On the morning of March 17, 2020, I stood mindlessly scrolling on my phone in my high school hallway. I sighed in distress. COVID-19 had just taken the world by storm, and my hometown was close to a shutdown. That wasn’t what I was sighing about, though. On what would be my last day of school due to the pandemic, only one question was on my mind: Is Tom Brady going to stay on the New England Patriots? 

It was the first official day of free agency and people had been speculating on that question for the entire season. Acclaimed ESPN reporter Adam Schefter theorized a Brady departure as early as October 2019. No one in New England wanted to even entertain the idea that Brady could leave his home of 20 years. It just wasn’t possible. Brady and the Patriots were an interchangeable entity. You couldn’t say Brady without Patriots, and vice versa. Number 12 would always be a Patriot.

As I scrolled through Instagram my eyes lit up when I recognized Tom Brady’s profile picture making its way into my feed. My eyes locked in on the caption of Brady’s post, which read “FOREVER A PATRIOT.” Scanning the post, which appeared to be in a letter format, I read the words: “Although my football journey will take place elsewhere . . .” It was over. Brady was gone.

Fast forward a year and a half, it is truly surreal, but Brady came to Foxborough this past Sunday not as the home team’s quarterback, but as the opponent. It is truly surreal that Brady didn’t break Drew Brees’ 80,358 passing yard record with a New England Patriots’ flying Elvis on his helmet, but with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ skull on it. It is truly surreal that when Patriots kicker Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal try bounced off the left upright, Tom Brady jumped up and down for joy instead of grimacing. It is truly surreal to say “Brady and the Bucs defeated Belichick and the Patriots 19–17.”

The most bizarre part of the night, though, came on Tampa Bay’s first drive. It is true that fans gave Brady an ovation of sorts prior to the commencement of the contest. As Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense ran out onto the field, however, boos reverberated throughout the crowd. Not too long ago, something extraordinarily catastrophic would have had to happen for Tom Brady to be booed at Gillette Stadium. Now — because the greatest quarterback of all time was simply wearing a different uniform — it surprised no one.

It reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy sketch about the undying devotion to one sports team. Seinfeld observes how strange it is to root against an iconic player after he leaves your team.  “You’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it. You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt; they hate him now.”

I don’t choose to cheer for clothes. I choose to cheer for what really matters: the players and people we love. When it comes down to it, it is the players we cheer for. Thus, I will state something that will be somewhat controversial in this region: I am glad — no, elated — that Tom Brady beat the Patriots on Sunday night (try saying that aloud: weird, isn’t it?).

For those who call out “bandwagons” or “fake” Patriots fans for continuing to cheer for Brady: it is human nature to root for a human being over an organization. We didn’t choose for Brady to leave — it was out of our control. In reality, there is no such thing as a bandwagon. The wonderful thing about sports is that fans get to know players and become enamored by them. This is more than applicable when the player has been a part of their life for 20 years, winning six Super Bowls (with New England), nine AFC titles, three MVPs and much more in the process. If one roots for a team or player and follows them religiously, they are a true fan. We developed a love for Tom that can’t ever be tarnished. A love that is almost that of a family member. So yes, Patriots fans . . . I rooted for Tom Brady on Sunday night. My question is, why didn’t you?