THE Wide Receiver University

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

Whenever I get sick of my job, I can’t help but think of all the occupations that would be easier than writing for a handful of different newspapers–jobs such as shooting birds at the airport or ripping off college students as an employee of the University Bookstore.

It recently occurred to me, however, that there is a job out there that makes collecting unemployment seem strenuous. I’m talking, of course, about being a wide receiver for the New England Patriots.

Over the last few weeks, New England quarterback Tom Brady has shown the uncanny ability to make even the NFL’s worst receivers look like Pro Bowl pass-catchers. From has-beens to never-weres to guys who spent the first half of the season watching football from home, Brady turns them all into premiere wideouts.

Take, for example, receivers Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. Before joining the Patriots, neither one of them had played a decent game since leaving the University of Florida. Caldwell had just been released by the wideout-challenged Chargers, and Gaffney was biding his time in the soul-crushing hellhole that is New Jersey.

Long story short, their career prospects were about as bright as those of former ENRON executives. Things looked hopeless until they hooked up with Brady, the patron saint of quarterbacks and wide receivers alike.

In the Patriots’ games against the Jets and Chargers, Caldwell and Gaffney combined for 30 catches, 337 yards and two scores. In comparison, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis’ celebrated receiving tandem, have accounted for 16 grabs, 180 yards and one score.

There is no denying that receivers magically find their groove as soon as they set foot on the turf at Gillette Field. Even more telling, however, is the way that those same receivers go downhill as soon as they bolt for greener pastures.

Former Patriots David Patten and David Givens, for example, were well on their way to becoming household names until they traded Brady’s mojo for bigger paychecks. As soon as they left New England, their numbers dropped, their production waned and their cows began giving sour milk.

In spite of this overwhelming evidence, some fans insist that Bill Belichick’s genius, rather than Brady’s magic, makes New England’s offense work. In addition to being ignorant, such fans are just plain wrong.

Over the last few years, New England’s coaching staff has been raided more often than the kitchen at a poorly run fat camp. The Patriots are already on their third offensive coordinator of the Belichick era, and Brady still hasn’t missed a beat.

Come Sunday, Brady will continue working his mojo against Indianapolis. After beating the Colts on their home turf, he will showcase his superiority over Peyton Manning by cursing the people of Indiana with plagues of locusts, frogs and Barbra Streisand.

Twenty years from now, long after Brady has retired and become a constellation in the heavens, people will talk about Brady like they do about Johnny Unitas. Only the most observant, however, will note that while Unitas had Raymond Berry, Brady only had Caldwell and Gaffney.