Chicago Bears
Walter Payton

In a game played by men, Walter Payton played like a god. Or so was the allure that he presented. Not the biggest of athletes, Payton didn’t redefine the running back position in the way that Jim Brown did, nor did he set records that would stand the test of the time. But more importantly, he exemplified the most remarkable characteristic in a human being — heart and soul. Payton did carry a genuine heart, and having once grooved on Soul Train, he also carried swagger. He’s the man your parents want you to model your life around, and one the NFL has honored as the marker for every seasons Man of the Year award. But as we look back on Payton’s life, we begin to understand that no man, nor any god in the canon of antiquity, was perfect. His story, like so many others was cut tragically short and was immortalized as a result.

Born in Columbia, Mississippi in 1954, Walter Payton was well-accustomed to racism, but never paid it much attention. Columbia High, where he’d attend, didn’t even desegregate till his junior year, but instead of reverting to the growing cries of ‘black power’, he’d begin to bridge the culture gap on his football team through casual jokes. A precursor to the prankster we remember him as today, he had a certain carefree charm that could fix any day. On the football field, though, he was a force to be reckoned with. He’d go on to play at Jackson State, an HBCU where he’d flourish into the fourth overall pick by the Chicago Bears in the 1975 NFL Draft.


Many players close to Payton would sometimes characterize his demeanor as childish, maybe even charming. However, sweetness is perhaps the best way we all remember him. He’d joke with teammates, one time shouting, “your sweetness is your weakness!” then writing it on the blackboard before every practice. He amused some and annoyed others.  The moniker would fit better than a series of names from ‘Bubba’ to ‘Little Monk’, as Payton biographer Jeff Pearlman would account in the aptly titled book, Sweetness.

"Never die easy."

“After a lifetime of imperfect monikers that never quite worked, here was one that fit perfectly. The smiley, goofy, soft-spoken Payton was a sweet person. The cutting, dashing, swiveling Payton was a sweet runner.” Regardless of the fun and games, this wasn’t the mighty Bears of old — even worse than we know them in the present day. For all intents and purposes, the Chicago Bears were a dumpster fire in the ‘70s, a laughingstock that was a shell of its former self. Pearlman added that the Bears would go from a team whose history was “the early history of the game itself”, to “a forgettable second-tier club.”


Payton was drafted precisely to fix that. His first game, however, would be a disaster as the Bears had no offensive line, no leadership, nor any care from the team to fix it. With eight carries, Payton would log zero yards in his first game, which would result in a brushfire by the Chicago media. His early seasons would largely mimic that of the Bears—forgettable, with a conveyor belt of coaches that were more concerned about their drinking than winning.


Nonetheless, players, such as linebacker Larry Ely, began to notice the sheer talent and work ethic that Payton would show in each practice, starting with his athleticism. “When he got tackled, four…five…six people would have his legs, his neck, his arms, and he’d bounce back like a rubber ball to the huddle. How in the world did his ligaments and muscles take the pounding and bounce right back? You looked at him and wondered how any human being could be blessed with such a body.” This drive would fit right into his playing ethos: “Never die easy.”

Like Columbia High, the Bears were also bitterly divided between the races. Payton would intervene in his usual jokester way, sometimes to the chagrin of his teammates. Rookie quarterback Bob Avellini would note that Payton was a “nice guy, without a doubt, but childish. We’d be working out in shorts and he’d pull your shorts down. Maybe it’s funny the first time. By the fifth time, it’s not.” This childishness would become a prevalent theme within his life, as his hidden insecurities would continually resurface, such as his constant need for approval. Avellini recalled a game where Payton’s backup would log in a “forty-yard gain, and everyone was clapping. But Walter was pissed. He turned to me and said, ‘Those are my yards.’”


Having once chased and broken Jim Brown’s iconic rushing record, sometimes the Bears could not count on Payton when needing to stop the clock. Instead of running out of bounds he would simply keep pounding to pad his own stats. He “could be selfish in some very ugly ways,” recalled another team member. This selfishness would hark to his famous outburst in Super Bowl XX, where he felt he was snubbed a touchdown, despite a handful of players, including the giant teddy bear in William “Refrigerator” Perry, who logged arguably the most memorable score during that game. On one end, it would make sense that Payton, who literally battered his body and carried the franchise for eleven years till that point, would seek the validation of a Super Bowl touchdown. However, on the other end, as Bears coach, Mike Ditka would reassert: “I can understand [the whining] if you play golf or tennis or billiards. You’re one-on-one with the world. But we’re a forty-nine-man sport.”


