Years of New England Patriots Drama Finally Found Catharsis at a Tom Brady Netflix Roast

If there’s any truth to the old adage that history happens first as tragedy and then as farce, it was fitting that years of media sniping and public relitigation of the New England Patriots’ six Super Bowl wins culminated in Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft doing shots together at a Netflix comedy festival.

When 9,100 fans made the trek to Los Angeles’ Kia Forum for “The Greatest Roast of All Time: Tom Brady” (stylized as “The G.R.O.A.T”), they likely expected the mix of vicious insult comedy and cringe-inducing rebuttals that powered years of Comedy Central roasts. The event, which was part of the sprawling Netflix Is a Joke Festival and broadcasted live on the streaming service, offered those up in droves. Host Kevin Hart emceed a three-hour showcase of unfiltered comedic venom from a mix of A-list celebrities (Ben Affleck, Kim Kardashian, and Will Ferrell in character as Ron Burgundy), NFL greats (Rob Gronkowski, Randy Moss, and Julian Edelman), and longtime roast staples like Jeff Ross and Nikki Glaser.

More from IndieWire

But while jokes about Gronkowski’s intelligence (Glaser won the night with a quip about how Brady fell for a cryptocurrency scam because he thought Bitcoin referred to the retired tight end “chewing on handfuls of nickels”) and Brady’s divorce from Gisele Bündchen abounded, the night may well end up remembered most for the dose of closure it brought to the world of football.

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MAY 05: Guests attend G.R.O.A.T The Greatest Roast Of All Time: Tom Brady for the Netflix is a Joke Festival at The Kia Forum on May 05, 2024 in Inglewood, California.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Netflix)
Guests attend ‘G.R.O.A.T The Greatest Roast Of All Time: Tom Brady’ (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Netflix)Getty Images for Netflix

By now, the story of the New England Patriots dynasty and its subsequent fallout is known to even the most casual NFL fans. The pairing of Brady as quarterback and Belichick as coach and general manager turned the franchise into one of the most dominant teams in modern sports history, winning a record six Super Bowls (and appearing in three more) between the years 2002 and 2018. Brady and Belichick shared an intense approach to football that made for a lethal combination, but their strong personalities eventually caused the dynasty to end on a sour note as they butted heads.

To simplify a very long story, Belichick allegedly felt that the 42-year-old Brady was nearing the end of his productivity after the 2019 season and declined to sign him to the kind of lucrative extension the quarterback wanted. This prompted Brady to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent. Brady’s first season with the new team saw him win his seventh Super Bowl ring, while Belichick’s Patriots floundered for several years due to questionable assistant coaching hires and the coach’s icy relationship with new quarterback Mac Jones.

Brady retired from the Buccaneers after the 2022 season, while Belichick and the Patriots “mutually agreed” to part ways after the 2023 season. The parting was largely interpreted as a face-saving measure to spare the legendary coach the indignity of being fired. Belichick was expected to land another head coaching job somewhere else. But despite interviewing with the Atlanta Falcons and making his interest in several other vacant jobs known, Belichick failed to find a landing spot and will likely be forced to sit the 2024 season out before pursuing new jobs next offseason.

But Brady and Belichick leaving professional football and pivoting to media careers (Brady will provide color commentary for NFL games on Fox this season, while Belichick signed a TV deal with ESPN) did not do much to dull the football world’s obsession with them. Being a sports fan in the 2020s is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year endeavor, and the sports media ecosystem thrives by filling each offseason with arguments about the legacies of players and coaches. Few topics have received more attention in recent years than the Brady-Belichick Patriots dynasty, as TV shows and podcasts have devoted thousands of hours to debating which man was more responsible for the team’s success.

For years, it was seen as acceptable to claim that Brady’s talent was overstated and that the sixth-round draft pick was simply a chess piece that Belichick used brilliantly. But that argument went out the window when Brady won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay. Belichick’s failure to rebuild the Patriots without Brady, meanwhile, tipped the discourse scales in the other direction, with many loud voices claiming that the coach was simply lucky to have access to the prime years of the greatest quarterback of all time.

