Paul Sullivan: Feeling sorry for Tom Brady? Rooting for the Houston Astros? Here are 4 things I never thought would happen

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This strange year continues to leave everyone dazed and confused.

Things you thought never would happen continue to occur at an alarming pace, and it’s not just because of the norms the COVID-19 pandemic, presidential politics or climate change destroyed.

The latest example came Thursday night near the end of the Chicago Bears’ 20-19 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when a sheepish-looking Tom Brady held up four fingers after turning the ball over on downs, seemingly acknowledging he thought it was still fourth down.

“Poor Brady,” I thought. “Sucks being old.”

I don’t recall ever feeling sorry for Brady after a loss. Mostly I celebrated because it was such a rare occurrence.

Brady is the embodiment of the perfect athlete with his movie star looks, six championship rings, four MVP awards, big contracts and endorsement deals, supermodel wife, ability to defy age with a well-sculpted body, nice head of hair and a glaring absence of crow’s feet around his hazel eyes.

But once you’ve hit that magic number of 40, the brain starts acting up on you, and there’s no turning back.

Brady is 43, so it’s all downhill for him, memory-wise.

I don’t know how it feels to forget how many downs remain in the final minute of a nationally televised game, but I’m guessing it’s much worse than leaving the house and suddenly remembering you forgot your phone, wallet and mask. I’m 61, and that happens to me on a regular basis.

Naturally, Brady didn’t fess up afterward.

Denial always is your best defense when the memory starts to slip. Accepting the truth would be admitting he no longer is perfect.

Sorry, Tom. Rest assured things will not get any better.

Aside from feeling sympathy for Brady, here are three other things I never thought would happen to me:

1. Rooting for the Houston Astros.

When severe penalties relating to the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal were handed down in January, I compared them to the 1919 Black Sox, writing they would “always carry the stigma of cheaters … and be used as an example of how not to play the game.”

When someone in February created a Twitter account calling itself 2020 Astros Shame Tour (@AsteriskTour), I gladly gave it a follow.

But then came the sports shutdown in March, and after baseball returned in July the Astros were out of sight and out of mind.

With MLB opting for regional schedules to reduce travel and the risk of spreading the coronavirus during the shortened season, I didn’t get to watch a single Astros game in 2020 until they played the Oakland A’s in the American League Division Series.

I suddenly found myself rooting for Houston, mostly because of Dusty Baker, whom I suggested in January would be the fixer the Astros needed to guide a team with an “us against the world” attitude.

Baker was an antihero in the mode of one of his favorite movie characters, Kurt Russell’s “Snake” Plissken. In the 1980’s sci-fi classic “Escape From New York,” Plissken tells the Man: “You better hope I don’t make it back.”

The Astros are taking those words to heart, and the 71-year-old Baker, who had nothing to do with the scandal, has embraced their reputation as baseball’s biggest villains.

“It was very rarely talked about,” Baker said Oct. 5 before Game 1 against the A’s. “The role of the villain was given to us. It’s not something we took on, even though some of it was probably merited. Or most of it was merited. I’ve been a villain for most of my life, so I might as well join the group.”

Now the hated Astros are one step from going back to the World Series, hopefully to play the Los Angeles Dodgers in a rematch of 2017 that started all the commotion.

That’s about as 2020 as it gets.

2. Agreeing with Stan Bowman.

Stan Bowman, the Chicago Blackhawks general manager with three rings and some bad contracts, wants the best of both worlds.

He seemingly can’t decide whether to go full-scale rebuild or try to win with a combination of youth and the remnants of the old core that brought us so much pleasure during their three Stanley Cup-winning seasons.

But now that he finally decided to part ways with goaltender Corey Crawford and after failing to re-sign Robin Lehner over the winter, Bowman finally appears to be signaling a commitment to rebuilding.

We don’t know if unproven goalies Malcom Subban, Collin Delia or Kevin Lankinen will pan out. But better to find out now than waste another year contending for a wild-card spot and bowing out of the playoffs after one round.

If the Hawks planned on contending, they would’ve done whatever possible to re-sign Crawford and add some offensive help this offseason. At least we know the direction they’re going, and we can commit to saving our money and just watching them on TV.

3. Missing Mitch Trubisky.

This could have been an adverse reaction to my flu shot, but watching Nick Foles in action Thursday made me pine for the return of Mitch Trubisky.

I know, I know. It’s embarrassing even to admit.

Yes, the Bears won, but only because of the defense, particularly Kyle Fuller’s hit on Ke’Shawn Vaughn that set up a second-quarter touchdown.

After Thursday night’s win, Foles’ 83.9 quarterback rating is lower than Trubisky’s 87.4, and he’s averaging a miserable 6.0 yards per pass attempt.

Neither quarterback is league average, and Foles’ main attribute seems to be that he’s not Trubisky.

Foles was as mediocre as it gets against the Bucs yet somehow managed to connect in stretches when it mattered.

“That’s who he is,” coach Matt Nagy said.

It was meant as a compliment.

Certainly Nagy never will go back to Trubisky after making the big switch. And, after all, a win is a win.

But if this is who Foles is, the Bears are the luckiest 4-1 team in the league.

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(Paul Sullivan is a sports columnist and baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune.)

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