I've never seen so many people happy about an injury.
Perhaps it's the cheating, or perhaps it's the fact that they're just so damn good, but no matter the reason, the Patriots have become one of the most hated teams in sports. It's "rooting for the underdog," but in reverse. It seemed that people wanted the Patriots to lose in the Super Bowl more so than they wanted the Giants to win. Their multiple successes, coupled with a near-perfect season, have transformed the Patriots into the Yankees of football.
And that is why so many people were thrilled to see Tom Brady get hurt, and were even more exhilarated when it was announced he'd miss the entire season.
It's not like Brady is a bad guy. If the Patriots are like the Yankees, then Brady is their Derek Jeter: a good guy, a leader, and a hit with the ladies. Yet across the country, fans are so happy to see him get injured. Is it a personal thing? Absolutely not. No one wishes ill on Tom Brady the person. But Tom Brady the figurehead... well, that's a different story altogether. He represents the hated, the too good, the cheating Patriots, and the country is excited to see a new team rise to dominance. Dallas, San Diego, Indianapolis, and even the almost-forgotten Super Bowl champs in Jersey could all become the new powerhouse in the NFL. And it's all because of one little injury.
But is Tom Brady the Patriots? Don't they also have this guy named Randy Moss? How about Wes Welker or Laurence Maroney? You don't go undefeated behind a single player, and the Patriots are not going away all that quickly. Even Matt Cassel can excel in this high-powered offense. So why the celebration over the loss of a single player?
It's simple: he's the quarterback. Everything runs through him. He touches the ball on every offensive play (aside from the occasional direct snap to the running back), he is the direct medium between the head coach and the players, and he decides where the ball is headed. He is the field general, the captain, the most important player on the gridiron, and perhaps the most important player in all of team sports.
Case in point: in the preseason, the Giants lost Osi Unmenyiora for the season, an utterly devastating blow. Without Michael Strahan, Umenyiora represented New York's defensive leadership, and was their only Pro-Bowler last year. To many, this took the Giants out of the playoff hunt. But many others dissented. He's one player in a very strong defense, a cog in a well-oiled machine. An important cog, certainly, but still just a cog. Brady's injury is an entirely different animal, and it's not just because he's a "better player" than Umenyiora. Brady is the most important player on his team by virtue of the position he plays.
Early last year, the Giants were faced with the prospect of being without Eli Manning for a few games, and fans panicked. This was well before Eli's playoff heroics, back when he was still trying to figure out the game, three years and one game into his NFL career. He was nothing special at the time, but his loss would prove devastating. Why? Because he's the quarterback, and such is the nature of the position. It's easily the most important position in the game.
Is it the most important position in all of sports? Probably. An ace pitcher is still one of five starting pitchers, just as a cleanup hitter is only one batter out of nine. Perhaps a point guard can be best compared to quarterback, but with a solid supporting cast, even a decent passer can be adequate. Take a look at Rajon Rondo, who wasn't great until surrounded by superstars, or Jason Kidd, whose excellent passing couldn't upgrade an already excellent Mavericks offense. The only position that comes close is a goaltender in hockey or soccer. The New Jersey Devils would be nowhere without Martin Brodeur, and it seems that all Stanley Cup champions are bolstered by great goaltending. But while a good goalie is critical, he still doesn't run the team the way a quarterback does. Brodeur may keep the Devils in the playoffs every year, but he doesn't improve their scoring; Brady, on the other hand, was able to resurrect Moss' career and make Wes Welker a top-flight receiver.
And now Brady is done. The Patriots are still too good not to contend for the playoffs, but in a tough AFC, they have their work cut out for them. With one little injury, their season has taken on a totally new face. Fans are not cheering the loss of Tom Brady: they are cheering the loss of the New England Patriots as we know them.