- - Monday, January 28, 2019

I was seated next to a pair of young women recently and couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. It was about the Super Bowl, this year’s participants, and past Super Bowl parties. Then came a line that just might summarize the opinion of every non-Patriots fan:

“I hate Tom Brady,” said one woman. “But you have to respect what’s he done.”

There’s no argument over the latter sentiment and there’s no confusion over the first one. Her esteem and her enmity for the New England quarterback are perfectly understandable.

Brady has reached the Super Bowl for the ninth time in his 19-year career. NFL fans in their mid-to-late-20s have watched him play in roughly half of the season finales they can recall. Only Bill Russell, a fellow Boston legend, compiled a more impressive stretch of sustained excellence, reaching 12 NBA finals in his 13-year career.

Even with all the controversy that has surrounded the Patriots — Deflategate, Spygate and Tuckgate, Brady must be given his due. He turned 41 during training camp and proceeded to pass for 4,355 yards, which ranked seventh in the league. He did so with a slot receiver and a halfback as his top targets.

Simply put, Brady is amazing. He has lived a charmed life, with a Hall-of-Fame career and a supermodel wife. But he never lets us forget he was the 199th player selected in the 2000 NFL draft, wearing that chip like a badge of honor.

That’s part of the reason he’s so annoying. But it’s his narcotic and he’s addicted.

“I love competing and I love playing football,” he told reporters Saturday before the Patriots departed for Atlanta. “I think loving the game and trying to improve and be the best I can be for the team is great motivation for me. I’ve just always spoke about winning and that’s what I love to do.”

Fortune has conspired with him to win five Lombardi Trophies, which maddens his haters even more.

The Seattle Seahawks were poised to win one of those Super Bowls on a 1-yard touchdown plunge, but coach Pete Carroll outsmarted himself by calling a pass play. The Atlanta Falcons were on the brink of winning one, but they gagged and coughed up a 25-point lead. This season in the AFC title game, the Kansas Chiefs were about to don their championship hats and T-shirts, but an offsides penalty negated a game-clinching interception.

Better to be lucky than good?

Best to be both and Brady.

Despite the passing yardage, the season wasn’t outstanding by his standards. He passed for just 120 yards at Detroit as New England fell to 1-2, sparking notions that the dynasty and QB had reached their expiration date. Naturally, the thought was premature; the Patriots posted double-digit victories for the 16th consecutive season. They finished with the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense in points, fifth-ranked in yards as Brady continued to laugh at Father Time.

He’s also laughing at the idea of staying home with Gisele and the kids.

“Zero,” Brady told ESPN Sunday when asked about the chances of retirement after the Super Bowl. “I’ve said that for a long time. I feel like I’m asked that a lot and I feel like I repeat the same answer, but no one wants to believe me.

“I’ve set a goal for myself at 45 (years old),” he said. “Like I said before, it’s very hard to make it that far. I know how hard it was this year and the commitment it takes.

He might not last another four seasons, but it won’t be from lack of commitment. From his diet and training regimen, to his film study and practice habits, Brady demonstrates single-minded dedication like few we’ve ever seen. A line from his Facebook series, “Tom vs. Time,” nicely sums up his approach:

“If you’re going to compete against me,” he said, “you better be willing to give up your life because I’m giving up mine.”

One thing he’ll never give up is his underdog persona.

It was evident in his recent (ridiculous) claim that “everyone says we suck and can’t win games.” It was apparent Sunday at Gillette Stadium, during the team’s send-off rally, when he yelled and led the crowd in a chant: “We’re still here! We’re still here!”

We don’t need a reminder, not when he’s reached the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five seasons. It’s a wonderful, remarkable and infuriating run, on top of the four-in-seven-years stretch earlier this century.

Much respect to Brady. But familiarity has bred contempt.

Go Rams!

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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