Payton indeed was a phenomenal runner, with a certain fire that could seldom be extinguished. But what he was running from, still continues to puzzle the football community. There always seemed to be a void that he could not fill, not even his twenty-three year marriage to Connie Norwood could bring a semblance of balance. While the running back never partook in drugs or heavy drinking, his drug of choice was fast cars, shopping, hunting, and fame. Contrary to public opinion, Payton, too, succumbed to a vice that taints many star athletes—adultery—as he’d meet a young woman by the name of Angelina Smythe at a 1984 auto show.

"Payton was the clichéd celebrity—surrounded by admirers, yet alone."

He’d regularly call her to fill the emptiness of his marriage, that was far past a physical lust, but an emotional hunger too. For his marriage with Connie was strictly “mechanical” in that he certainly provided all that his wife and kids needed, but would spend the majority of his off-time elsewhere. Payton ended up impregnating Smythe, who he’d in-turn cut off in secrecy by signing a $50,000 trust along with child support. Despite constantly showing love to his two kids, Jarrett and Brittney, Nigel was not so lucky.


It was evident to his small circle of true friends, that Payton suffered from severe depression, that on occasion could have easily ended in suicide. Despite the numerous fans that donned his famous 34 jersey, or the acclaim from his peers, no one really knew Walter Payton, the man. Not even his wife, who upon the death of her husband, refused to believe the truth of Nigel Smythe. Connie had a fixed narrative of the entire marriage, where she always believed that Walter was a devout Christian—which he once was—but the emptiness that came with his fame—tainted that reality. Friends would urge Payton to seek therapy, in which he’d play off—heroes didn’t need therapy. It’s a tragic tale to a genuinely good man who did a great deal for his fans and community. Make no mistake, Walter Payton was a great player and a great man, one that was constantly giving back to the community, by supporting children’s literacy programs and would further help these groups through the Walter Payton Foundation. But often times, even the greatest of men fall to unfortunate mistakes.


Toward the later years of Payton’s life, he sought to instill lessons within his kids that may combat the corruption that comes with money and fame. Especially with Jarret, who he’d have working summers at Payton Power, where Jarrett would tirelessly toil away for minimum wage. Walter wanted his son to learn the merits of hard work, much like he learned growing up in Mississippi. Even with race, Payton took the high road. The most prominent incident being his father’s tragic death in 1979, where Edward Payton was wrongfully arrested by police under the suspicion of driving under the influence, thrown into jail and died a few hours later due to a rare aneurism. Walter was understandably called on by civil rights leaders to hold the white officers accountable, but he would steer the other way.

Tragically himself, Walter Payton passed away on November 1, 1999 due to a rare liver disease that stunned the world. Like a fallen hero, he now lives through the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation, which seeks to help underprivileged communities along with providing awareness for organ donations. Despite being deeply depressed himself, Payton never shuttered to show adoration to his fans and critics — embracing them in moments that he understood could have a lifetime of difference. In more subtle ways, he also stood up for civil rights, by helping integrate his high school and pro teams.


Like all imperfect idols — from Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain, Tupac to Amy Winehouse—we will never truly know Walter, as his legend has been suspended in time, never to see the light of redemption. So every year when we witness the new Walter Payton “Man of the Year”, let’s remember the little we did know — the good, the bad and the ugly — and remember none of us are perfect, and if we have another day, how can we change that for the better?


(01) Art by Billy Kheel

(02) by NFL

(03) by Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

(04) by Ed Wagner/Chicago Tribune

(05) by CBS Chicago

Shedeur and Shilo Sanders Model in Louis Vuitton’s FW24 Runway in Paris

Louis Vuitton
Shedeur Sanders
Shilo Sanders

Shedeur and Shilo Sanders are living a moment.


Where it was once taboo for collegiate athletes to express themselves, from endorsements to touchdown celebrations, today, it’s uncommon to see top talent not operating as their own brands. And for the two young Sanders, they’re not afraid to show it, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given they’re the children of legendary defensive back, Mr. “Primetime” Deion Sanders — who coaches them on-and-off the field. Unlike their father, however, the two young Buffs don’t need to wait until the pros to cement their names.


This past week, Shedeur and Shilo were invited by Louis Vuitton’s menswear creative director, Pharrell Williams, to model in its FW24 runway in Paris. Going on show number three, Williams blended traditional Americana, such as cowboy hats, bolo ties and embroidered denim jackets, with some of the aesthetic sensibilities that he’s come to be known for under his Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM imprints — from vibrant digitized camo, punchy graphic accents over premium leather bags to those classic 6 inch Timberland boots that are a staple within hip hop circles.


