Red Sox legend Roger Clemens has advice for Tom Brady in his return to New England
Former Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens can relate to Tom Brady
You might have heard that there’s a big game going on in Foxboro this weekend. After earning six Super Bowl rings and three MVP awards as a member of the Patriots, Tom Brady makes his triumphant return to New England to face his former team as the leader of the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The atmosphere at Gillette Stadium will be electric for this emotionally charged reunion between the greatest quarterback of all time and the fan base that idolized him. That’s a scenario that Roger Clemens can certainly relate to from the first time he visited Boston as an opposing player to face the Red Sox.
Clemens spent the first 13 years of his major league career in a Red Sox uniform, compiling a Hall of Fame worthy resume that included four ERA titles, three Cy Young awards, and an MVP.
Boston’s brass made the mistake of assuming a 34-year-old Clemens was in the “twilight” of his career. They let him walk after the 1996 season to sign a lucrative deal with the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays. He quickly proved the Red Sox wrong by earning the Cy Young award in consecutive seasons with the Blue Jays to open the second act of what would ultimately turn out to be a tremendous 24-year career.
Clemens would end up having his career tainted by the stain of performance enhancing drugs. Signing with the New York Yankees during the peak of their Evil Empire phase further cemented his status as a villain in Boston.
That narrative hadn’t been written yet when Clemens returned to Fenway Park for the first time as an opposing player on July 12, 1997. The crowd was split with a mixture of cheers from those who appreciated his efforts for this franchise and boos from those still bitter that he left.
Clemens was fired up for the highly anticipated battle against the Red Sox and he was able to channel that intensity into a dominant performance. The Rocket tossed eight innings of one-run ball and struck out 16 in a 3-1 Blue Jays victory.
Reflecting on that moment over two decades later, Clemens recalls how he prepared for that game in Boston to get in the right mind frame for what clearly was no ordinary day on the mound. According to MassLive’s Matt Vautour, he expects Brady will be in a similar scenario when he returns to Foxboro on Sunday so the former Patriots quarterback might want to take note of what Clemens had to say about his own experience.
"“With all the emotions, I’d go through three checkpoints,” said Clemens. “I’m sure Tommy does, too. Most players do if they play at a high level. The physical part of it. You’re ready to go. He’s ready to go physically. The mental part is the biggest part. You have to focus,” Clemens said. “You have to be extremely mentally strong through that area. Then emotions play a part in it, too. My emotions were running high coming back to Fenway Park and missing a place where I was drafted, and I wanted to continue to play there. That’s a similar situation like Tom.”"
Clemens went on to explain how “weird” it was to take the field with old friends Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Nomar Garciaparra on the other side. It can be a bit uneasy at first but eventually you need to settle down and play your game.
"“Tom is going to look up into that defense and see familiar faces,” said Clemens. “They know you and you know them. After the first probably two series, all of that will wear off and you’ll go back to playing football as normal.”"
Adjusting to facing his old teammates is one thing but not every familiar face is a friendly one. There is a feeling from many in New England that coach Bill Belichick was a little too eager to push Brady out the door in order to start grooming his successor, similar to how Dan Duquette once prematurely let go of Clemens.
The perception is that this has created a rift between two icons who accomplished more together than any quarterback/coaching pair in NFL history. This game isn’t the Patriots against the Bucs. It’s the battle of the GOATs.
Jimy Williams was in his first year as the manager of the Red Sox in 1997 so Clemens didn’t have the connection to him that Brady and Belichick share. Clemens accomplished quite a bit in a Red Sox uniform but he can’t come close to comparing to Brady since he never won a championship in Boston – let alone six of them. Clemens returning to Fenway was intense but amplify that 10X for Brady.
That doesn’t mean that Brady can’t learn from the insight Clemens is passing along from his experience. Brady is 44 years old but you wouldn’t know it from watching him on the field. He’s more than capable of being dominant from a physical standpoint, it’s the mental hurdle that will be the most challenging. We’ve seen how hyper-focused Brady can be but this scenario returning to New England is unlike any he’s ever faced. With the history he has with this franchise, how could it not be emotional?
Clemens was able to set those emotions aside to punish his former team with a stellar performance. We’ll find out on Sunday if Brady can do the same.