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Finding Tom Brady

Perhaps the most riveting story of the NFL preseason has nothing to do with rosters or depth charts or how any team looks heading into the regular season. It has to do with Tom Brady, who clearly doesn’t have to worry about playing his way into the starting spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The intrigue around the 45-year-old future Hall of Famer has nothing to do with what he’s done on the field. It’s the fact that Brady disappeared for a full 11 days, leaving his team to go through dress rehearsals without their leading man and the role of quarterback to an understudy for the first two games that don’t count.

What’s intriguing isn’t just that Brady went AWOL. It’s the theories about where he might have gone. The most exciting was that he secretly went to be a contestant on the singing reality show The Masked Singer, a program where celebrities sing while in costume while a panel of judges try to guess who it is. It’s a show that’s probably most well known for having one of the judges walk off set when it was revealed that Rudy Giuliani was one of the celebrity crooners. It’s a show that makes Mediterranean Below Deck feel like high art.

Conspiracy theorist have made a pretty good case for Brady taking to the reality stage, a show that’s film in secrecy for the network where Brady will become a football commentator when he retires from the game – that’s Fox, of course. The timing lines up, and Brady has started to move into entertainment as he sees the light at the end of the gridiron. So if you can believe that the moon landing was staged, then this is an easy one. Brady has firmly denied the allegations the only logical way one could, by tweeting out a picture of him on a motorcycle in his underpants. That seems to provide obvious and undisputable evidence that he could not have belted out a rendition of “I Did It My Way” with all the time in the saddle. Mystery solved.

It’s most likely that Brady was simply on an island vacation with his family, something that allegedly was planned back during his short-lived retirement after last season before he changed his mind. Not that a family worth collectively hundreds of millions of dollars couldn’t afford the hotel change fees. But it’s quite likely that Tom Brady, like the rest of the American work force, is evaluating his work/life balance. Take that, upper management.

Of course, part of why this is so amusing is because it happened during the preseason, football’s version of movie previews we absolutely do not want to watch. Preseason is the ritualistic series of games where coaches play their teams into shape and slowly cut players based on how they perform. The games have absolutely no bearing on regular season standings, and the slate is wiped clean when they’re over. It’s also the stretch where established starters do everything they can to stay off the field to avoid getting hurt by some long-shot rookie trying to make a play. After 22 seasons in the NFL, I think Brady can probably skip the prelude and jump right to opening day. This is part of why the NFL recently reduced the number of preseason contests to three games, although they did this while also adding a regular season one. Such is the toll of the modern American work place.

The obvious question raised by Tom Brady’s absence, beyond what did he sing on the show, is whether it’s time to end preseason altogether. These games have become the NFL’s version of the corporate retreat – a tradition we all assumed was necessary, even if no one really likes it other than the free happy hour. It’s a great place for your starting wide receiver to tear a ligament and be out for the year, and it’s really only determining the final few spots for guys who will barely play all season anyway. And not for nothing, pre-season standings have absolutely zero correlation with the regular season. Sorry Jets fans.

Will they ever end it? Probably not. There’s way too much money playing games that don’t count. And old habits die hard in the NFL. Which means that for now, players will still have to endure the ritual of playing fake games for fake standings and risk real injuries. Unless, of course, you’ve got some songs to sing.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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