(01) Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Trent Williams Links Up with FCTRY LAb to Release Exclusive Red Knight RNRs

San Francisco 49ers
Trent Williams

If you were to fly over Levi’s Stadium, you’d know its January, as the endzones have just been dipped red to follow the club’s postseason tradition. For Trent Williams, however, he’s not waiting to log in a touchdown-leading block to get a little red on his feet.


The 11-time Pro Bowler collaborated with FCTRY LAb, an upstart footwear company to drop his own exclusive clog called the Red Knight RNR. While the shoe doesn’t look like anything revolutionary, per say — namely, it falls under the same category of many of the current offerings from Merrell, Crocs, Suicoke and 1017 ALYX 9SM, it’s novelty comes in the fact that anyone with an idea can generate a similar or entirely different shoe; not just vaulted off for your typically hoodie-clad, Vibram-wearing creative director.


Co-founded by YEEZY’s former Innovation Lab head, Omar Bailey,  the Black-owned company lookes to redefine the production on footwear by providing 360 services — from ideation and consulting, sampling and manufacturing, marketing to distribution, FCTRY LAb chop the usual production phase for any given shoe to just about one to three months, as opposed to the usual eight to twelve.

“We can build anything,” Bailey told fellow 49er edge rusher Nick Bosa, when he recently visited Williams at the team’s training facility.


While at adidas, Bailey had his hand in some of YEEZY’s most innovative kicks, from the Foam Runner to the alien-like 450. His ability to work quick came at Ye’s direction to start an in-house prototyping facility to bypass the longer wait-times from Asia. “We were able to iterate and innovate very quickly to get shoes on his feet to get instant feedback,” Bailey said in a past interview. “And then we’d make those changes and get him another pair in less than 24 hours,” he added. “That allowed us to be able to move the development process at light speed and be able to get to market faster.”


When the lab had to move with the rest of YEEZY to Cody, Wyoming, the pressure to churn designs — as with the general pace of all of the label’s subdivisions — became extra magnified. “To say no when I got asked to make a crazy shoe was, like, not even an option,” Bailey recalled regarding Ye’s feverish process. “It was just, let’s figure this out. Let’s do it.” In hindsight, this aptitude for speed, without compromising on quality, is a core pillar to FCTRY LAb’s ethos. But perhaps even more integral to the LA-based venture label, is the hope to give athletes a platform to create their own shoe lines that aren’t tied to Nike, adidas or New Balance.


Releasing today only on FCTRY LAb’s website, the Red Knight RNR is a premium foam slipper created from a 3D-prined injection molding that boasts a contoured footbed that will add a little flare to the day-to-day routine, without sacrificing comfort along the way. For those looking to purchase, the V1 version of the slip-on is available to purchase for $150.


(01) Courtesy of FCTRY LAb

The Legend of Pinto Ron

Buffalo Bills
Pinto Ron

Every city likes to claim it has the best fans in the world. It’s almost strange to find a club that doesn’t market itself in this way. Buffalo, I’d argue, is an exception. There has to be something in the air, in the wings, something, that sets their fans apart from all else in the NFL. Bills fans are as passionate as they come—despite having never won a championship. Not to mention, having gone to the Super Bowl four consecutive years….and losing all four. Ponder that for a second…imagine your team going to the big dance four straight years and losing each one. Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s perhaps the only streak of its kind in all of sports, one that would break even the most loyal of fans.

Despite this all, the Bills Mafia, as they like to call themselves nowadays, persevere and support their team as if they were defending champions every year. To understand this fervor, I sought to find a true Bills die-hard who could properly unearth the roots of this passion. Enter Ken Johnson, an almost mythic tailgater who has experienced this history every stretch of the way. Known the country over as “Pinto Ron,” an accidental name given to him in a 2000 interview, Johnson hasn’t missed a game in person since 1994, or as he says, “in real time—radio, TV, internet or person—since 1982.” He adds that he’s been to the “the last 423 consecutive Bills games no matter where they are.” Attending the last 423 consecutive of anything would be an impressive feat, let alone a pro football game.


Johnson isn’t alone—the Bills have a strong fanbase all across the country, one that’s willing to back their team anywhere in the tens of thousands. The reasons for this lie in the city’s booming past. “Buffalo used to be a big city. Now it’s a small city, because Buffalo was a steel city. It was complete steel, up until about the ’70s. 50% of all the residents worked at the steel mill, or businesses that supported the steel mills.” The steel industry slowly disappeared after the ‘70s, which caused many of its residents to migrate to growing cities like Houston, Charlotte and Dallas.

“When it’s too tough for them, it’s just right for us.”

