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Jeff Darlington had Tom Brady covered the whole way



It’s still hard to believe Tom Brady is the former quarterback of the New England Patriots and the new pride of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even with all of the clues and confirmations that came along the way.

The first shock came with his social media posts Tuesday morning saying goodbye to New England. Then there were reports from ESPN reporters Jeff Darlington and Adam Schefter (and locally, hockey guy and WEEI host Dale Arnold, among others) that he would choose the Bucs.

Even Friday, when Brady posted a picture of him grinning and signing his new contract, it was still surreal. And just wait until we see him in that unfamiliar jersey for the losingest franchise in NFL history.

It’s going to take time to process all of this. But it also must be said that we were warned, and that combination of parochialism and denial kept the vast majority of us from heeding those warnings.

Darlington, who has covered the NFL for 15 years, was at the forefront of reporters telling us for weeks that Brady was poised to leave long before he did.

On Feb. 27, Darlington, showing some mild exasperation that his previous reports of Brady’s high likelihood of departure had been greeted with skepticism and worse by Patriots fans, went on ESPN’s morning show “Get Up” and put it all on the table.

“I feel like we need to have a talk here,” said Darlington. “Because no matter how many times we say that Tom Brady is likely to not play for the Patriots next year, I either get blasted or told that I’m wrong. That makes sense because we cannot wrap our heads around it. There are people very close to Tom Brady who are being told by Tom Brady, ‘It’s not going to happen. I’m going somewhere else.’ That’s the way that we’re operating here, within those circles.

“We need to wrap our minds around the fact that it is far more likely than not that Tom Brady will not be back with the Patriots. I am now at the point where I would be stunned if Tom Brady returns to the Patriots.”

Later that same day, he went on ESPN’s “Dan LaBatard Show” and said regarding Brady’s next destination: “Don’t discount the Bucs.”

In retrospect, all of those scattered hints over the past year that Brady might be on the move proved to be accurate harbingers. But Darlington understands why Patriots fans did not want to see them that way.

“To that point, I’m not based in Boston,” he said in a phone conversation Friday. “I’m not a guy who is necessarily a familiar name to a lot of Patriots fans. So I haven’t necessarily built up the level of trust with that community like someone like [ESPN’s] Mike Reiss or [NBC Sports Boston’s] Tom Curran.

“For me, I understood it. Not that I liked it. It’s sort of sad when people say you should be fired or decide to respond by insulting you. That part was a little tough from a societal standpoint, but I have thick skin being in this industry.

“I knew it was never going to be smart before the whole story came out to engage too much. I just had to kind of remember that I was coming from a place of knowledge, and supreme confidence, and fortunately with a story like this, the truth was eventually going to come out.

“That’s where I sort of had peace with it. I was saying this is going to happen, and you’re just going to have to give it time for the truth to come out.”

Darlington did take a subtle victory lap on Twitter, posting a clip of his accurate reporting along the way after Brady signed. He was more than justified in providing the reminder.

“I’ve been covering the NFL for 15 years,” he said. “I want credibility and I want to do it right. And the only way you can gain credibility, even if you’ve been doing it for a long time, is to accurately report stories like this, and next time, maybe 10 more people will believe in you because they remember when you go something like this one right.”

Applause all around

Best thing I watched all week: Michael Holley’s extraordinarily in-depth video essay on NBC Sports Boston that premiered after Brady announced he would not be returning to the Patriots.

The essay, which Holley wrote, aired in a nine-minute version for the regional network’s digital brands, and took 13 minutes in its linear, televised version, which is an enormous amount of air time. Not only was it a complete look at Brady’s 20 years in New England, but it featured video and soundbites that had long ceased being familiar; it’s tough to come up with “oh, yeah” moments for someone as prominent as Brady, but NBC Sports Boston pulled it off in this piece.

Credit goes not only to Holley, but to vice president of content Kevin Miller, who put it on Holley’s plate a couple of weeks ago. (Versions for Brady staying and leaving were produced.) Behind-the-scenes folks such as Jeff Capotosto (coordinating producer), Dave Green (senior editorial producer), Peter Madden (director, digital content), Jason Levine (executive producer, digital media), and editors Sam Darrach and Kieran Mitchell deserve a nod, too, for their roles in putting together such a compelling piece. It was truly great work.

Retro world needs a VCR

A few notable viewing options from the coming week as we make our way in this retro sports world:

ESPN will air an encore presentation of the Academy Award-winning documentary “O.J: Made in America” from Monday-Thursday beginning at 7 p.m. each night. It’s a commitment — the series, on O.J. Simpson’s murder trial and its social and cultural impact — is eight hours long. But it’s not just the best sports-connected documentary I have ever seen. It might be the best thing I’ve ever seen on television.

NESN will relive the 2013 Red Sox World Series run by airing their postseason games at 6 p.m. Monday thru Saturday this coming week, starting with Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays. Over the next eight weeks, NESN will follow the Sox on their championship runs in 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018. Bruins programming will consistently air at 8 p.m. Monday thru Saturday next week and moving forward. The next five weeks will follow the Bruins in their journey to win the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

ESPN will be running a Brady programming marathon from noon-7 p.m. Sunday, beginning with a condensed version of the 2001 AFC divisional-round win over the Raiders (the Snow Bowl here, the Tuck Rule game everywhere else) and ending with a half-hour “NFL Greatest Games’’ version of the last Super Bowl victory over the Rams.



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