A charmed life shaped by a rocket arm, a dimpled chin and a supermodel girlfriend can collapse faster than a quarterback's pocket. Tom Brady took a single hit to his left knee, and a primal scream heard 'round the world left a multibillion-dollar industry humbled to its core.
The NFL is a much different place today without the Patriots' superstar in it. Brady is gone for the season, scheduled for a date with a surgeon's blade, and the Jets suddenly are cast as favorites in the AFC East, as contenders who might just ride Brett Favre deep into the postseason.
This is after the Jets opened the season by barely beating a 1-15 team.
The lesson is a twist on the Don Henley song. In a New England minute, everything can change.
"He played one position," Bill Belichick said of Brady, "he played it well, and there's going to be somebody else playing that position now."
If Belichick sounded like he was describing an injured special-teamer with the responsibility of breaking up the wedge on kickoffs, well, he only was staying true to his pulse-free self. Beneath all those layers of contempt he has for public disclosure of the most benign details, never mind a cataclysmic injury to maybe the greatest quarterback of all time, Belichick knows Brady's knee injury blows up the entire season.
It makes last year's 16-0 Patriots this year's 10-6 Patriots, at best. It brings New England back to a busy field of AFC wannabes who now believe the tournament is as wide open as Ocho Cinco's mouth.
No sudden exit has hit a sport like this since Michael Jordan told the Bulls he was heading off to play baseball. No NFL injury has been this hard to take, for different reasons, since LT snapped Joe Theismann's leg as easily as one would snap a wishbone.
The Kansas City safety who delivered the hit, Bernard Pollard, apologized to Brady on the field Sunday. The expressed contrition didn't serve as any painkiller; Pollard said he heard the quarterback screaming in agony.
It's hard to imagine the league's Prince Charles in such a distressing state. Already a three-time Super Bowl champion, Brady threw 50 touchdown passes last year to break Peyton Manning's single-season record. He had combined with Randy Moss for 23 of those scores, forming the most devastating pass-catch combination the NFL has seen.
For all the suffering the Giants caused in February, denying the Patriots a 19-0 season, Brady again was expected to steamroll the Jets and every other sad-sack opponent in his path.
But the same cruel and fickle forces of fate that conspired against Brady in Super Bowl XLII returned with a vengeance in the very first quarter of the very first game.
"It doesn't really matter what I think," Belichick said when asked if he thought Pollard's hit was dirty. "The officials officiate the game; I'm sure they'll handle it. We've always taught our players it's their responsibility to hit the quarterback above the knees and below the shoulders."
Anything can happen in sports, at any time, in any place. That's why the Mets can win the World Series without Billy Wagner or any real closer. That's why the Jets can win the Super Bowl with a Jurassic Brett Favre.
That's why a little-known safety from Kansas City can flip a multibillion-dollar industry on its ear.