“You know, they may have left Buffalo, but they didn’t leave Buffalo behind. So they continue to be Bills fans—I’m talking rabid Bills fans.” There really isn’t an away game for a team like the Bills, not when you can pack a stadium with over 25,000 of your own fans, like they did in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans in 2019.


People change cities all the time, so what makes rooting for the Bills so special? Johnson claims that part of the loyalty has to do with the general mentality of the Northeast Corridor. A hardened spirit that’s present in cities from Buffalo and Cleveland, to Philadelphia and Boston. “During winter, we spend a lot of times in our houses. When you’re in your house, what’s the focus of your attention? Generally, the TV. So people just gravitate towards their sports teams to break up the monotony of winter. You just make the habit of it and become a fanatic.” Now you need to understand that it doesn’t just snow up there, it snows a hell of a lot—almost half the year. It’s just one the many elements that contributes to the persevering attitude ingrained in its current and former residents. An attitude that former Bills head coach, Mark Levy would proudly tell his team, “when it’s too tough for them, it’s just right for us.”


Just like Buffalo’s steel-working past, the Bills were once booming in the days of coach Levy, Thurman Thomas, Jim Kelly and that high-octane no huddle offense known as the “K-Gun.” Well, booming, at least up until the Super Bowl. Jokes aside, the Bills won a record 101 times in the ‘90s, the most of any team in that decade, and that’s definitely something to be proud of, considering the great teams that included Jimmie Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys, George Seifert’s San Francisco 49ers and Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos.

As a veteran tailgater, Johnson and his crew have been “up to shenanigans” as he says, since 1985. Sed-shenanigans include using a toilet bowl as a beer cooler; pots, pans, hub caps—anything really—to grill on the hood of his Ford Pinto, a once-family car turned into a dedicated tailgating whip. Other customs include getting doused in ketchup and mustard before games to offering anyone brave enough to take a shot of 100 proof cherry liquor out of a bowling ball. A lot of people want in on that shot, in 2019 alone, he went through 145 of those bottles. All of these bizarre traditions developed organically and serve as a precursor to the table-slamming frenzy of today’s Bills tailgating.“There was a couple of kids, who actually just got out of law school (to tell you the truth), who wanted to figure a way to get on Deadspin. So they did the table crashing and made it on the site and kept doing it with different outfits, and switching people, so it seemed like different people doing it.” Couple the viral movement of the Bills Mafia and the fans have made it known that they are the show, not the players, not the results.


When asked what his favorite moment was, Johnson amusingly remembers the 1991 AFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Raiders. The Bills were up 42-3 at halftime “and you’re sitting there in the stands, with an entire half of football left to play, knowing that the Bills are going to the Super Bowl. That whole second half was just a giant party inside the stadium. No one cared about the game anymore.” Fast-forward to the present and head coach Sean McDermott has a young motivated Bills squad looking to those teams of the ‘90s to combat decades of disappointment. However, speaking with Johnson and you really just forget about the anxious chase of winning a title. If titles are the cherry on top, it paints an interesting picture on how much players and fans forget about all the good stuff beneath. Memories and experience are what championships are all about and they aren’t just formed in one game or one season, the Buffalo Bills are perhaps the best fanbase in the league to teach you that.


This article featured as part of the series, SUPERFANS, in SPIRAL Issue I.


(01) Images Courtesy of Pinto Ron

Tom Brady’s Dark, Glorious American Dream

New England Patriots
Tom Brady

Because we’re millennial sports fans who grew up in suburban New England, few subjects have unified my hometown group chat like Tom Brady, whose Patriots career was a constant in our lives from ages ten to thirty. When Tom won, it felt like we did too. But over the past few years — even before he left for Tampa Bay — Tom began to polarize the chat.


“Very torn about this game,” one friend texted of Brady’s first game against the Patriots. “Want the Pats to turn things around but also want to drink the tears of the Tom haters.”


“Tom is insufferable,” another wrote. “It feels like in comics where the superhero becomes the dark version of themselves and is twice as powerful.”


I agree that there seems to be a dark-arts quality about the quarterback these days. We’re running out ways to explain his career that don’t include barter with the devil. What happened to Tom Brady?

It’s dusk in Tampa, and Brady is at the wheel of his Bugatti Veyron, cruising to his $29M bayfront estate from Raymond James Stadium, where he spent the afternoon laser-blasting the Chicago Bears, 38-3, and founding the 600 TD club, a threshold no one else may ever reach. His lithe body is swathed in custom fabrics, sinewy hands and gaunt face tanned by the Floridian sun. At home he’ll be greeted by his bright, smiling offspring and luminous wife, who, in addition to being considered one of the world’s most beautiful women, is also twice as rich as him. Palm trees strobe past a darkening sky. Life is good, but Brady is ripshit pissed.


