It's easy to take New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for granted.
He's been around for 12 years now, has had a career that could not have ever been envisioned back in 2001 when he replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe, a year removed from being a sixth-round draft choice.
We have seen him be great so many times, seen him win three Super Bowls and been the MVP of the league twice. We have seen him raise the standards so high that we long ago came to expect him to be great.
It's easy to take him for granted.
We are witnessing athletic brilliance here in New England, the kind that comes around so rarely. It's like watching Ted Williams the year he hit .406, like watching Bobby Orr in the early 1970s, or Larry Bird when he arguably was the best player in basketball. It's like watching Pedro Martinez when you knew no one was going to hit him, or Bill Russell throwing Bob Cousy an outlet pass way back there in the late '50s, back when basketball was moving into the modern era, even if no one knew it then.
It's like having a front-row seat for someone who is going to be remembered for as long as they play football in Foxboro, someone whose legend will only grow after he retires.
So we shouldn't take him for granted, because history has taught us that it doesn't last forever, that true athletic greatness is ultimately as ephemeral as a young girl's smile.
We've seen Brady grow from a young kid who no one really had ever heard of into one of the all-time great quarterbacks in the history of the game. We also have seen him go from being just a great athlete to an iconic celebrity, complete with the supermodel wife and a life that seems to come out of a Dos Equis commercial.
And, in a sense, that's complicated things.
It's the kind of life that lives on the gossip pages as much as the sports page, the kind of glamour life that breeds everything from envy to resentment and just about anything in between. To see a picture of Brady in his UGG's men's footwear commercial, with his too-cool chic, is almost too much, quarterback as fashionista. Enough already, right?
Celebrity can come with a price tag.
It can also get in the way, obscure the fact that when you strip all of it away, the money, the supermodel wife, the glamour, all of it, Tom Brady is a brilliant NFL quarterback, arguably as good as there's ever been.
Monday night was just the latest reminder.
It's become a clichZ to say that he is playing chess while so many of the others are playing checkers, but so much of it is true.
And it's more than the fact he threw for a career-high 517 yards, the fifth-best in NFL history. It's that he did so much of it out of a no-huddle offense, where he essentially has to operate as a coach on the field, making sure everyone's in the right formation, always moving people around.
At one point in the game the Patriots had run no-huddle an amazing 50 percent of the time, almost unheard of, and that's because of Brady. Other teams use it as desperation. Monday night the Patriots used it as their basic offense, putting tremendous pressure on a Dolphins' defense that often seemed like it had no clue what the Pats were doing.
The other thing that's easy to take for granted is how smart he is, how adept he is in getting the Pats into the right formation, and getting the ball to the right people at the right time.
Sounds easy, right?
So much of the NFL tells us that. There are so many quarterbacks who come into the league with their rocket arms and their vast potential, yet never seem able to make the right decisions. So many look good, yet few play that way. Brady is the antithesis of that. Yes, he throws the ball with great precision. He also throws it to the right guy. No insignificant thing.
Monday night we saw how important Brady is to these Patriots. Yes, Bill Belichick is a great coach. We all know that. But he also has the luxury of a quarterback for the ages, someone who makes him and everyone around him look very good.
So this team will go as far as Brady can take it. How far is that?
In the last 17 years, only one quarterback either as old, or older, than Brady, has won a Super Bowl. Brady is 34, entering dangerous terrain for an NFL quarterback.
The last hurrah? We're probably not there yet, if Monday night was any example. But history tells us he's getting close to it.
That's the bad news.
We are fortunate enough to watch true athletic greatness.
And we shouldn't take it for granted.