The recent Apple TV+ docuseries “Dynasty: The New England Patriots” poured even more gasoline on the fire. Many fans and critics felt like the 10-episode series painted Belichick in an overly negative light and minimized his contributions to the team’s success. Patriots owner Robert Kraft was highly involved with the series, in terms of both on-camera interviews and granting access to allow it to be made in the first place, and many Belichick supporters dismissed its portrayal of the coach as self-serving revisionism from Kraft. Credible sports journalists had long reported that Kraft resented Belichick for convincing him to part ways with Brady and subjecting the owner to the embarrassment of seeing his star quarterback win a championship in another city. It was also reported that Kraft spoke with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank — and may have convinced him not to hire Belichick this past offseason.

All of which is to say that, regardless of the happy faces the three men have put on for the media in recent years, all was not well in the world of the New England Patriots. A live Netflix comedy special may not have been the obvious venue to resolve that tension, but the roast ended up as the perfect mix of elements to provide fans some closure about the dynasty.

Belichick’s presence at the roast was unsurprising, as the famously stiff coach has been lightening up in recent media appearances after being pushed out of the league. He appeared in a cold open segment in which he once again snubbed Drew Bledsoe (the former Patriots quarterback whom Brady famously replaced after an injury) and introduced Brady as the man of the hour. Later in the show, the coach took the dais for some good-natured ribbing of his former players — and joked that the Apple documentary functioned as his own personal roast.

Amid jokes about Gronkowski’s embarrassing commercials (the coach delivered a very online joke in which he said that Gronk appeared in a Tide Pod ad because they’re one of his favorite foods), Belichick showcased glimmers of the extensive knowledge that earned him his status as the world’s biggest football geek. He highlighted the importance of left tackles in offensive schemes and singled out several of his former players in attendance who didn’t end up speaking.

Belichick wisely avoided the kinds of deeply personal jokes about Brady that many of the other comics relied on — though he improvised a crack about Brady’s ill-advised cryptocurrency venture that was not on the teleprompter. But he ended his set by referencing the endless debate about who was responsible for the team’s six Super Bowl rings, ultimately saying the source of the success was “both of us, because of me.”

The comment delivered the tongue-in-cheek bravado you’d expect at a roast, but it seemed to mask some truth. The mere fact that the gruff 72-year-old coach — who famously hated sports media and the distractions it created — weighed in on this extremely online debate gave the conversation a kind of legitimacy that had previously evaded it. It’s hard to imagine that either Brady or Belichick would dispute the notion that they both played key roles in the team’s success and were better because they had the chance to work together. But after years of swirling gossip about rumored resentment between the quarterback, his coach, and his owner, putting things out in the open might have been the first step toward finally putting this debate to rest.

Belichick continued to sit on stage throughout the night, playfully blowing whistles and throwing penalty flags when roasters crossed lines in jokes about his personal life. His presence appeared to give players permission to blow off steam about their own tenures with the famously demanding coach. Gronkowski lamented the fact that they never had a drink together, prompting Belichick and his former players to do a shot together on stage.

The only missing link was Kraft, who later appeared from the audience and took the microphone to deliver a few playful jokes before waxing nostalgic about what Brady and Belichick achieved together. Hart quickly began goading the coach and owner to do a shot of their own together, prompting Kraft to eagerly take the stage while Belichick stayed seated and appeared resistant until the crowd’s energy made it impossible to say no. Belichick eventually made his way to the dais and acquiesced, as the men behind the greatest dynasty in NFL history temporarily buried their differences and raised shot glasses together.

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MAY 05: (L-R) Bill Belichick, Kevin Hart and Robert Kraft speak onstage during G.R.O.A.T The Greatest Roast Of All Time: Tom Brady for the Netflix is a Joke Festival at The Kia Forum on May 05, 2024 in Inglewood, California.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Netflix)
Bill Belichick, Kevin Hart and Robert Kraft (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Netflix)Getty Images for Netflix

It certainly won’t be the last time fans see Brady, Belichick, and Kraft on stage together, as the men seem destined to appear at Hall of Fame inductions and celebratory reunions in Foxborough for years to come. But those future moments of sentimentality may well be the Aristotelian denouement made possible in part by the catharsis we saw on stage Sunday night. The moment speaks to the cultural value that roasts continue to provide. While the show was far from perfect, it offered a lighthearted excuse for the friends-turned-foes to appear in the same room and a comedic permission structure to air exaggerated versions of grievances that likely had some truth to them.

In a world where public figures increasingly feel the need to watch every word they say, we might need more of these no-holds-barred comedy battlegrounds if we want to get any honesty out of our heroes.

“The Roast of Tom Brady” premiered Sunday, May 5 on Netflix and is currently streaming on the platform.

Best of IndieWire

Sign up for Indiewire's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.