“FIFTY FUCKING POINTS!” he fumes. “It was right there to have! How did we not score fifty?!”


It’s a good question. At the absurd, breathlessly cited age of 44, Brady has three more championships than the next-closest guy on the list, and he owns the career passing yards and touchdown marks, the two most prestigious records for his position. He’s the consensus Greatest of All Time quarterback in a culture pathologically obsessed with the distinction of individual greatness, and his resume gets him an interview for greatest American athlete period — up there with Jordan and Tiger, Serena and Phelps.


Still, Brady isn’t satisfied. To this day, he famously practices, prepares, and competes like an undrafted rookie on a non-guaranteed contract. An ad campaign for Hertz’s new fleet of rental Teslas features Brady plugged into a charging port — the joke being he’s a robot.


“The reality is that I’m very human,” Brady insists in a recent interview, which is exactly what a robot would say.

It’s not just Brady’s play that that seems immortal. A heavily-upvoted tile-collage posted to Reddit with the caption “I think Tom Brady may be a vampire” compares the QB’s team headshots across the years. His face does appear to change, but not from age. He morphs from a sort of doughy, goofy (but still handsome) 20-something with a bad haircut into a sentient Ken doll — lineless and gaunt and eerily symmetrical.


The game for Brady seems to have shifted. As the title of his 2018 docuseries, Tom vs. Time, suggests, this is about more than winning football games. Like some power-hungry villain in a cautionary myth, it seems that Tom Brady wants to live forever. Brady’s ruthless ambition is fetishized by fans and media alike, but it’s getting increasingly cringe and unrelatable to an alienating degree — at least among my friends. How is he doing it? And what’s this guy’s deal? It seems that Brady doesn’t think he’s very good, and he’s haunted by the life he narrowly avoided.


To the question of how: Brady has co-signed a whole book, available in paperback on his website for $20.00 USD, that details his preferred answer. He’s built an entire health coaching/fitness gadget business on the bet that we’ll buy his story — that his freakish longevity and youthful sheen are thanks to a cutting-edge health and wellness regimen that includes eating lots of vegetables, drinking plenty of water, doing fitness band workouts, receiving frequent massages, and — you might want to sit down for this — getting a good night’s sleep.

“I don’t think my body’s going to give out. I really don’t.”

No doubt these things have helped. But Brady’s formula is mostly common sense, and it’s hard to believe that his peers, fellow elite contestants in the sport equivalent of Squid Game, aren’t taking basic care of their bodies too. There must be more to the story.


Many have pointed to Brady’s relative injury luck — but relative is the operative term here. Upon inspection, Brady’s medical record looks like a script for Saw 10. The first half of his career was plagued by chronic issues to his throwing shoulder, which he had surgically repaired in 2004, and for which he spent a cumulative 116 weeks on the injury report. The famous 2008 ACL tear that robbed him of the chance to avenge 18-1 has kept his left knee in a brace ever since. He’s broken his right foot in two places, lacerated his right hand, and, as of a 2020 survey by ESPN, amassed 152 weeks listed as injured for 16 different body parts.


In May 2021, it was reported that Brady won his seventh ring on a torn meniscus, which he repaired with offseason surgery. And that’s just what got reported. Brady told Howard stern that he played the 2005 AFC Championship Game with a sports hernia that caused his testicle to swell to the size of an orange. Who knows how many undocumented concussions he’s sustained?


Still, Brady belligerently asserts that his body will carry him as far as he wishes. “It’s not going to be physical,” he recently predicted of his eventual retirement. “I don’t think my body’s going to give out. I really don’t.”

To address the elephant in the room: Because football is an especially violent game and viewership hinges on star players’ health, the NFL is notoriously lenient on the issue of performance enhancing substances, so it has a vested interest in doing things like notifying players of their testing dates far enough in advance that they can get clean in time to pass. There’s precedent for stories of star players linked to illegal substances being magically swept under the rug — Ray Lewis’ 2012 dalliance with deer antler spray, the 2015 HGH shipment that Peyton Manning blamed on his wife. Julian Edelman, Brady’s close friend and summer training partner at the QB’s remote Montana hideaway, was less lucky, but still pretty lucky; he received a PED suspension in 2018, a four-game wrist-slap that paid off with fresh, roid-infused legs later that season for a Super Bowl MVP trophy.


It’s entirely possible that Brady cycles in the offseason to stay on top of his game; in a sport so harshly competitive, who could blame him? But this amounts to speculative rumormongering. There’s no off-the-field smoking gun. The answer seems to be a matter of skepticism, and it comes down to how cynical you are about the winners in the game of American success.


