NOEL KING, HOST:
These are tough times for New England Patriots fans. Just hear me out. They have to watch their beloved former QB, Tom Brady, go to the Super Bowl with his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here's NPR's Tovia Smith.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Some New England fans are just not over him yet and can't bear to root for Brady as he struts down the aisle with the Bucs with every intention of putting a ring on it.
ESTEBAN GARCIA: Like, it would hurt just like how it would be hurtful, like, seeing your girlfriend be happy with someone else. So yeah, I might shed a few tears if he wins.
SMITH: Esteban Garcia says he's not proud of it, but as the stages of grief go, he's kind of more angry than sad.
GARCIA: If I'm being honest, it's kind of revenge. Like, I kind of felt like a bad breakup. So that's why I'm salty about it.
SMITH: No one's disputing that Brady's the GOAT, the greatest of all time. But Shawn Carr says it's OK that fans are still too sore to celebrate. Each Brady win is a painful reminder of their loss.
SHAWN CARR: It's like, what about all of us who supported you? You know, we cried with you. We stood behind you. We never let you down. But at the end of it all, what do we find out? You didn't care about us. Nah, I'll go where more money is. It was kind of a slap in the face.
SMITH: It's been the talk of the town that Brady helped establish as Title Town as he took the Pats to nine Super Bowls. Brady himself was asked about it by a reporter last week.
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JOHN ROMANO: I'm curious. If you were a New England fan today, would you be happy or sad to see Tom Brady in the Super Bowl?
TOM BRADY: I had - you know, I had an incredible 20 years. And I wouldn't change anything over the course of 20 years. That was magical. And all the relationships, again, that I developed...
SMITH: Even that stumbling snippet of sweet talk was enough to soothe some New England fans like Don Fraser.
DON FRASER: I wasn't pulling for him the whole time. I'll be honest with you. I said, I don't know. I don't know if I want him to win. And then once he pulled it off, I said, you know what? The guy put smiles on our faces for how long? Can't hold it against him, you know? He's the greatest there ever was.
SMITH: And now that he's accepted it and no longer bitter...
FRASER: I think anybody who can't root for Brady from New England, you're just being a baby. Grow up, and just root for the man, OK? Grow up (laughter).
JAMISON CHUE: We're too spoiled in New England.
SMITH: Jamison Chue and Amy Tai agree.
AMY TAI: Let's all not try to be sore losers, I guess. He's not ours anymore.
CHUE: I mean, we can't have everything.
TAI: We're lucky to have had him at all.
TAI: You know, you can't keep a guy forever.
SMITH: One former Patriot called it selfish for fans to root against Brady after all he's done for them. And Brady says many old teammates and coaches are wishing him luck. So far, no public comment from Pats coach Bill Belichick as the debate rages on over whether he or Brady deserves more credit for the Pats' successes. But as for fans, it seems a healthy majority feels like David Bernstein, who says after years of defending Brady against the haters, he didn't want to become one.
DAVID BERNSTEIN: Let him win one more. Let him go. I'm not a hater. I got - I'm a lover, not a hater.
SMITH: Same with Tony Strickland, even though he's still sliding a little between acceptance and denial.
TONY STRICKLAND: Of course, I'm rooting for Brady. He's still our quarterback. To me, he is. He's going to come retire with us.
SMITH: Actually, probably not - while Brady will likely go into the Hall of Fame as a Patriot, he himself has said he's never coming back to New England.
JAY SANCHEZ: He did what every New Englander does when they get older; they go to Florida.
SMITH: Jay Sanchez has no hard feelings for Brady. But his hopes for a Brady win on Sunday are all about vengeance against the Patriots for letting Brady go.
SANCHEZ: I would like to see Brady win a seventh to rub it in their faces. Like, ha, you really did need me after all, huh?
SMITH: Hell hath no fury, it seems, like a Pats fan scorned.
Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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