Patriots "sold out" from 2014 to 2019 and reaped the rewards of three Super Bowl championships and five conference championship game appearances as a result of it -- could begin moving toward a more sustainable longer-range model of building what he hopes is a perennial contender.
King perhaps best captured it last March when he wrote: "Part of this decision, a big part, I believe, is Brady wanting to see football from another point, with another coach, with another team, to see another football life. What's the world like outside of Foxborough? Eight years from now, or whenever the gold-jacketed Brady walks into Canton, he'll hug Belichick for 15 seconds and mean it; yes, the Patriots owe him for the six Super Bowls. But he owes Belichick, too. It's fair to say that sometimes, a new start is better for everyone."
Yet that doesn't mean new starts are always easy for passionate followers to process.
So as Brady prepares for yet another conference championship game, the view from New England -- where he helped lead fans on an unforgettable journey over two decades -- is predictably mixed.
It is SO hard to watch as a Pats fan but I love you anyway, Tom.— A Skye (@four_aunt) January 18, 2021
Ugh it hurts.— sdg (@SDeguilio) January 18, 2021
I hate that you left. I rooted against you all season. However, you made eat crow. Wish you the best. Prove me wrong again @TomBrady.— Isaac Rodriguez (@IsaacRo32764361) January 18, 2021