There’s an easy but rarely made argument that pound-for-pound, Tom Brady is NOT the GOAT QB. His rivals uniformly outrank him across major rate-based indicators. Peyton has 5 League MVP awards to Brady’s 3 (though Brady may gain a notch this year). The single season passing TD record is Peyton’s, not Brady’s. Both Peyton and Brees have thrown for more yards in a single season than Brady, and both have greater career per-attempt yardage and touchdown figures. Brady is 20th in career completion percentage, 25th in touchdown percentage, and 29th in yards per pass attempt. At the level of the single pass, game, season, or even stretch of multiple years, there have been better QBs. What’s allowed Brady separation — apart from the size of his trophy case, of course — is sheer time. Maybe a part of him knows this.

“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by,” writes the Ancient Chinese writer and general Sun Tzu in his military treatise, “The Art of War,” a known source of inspiration for the Belichick-Brady Patriots. Brady is the undisputed GOAT of waiting by the river.


A theory: Tom Brady is the less the product of his special body or technique than the inevitable outcome of a culture obsessed with creating him: the death cult of American success, which always finds and anoints a winner. If that sounds extreme, here’s Brady himself, salivating over the rigors of the NFL season:


“It weeds the people out. It weeds the weak-minded out. It weeds the physically weak out. The tough guys rise up.”


Brady would know. There’s a whole documentary about how he almost never got a shot to play in the league, “The Brady Six,” named for the six quarterbacks selected before him in the 2000 draft, and the round he was finally picked. In a now-famous interview shot, Brady wipes away tears as he recalls finally being taken at pick 199. The image has been gleefully immortalized in memes by his anti-fans, but lost in the spectacle of Crying Tom Brady are the words he speaks in that moment:

“I was like, ‘I don’t have to be an insurance salesman!’”

He frames his excitement in negative terms, exulting not in the job he got, but the one he narrowly avoided. Part of being picked, for Brady — part of high-status success for anyone in any domain of our world — is the powerful relief that comes with the chance to spend your life doing something you actually enjoy. This is rarely talked about, because it’s both obvious and painful: how few of us get to obey the old wisdom to “do what you love”, forced instead to sell our time in exchange for the right to live.


The Brady Six takes the implicit position that Tom Brady is Goodness and Rightness incarnate, reducing the six QBs taken before him to punchlines in his conquering legend. A favorite target is Giovanni Carmazzi who, despite going three rounds before Brady, never started an NFL game. “Givoanni Carmazzi does not own a television,” the narrator coolly reports. “He describes himself as a yoga-exercising farmer.” The camera frames a long close-up of a goat chewing on cud. “He has five goats.” The message is clear: Because he took his small football fortune and went to live in the country, thus betraying the sacrosanct assumption that winning NFL games is the meaning of life, and because he doesn’t watch TV, Gio Carmazzi is a loser who deserves to be ridiculed. Brady is the GOAT; Carmazzi herds them.


Sports media uniformly accepts this view, but in reality, there’s no value difference between being a seven-time Super Bowl Champ and a goat-farming yogi. If anything, it’s easier to argue that Brady’s life path, with its high-carbon yacht-and-mansion lifestyle, is a worthier subject for criticism than Carmazzi’s quiet, low-impact existence.

Rather than exceptional virtue, Brady’s relentless workaholic perfectionism seems to stem from a deep sense of insecurity:


“I was a backup quarterback on an 0-7 freshman team. I was seventh on the depth chart at Michigan. I was the 199th pick and the fourth-string quarterback for the Patriots,” Brady explains. “And I know there’s someone out there that’s trying to take my job. And I always said, ‘if I ever get a shot in pro football, I’m never getting off that field.’”


Maybe Brady’s career owes as much to his internal qualities as the external forces that shaped them, and far from God’s most special boy, Brady is the predictable output of a cutthroat algorithm that rewards the darkest impulses of the American psyche: ruthlessness, domination, winning at all costs.


This, I think, is the real tragedy of Brady’s public persona: Because the specific fear of losing your job (and the general fear of inadequacy it connects to) is almost universally relatable in our social order, Brady could have been a much more relatable, humane figure to many people — an humanitarian icon in the mold of Ali or Abdul-Jabaar. Instead, the QB espouses a partial, narrowly self-interested worldview, as in a recent interview with Jim Grey, parroting simplistic “bootstraps” rhetoric about personal responsibility. Even though Brady can’t forget that he was this close to being just like everyone else, it seems he can’t remember it either.

