As Patriots fandom waits in unified dread for news on Tom Brady’s future, my mind constantly drifts back to a topic that is irrevocably bound to No. 12’s continued NFL greatness.

My youth.

You see, watching Brady carve up professional football is one of my final, true connections to my younger self.

A few weeks removed from my 36th birthday, I know I’m not old, per se, no matter what my smart aleck nephew says. The reality is becoming more and more clear, though that I’m not, in all honesty, young either. Just ask my back and shoulders after a recent weight lifting session.

But when I see Tom Brady dominate, I can still feel that youth.

Brady played this season at 42-years-old. If someone more than half a decade older than me can be great in the NFL, surely I can’t be an old man!

Let’s travel a little deeper into my psyche.

When Brady was famously selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, I was just a sophomore in high school. When he led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title a year later, I had just helped (in my small way) Pentucket Regional High School football go to a third straight Eastern Massachusetts Division 4 Super Bowl.

So, if the Patriots’ current QB is the same star I rooted for in high school, how could I be old? You don’t go from teenager to old timer during an NFL player’s career. Not one older than you!

When Brady won his second Super Bowl, I skipped a day of classes at Northern Essex Community College to go to the parade. When he won his third, I was procrastinating on a project at Salem State. I was a kid!

I covered my first Patriots game in 2006. Brady was 29 and the man. I was 23, and a very intimidated kid, mumbling out words to 37-year-old future Hall of Famer Junior Seau.

Plenty has changed since that day.

In a column over the summer, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote that a sportswriter once told him, “You know it’s time to go when you are older than the oldest player.”

Last summer, for the first time, I was officially older than every member of the 2019 Boston Red Sox active roster. The closest was David Price at 33.

I’m 5.5 years older than the oldest Celtic — 31-year-old Brad Wanamaker — and only ageless 42-year-old Zdeno Chara has me beat for the Bruins. But I didn’t grow up watching Chara.

I grew up watching Tom Brady.

When Brady joined the Patriots, I was terrified to talk to girls. I didn’t have my license, my facial hair was still dark brown and my mom still made my lunch every day.

Now I’m married to my wonderful wife, I can obviously drive, my beard is best described as salt-and-pepper, and I make my own lunch ... sometimes ... thanks Alison.

But Tom Brady is still there. The guy I watched from the couch with my parents, who are both now gone, that same No. 12, still dashingly handsome, was still leading the Patriots in 2019.

I kept saying last winter that, if Brady is still winning Super Bowls at his age, then that means I can’t be old.

And while he slipped some this year, he wasn’t some graybeard veteran hanging on as a backup QB or — dare I say — a kicker. He was still the centerpiece of the Patriots’ world.

By logic, that must mean I’m still young. Right?

Reality is starting to set in.

I’m 12 years older than Bruins superstar David Pastrnak and Red Sox star Rafael Devers.

Kids look at me like I’m crazy for using an old-school iPod Touch. Don’t tell them I still have CDs in my car. I have baseball caps older than colleague Kyle Gaudette. I quote Simpsons episodes that are 30 years old.

I’ve long rooted for New York Giants long snapper Zak Deossie of North Andover to hang around. He’s just five months younger than me, and he was the first professional athlete I really spoke to as an equal, age-wise. We were both in our 20s then, and a decade has a way of aging you.

But not Tom Brady. He doesn’t age. Sure, there were some bumps in the road this season, but look at that supporting cast.

Give him another year in Foxboro, with some real weapons, and I bet he’ll be that guy again, that I saw in high school, and in 2018.

And, for one more year, I can still be young.

...

Contact David Willis at DWillis@eagletribune.com.

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