The Tom Brady jersey — mounted, framed with two action photographs and, best of all, autographed and personalized — hangs in a prime spot in Alex Cobb’s house.
“He is my absolute idol," Cobb said.
The former Rays and current Orioles pitcher has met hundreds of other major-leaguers, big names from other sports and assorted VIPS and celebrities over the years. But there is no doubt in his mind that the greatest quarterback of all time, and the soon-to-officially-be Bucs quarterback of the next two years, is the brightest star of all.
“I don’t think I could count how many of his games I’ve been to," Cobb said. “The first year he came in in 2001, and they played the Oakland Raiders at home in Foxborough (in the playoffs), that ‘Snow Bowl’ game, I went to that game.
“Just sitting up in the stands, watching all that take place, and then to continue that and to watch them win the Super Bowl that year, that was probably the start of my man crush on him."
Cobb is not alone.
Brady is the rare type of athlete, and the special type of star, who transcends other sports, and other locker rooms, similar to how LeBron James does, and Kobe Bryant did, and a limited few.
Other players likely have their own Brady stories. Alex Killorn and Kevin Shattenkirk of the Lightning played college hockey in Boston. Current and former Rays, such as Oliver Drake and Sam Fuld, grew up in New England. Even Cameron Brate, who played at Harvard before coming to the Bucs, where he now will be catching passes from Brady.
"You really can’t portray Tom Brady and what he’s meant to the people of New England in a few lines, but I guess I’ll try,'' said Rocco Baldelli, the former Rays player and current Twins manager, a native Rhode Islander. "He’s easily one of the most accomplished athletes of our time.
"But he’s also a symbol of strength and hope in the culture up there. People and things have come and gone, but he’s been a constant. His success is unmatched but so is the respect he seems to garner from just about everyone — and that’s because he’s there to win and that’s it. That’s what he’s about.
"I feel fortunate to have watched him compete all this time.
"And, yes, I have a jersey. Everyone has a jersey.''
Wade Boggs built the foundation of his Hall of Fame baseball career in Boston, and has been back to the area many times since, but has never met Brady nor seen him play in person.
But Boggs — the most famous Tampa Bay No. 12, until now anyway — was staggered enough to pause his Super Bowl party in Tampa last month when he heard Brady referencing him while discussing his own legacy in Boston during one of the pre-game shows.
“I was shocked," Boggs said. “You’re having a Super Bowl party and all of a sudden Tom Brady mentions your name. That’s kind of neat."
Given that Boggs started his career in Boston and, after a five-year interim stint with the Yankees, finished it in Tampa Bay, gives him something else in common with Brady to potentially bond over. “You never know, maybe we could go out to dinner if he comes out to Tampa," Boggs said.
Cobb and Boggs were as surprised as the rest of us that Brady is heading south.
“When anybody plays 20 years in one location you think they’re going to retire there," Boggs said. “You don’t usually play somewhere for 20 years and all of a sudden go free agent and go somewhere else. It’s probably a big step for him. You get kind of complacent after 20 years, doing the same things and living in your house and going to the same market and all of those things. Now he’s got to learn the Tampa Bay area.
“But he won’t have to worry about those really cold nights in Foxborough."
Cobb was born in Boston and spent summers as a kid with family there even after moving to Florida. He had been a devout Patriots fan until recently, so Brady’s move was well-timed for him.
“This is very convenient for me because before all this happened I had a feeling this year was going to be different in that it seemed more realistic he wasn’t coming back (to New England)," Cobb said.
“I’d been looking for a reason to not be a Patriots fan anymore, but I’m such a fan of his that I would stay with him. So I’d already convinced myself that whatever happened I was going to switch to whatever team he goes to and be a fan boy of them. So this made it real easy with the connection I already had with the Bucs. So I was real excited to see that."
Cobb got the autographed jersey a few years ago from a friend, Dave McCarthy, who runs the Ted Williams museum at the Trop. McCarthy knew of Cobb’s interest in Brady, and through a buddy at a sports memorabilia company in Boston that works with Brady, got it signed, sealed and delivered. When Alex and Kelly decided to set up their permanent home in Arizona, the jersey got a prime spot.
“That’s the first thing you see walking into my house; I force everyone to see it," Cobb said.
“That’s probably my most prized possession."