All of which would perhaps be fine if the stakes of Brady’s career were confined to the NFL stadium. Football is, after all, just a game — one I can’t help but love. There’s no doubt that Brady is a master craftsman in the mold of the Shokunin, and that the way he plays quarterback — the acuity of his mind, the grace of his form — is sport transcending to art. And it’s clear, from watching Brady, that he takes a beautiful joy in football, assuming the monk-like wisdom of children at play. My friends and I will always respect and remember fondly this aspect of who Brady is.


But his influence isn’t limited to football, because the cult of celebrity has lavished Brady with a fortune he’s determined to grow; enough is never enough. In a recent press release disguised as a Wall Street Journal profile, Brady announces his next business venture, an eponymous sportswear label that aspires to be “the finest sports brand in the world.” Because what the world needs right now is more athleisure. In the years to come, Brady’s fortune will doubtless compound. Contrary to past comments decrying processed foods as “poison for kids,” Brady now takes checks from Subway, whose subs an Irish court recently determined are too sugary to qualify as bread. He’s now a Musk-like booster of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, poetically symbolized by his new Twitter avatar: Brady’s face with laser eyes. The image surely hews closer to the truth than he’s aware.

"Stranger things have already happened."

There’s a very possible alternate universe where Tom Brady became an insurance salesman and was forced to endure the quiet, unglamorous triumphs and humiliations of the lives of us mere mortals. In an equally likely other world, given what we know of his associations, Brady becomes next in the line of celebrity puppets for an ideological apparatus that seeks to replicate the brutality of football in the broader world. Some quick arithmetic: Let’s say Brady plays five more years, then builds his influence for another decade more. That puts us at…Brady 2036: Make America GOAT Again. Stranger things have already happened.


I guess what I’m trying to say is maybe we should praise winners a little bit less and uplift losers a little bit more. Maybe we should be a little less cutthroat, and a little more kind. Maybe if rather than entertainers or athletes, we glorified, say, goat farmers, we’d live in a world that wasn’t burning. Aside from his undeniable mastery of craft, maybe there isn’t that much to admire in Tom Brady. Maybe he’s painfully human after all.


This article featured in SPIRAL Issue II: Future. 


(01) All Artwork by Luca Schenardi

Post Malone and NTWRK Unite to Release Dallas Cowboys Collection

Dallas Cowboys
Post Malone

Post Malone worked with NTWRK to show his love for ‘America’s Team’, the Dallas Cowboys. Having shown a resurgence that quite frankly has not been seen since the mid-90s, there is a lot for Cowboys fans to be excited for and the capsule encapsulates much of that raw energy.


Releasing just in time for their big divisional showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles, the collection comprises of boxy oversized hoodies, tees, bomber jackets and uniquely-tailored jersey tops. Each garment has been specially co-branded with the club’s logo and visual identity, but packaged in a way that feels familiar to the timeless tour tee that does not feel at all force — like many leagues often opt for to just throw out more product in the ecosystem — and that will likely keep a place on the racks of the most diehard of fans from season to season.


While born in Upstate New York, Malone inherited his love for the Cowboys from his dad, Rich, who once served as the assistant director of food and beverage for the club. As any die hard, he has even gone on record to say that if the Cowboys were to win the Super Bowl, he’d get the fabled no. 88 tatted, which has been worn by Hall of Famers, Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin, as well as Dez Bryant and now CeeDee Lamb.


Designed in collaboration with Cheatin Snakes Worldwide, standouts in the capsule include the Doomsday Defense Baseball Jersey, featuring a retro graphic on the left pocket and back emblematic of the ’80s and the early ’90s. For those looking to make a bigger statement at the tailgate, the “Malone” Double Jersey carries an unmistakably Southern bravado that will get plenty of use come Sunday. Shop the full collection online.


(01) by Cheatin Snakes Worldwide

(02) by NTWRK

Kyler Murray Returns in Korea-Inspired Nike Vapor Edge Dunk Lows

Kyler Murray

Nearly 12 months since tearing his ACL, Kyler Murray will make his return to the field in a custom pair of Nike Vapor Edge Dunk Lows.


The occasion, much like his career, is more than just about himself. Born to an African-American father and Korean-American mother, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback has always been a proud proponent of his Asian heritage — in a time when there is an alarming amount of hate crimes taking place within the US. “I’m proud to play with the flag of South Korea on my helmet,” he’s previously said. “It’s a great way to honor my mom, honor my heritage and highlight the diverse backgrounds that make up the NFL.”


