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The Shadow -- starring Tom Brady

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We know this much: Tom Brady becomes an unrestricted free agent in the middle of March and there are several teams in addition to the New England Patriots who might be interested in retaining his services.


Are you as worn out as I am by the constant barrage of non-news stories about Tom Brady's future?

We just can't get enough of this guy. It dates all the way back to those early Super Bowl seasons; to the controversial tuck rule game. Was it a fumble or a pass? You can still get a pretty good argument on that one, depending on what city you're in. He's dominated our football thinking going back to the epic duels with Peyton Manning which now seem so long ago; to the worrisome sight of his being carted off the field in the very first game of the 2008 season; to the glorious days when he had Randy Moss as a deep threat target. We wince at the ugliness of Deflategate, and we glory at the memory of all those Super Bowl titles and of the miraculous comeback wins, capped off by the most miraculous comeback of them all, Super Bowl LI, Patriots 34 and Falcons 28.

What a ride it's been, and all of New England has basked in the glory of it.

But this latest spate of Tom Brady stories is beginning to tire me out. Will he finish his career as a New England Patriot, or will he test the waters somewhere else? How interested are the Patriots in keeping him? On and on the stories go. I don't like even thinking about the inevitable, that eventually it will all end. But will it end for us when he still has something in the tank and he's playing somewhere else? Or will he hang on too long and end up the way Joe Biden seems destined to, as just another also-ran? All this talk is wearing me down.

We know this much: Tom Brady becomes an unrestricted free agent in the middle of March and there are several teams in addition to the New England Patriots who might be interested in retaining his services. We also know that for those teams to have direct contact with Brady before free agency takes effect would constitute tampering, so they aren't talking -- yet.

That's all we know, and it's all we are going to know until he actually becomes a free agent. Anything reported before then is just speculation, which is another way of saying that everyone is just guessing. Your humble gazetteer is as guilty of that as anyone. Four months ago, I guessed that Tom would call it a career after the 2019 season ended. I seem to have swung and missed on that one. No sooner had his season ended when Brady told the world he fully intended to play in 2020 and possibly beyond. That's the last anyone has heard from him.

Oh, he did briefly emerge in a Super Bowl ad in which he said, "I'm not going anywhere," which I (silly me) interpreted as meaning that he isn't going anywhere. But those wiser than I have continued to speculate (guess) that he's going to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Tampa Bay, Nashville, or God-knows-where.

Meanwhile, Brady himself seems to have dropped from sight. It's like he's become a modern-day Lamont Cranston. Do you remember him? He was also known as The Shadow, the title character of a long-running radio (then later, television) series of my boyhood. Cranston had years before learned from an Indian Yogi the mysterious ability to "cloud men's minds" and become invisible to them. He used his secret to stamp out crime and other evil derring-do. The present-day Cranston, as played by Brady, uses his ability to drop from sight to foil speculation on his future. So far it hasn't worked. The original Lamont Cranston's only accomplice was his glamorous lady-friend, Margo Lane, played in the modern-day production by Gisele Bundchen. Only she possesses the ability to see right through the invisible man.

The rest of us are left to wonder, where's Tom, where's Lamont, or better still, where's Waldo? Has he moved into his palatial estate in Greenwich, Connecticut? Have there been any sightings of him in the old neighborhood of Brookline? (Of course, there haven't been any sightings, he's clouded our minds by making himself invisible.) Perhaps he and the lovely Margo, oops, Gisele, have headed off to Rio for Mardi Gras.

The fact that he's not visibly around to stoke the fires of rampant speculation has inevitably led to -- the stoking of the fires of rampant speculation. Case in point: the relocation of Phillip Rivers, the erstwhile quarterback of the Los Angeles Chargers, to Florida has sent the football cognoscenti into spasms of uncontrolled speculation about what that might mean for Tom Brady/Lamont Cranston. Then there was the Facebook post that Brady was actually seen wearing a hat, the color of which looked vaguely like the colors of some other team, and that could be an omen.

Even famed movie star and Patriots super-fan Ben Affleck got into the act by texting Brady, "Are you going or staying?" He received as a reply a shrugging emoji. So much for Ben's inside track on what Brady's going to do. In any case, his text and Brady's reply of a shrugging emoji made national news. It fed our daily craving for updates on the Brady-watch -- even on days, like most days, when the update is that there are no updates.

You know what, though? Maybe Affleck does have an insiders knowledge of what Brady's thinking is. Maybe he (Brady) honestly doesn't know what is going to happen next in his career. In that case, maybe he should uncloud men's minds, make himself visible again, hold a news conference, and as an opening statement tell us all exactly what he told Affleck. Just shrug. Then he could thank everyone for coming and go back into his Lamont Cranston look-alike act.

Whereupon all the deep thinkers and thumb suckers whose mission as they see it is to fill the rest of us in on the latest inside dope can spend the next several weeks speculating on what that shrug meant.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.

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