Similar in color palette to the famed Ronaldinho “Touch of Gold” Tiempos, K1’s Vapor Edge Dunk Lows sport a white leather upper with melon green accents along the inner heel counter and tab, as well as a shiny rose gold hue throughout the cleat plate and Swoosh. The lifestyle iteration features a textured upper with the same green hue, which is inspired by his commitment to excellence, while revealing hidden layers on the heel tab, such as “Green Light” in Korean — a nod to his cultural heritage and the way he slices defenders when on the run.


(01) by Nike

Mitchell & Ness Reissues Eagles Jacket Worn by Princess Diana

Mitchell & Ness
Philadelphia Eagles

Back by popular demand, Mitchell & Ness has reissued the Philadelphia Eagles letterman that Princess Diana famously wore in the ‘80s and ‘90s.


“Diana loved to be different,” noted the royal’s former bodyguard, Ken Wharfe, “this was her style.” According to reports, Diana’s ties to the City of Brotherly Love stem back to 1982, when she attended the funeral of Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco, who was born in Philly. Jack Edelstein, a statistician for the Eagles at the time remembers having a conversation with Diana that night, noting her eagerness to learn about the team, who donned her “favorite colors.” Soon after, she received a care package with the now famed jacket she’d wear to pick up a young Wiliam and Harry from school.


“It sort of showed the public and her children that she was a normal mother in a style that people liked,” Wharfe added. Royalty Returns tomorrow as the jacket will be available to purchase for $400 USD at the Eagles Team Store, as well as M&N’s flagship in Philly.

Flag Football Is Coming to the Olympics

2028 Summer Olympics
Flag Football

Football is coming to the Summer Olympic Games. The American kind that is and the version with flags instead of pads. Starting in 2028, during the Summer Games in Los Angeles, you can potentially see star athletes from around the world, be it Patrick Mahomes and Justin Jefferson, to collegiate and international breakouts make their mark on the game on a truly global level.


For years, there has been a stigma surrounding flag football as an inferior iteration of the sport, reserved for rec leagues and novices. Just this week, Tom Brady went on record to (ironically) criticize the NFL’s officials for making the game soft. Years from now, however, the mere inclusion of the game on such a globally competitive stage may go down as one of the biggest developments for the sport since the NFL-AFL merger. Former greats have long known these benefits, such as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Michael Vick, Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens, who occasionally still compete in flag football leagues, such as the American Flag Football League (AFFL). Many of them note how you can enhance everything from your route running and breakaway speed to the way you strategize on defense.


The NFL has caught on, actively investing in flag football leagues at every level of the game — from pop Warner to high school, college to the Pro Bowl, California all the way to Catania. Most notably of all, flag football has quietly emerged as the most inclusive iteration of the game — where diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t empty promises stamped on the back of helmets, but lived experiences on-and-off the field. The sport is unquestionably safer as well, which will add growing interest for parents who question the game’s baked in violence, while still experiencing the teamwork, strategy and excitement of football.


(01) Feature Image by Jess Colquhoun

Remembering Dick Butkus

Chicago Bears
Dick Butkus

Middle linebackers today may look like receivers, but in the 1960s, many of them represented the very (stereotypically) tribal nature of the game. Perhaps no one better fit this description than Dick Butkus. He had brawn shoulders, little words, back-breaking tackles and a military cut that would’ve even instilled fear in Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.


Born to Lithuanian-American parents in Chicago’s South Side, Butkus was the youngest of eight children, but was noticeably lonely in his formative years, only consoling to a select few and valueing loyalty above all else. As it would become apparent throughout his life, football itself would become his best friend as he ascended the ranks at the University of Illinois and eventually being drafted by both the upstart Denver Broncos of the AFL and third overall by his hometown Chicago Bears in the 1965 NFL Draft. Unsurprisingly, he would go on to play for the latter, despite being paid less.


“He’s a great example of what this city is,” recounted former teammate and Bears legend, Mike Ditka. “I don’t think this city is a boisterous city, I don’t think this city is a loud city. This city is a strong, hard-working, blue-collar city and that’s what Butkus was.”

During his pro career, Butkus would amass five first-team All-Pro titles, eight Pro Bowl selections, an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, along with 27 forced fumbles, 22 interceptions and 11 sacks, which doesn’t account for the devastation he caused on opposing QB’s because the sack stat wasn’t official until 1982.


Just like Bobby Boucher, Butkus would create stories in his head of people antagonizing him to get himself mad. “If someone on the other team was laughing, I’d pretend he was laughing at me or the Bears. It always worked for me,” Butkus mused. “In most people’s minds,” said Ed Stone of the Chicago American, “he is still the most powerful symbol of the violent nature of the game.” But as intimidating and primitive as the man was on the field, he was a deeply misunderstood player, a sensitively complex player who represented a still complex game.


Rest in Power, Dick.