That scrambling you hear is not Tom Brady trying to avoid hot pursuit by 290-pound tacklers with ill intent. It’s sports writers and sportscasters scrambling to find what they will write or talk about now that Tom Brady has called it a career.
Speculation on what Tom would do next season had become a cottage industry among sport journalists. Just last week, sports crystal balls had Brady going to the San Francisco 49ers, who led the known universe last year in injured quarterbacks. It got so bad there that Blue Cross Blue Shield wouldn’t return its calls.
But does Tom really mean it this time? His previous retirement lasted just weeks, and most of us above the age of consent remember how many times we had to say goodbye to Frank Sinatra. Brady fans, in whose ranks I happily march, hope Tom Terrific’s retirement sticks this time. Like Alexander the Great, Brady has no more worlds to conquer. He has seven Super Bowl rings, so many that he can’t get through the metal detector at the airport when wearing them all. He has more money than Croesus (and still will after Gisele’s attorneys get through with him). And he has all his marbles intact and every important NFL passing record, including some categories that had to be invented just for Tom. Those who argue that Brady is not the best to ever operate under center have a hill to climb.
There’s just no benefit in playing a brutal, gladiator sport until you’re answering phones that aren’t ringing, need pain meds to get out of bed in the morning, and can’t remember your children’s names. Tom has gotten away with it for more than two decades. He’s lasted well past most NFL quarterbacks’ play-by date. He’s been very good and very lucky as well. Don’t push it, Tom. In this game, on any given snap…
I can only guess how difficult it is for athletes who’ve been at the very top of their sports to recognize when it’s time to go. That’s especially true for a guy like Brady, who has been so totally focused on his game, who’s had the fire, and who has been willing to put in the hard work it takes to excel at a physically and mentally demanding sport until age 45. Football has been his life, probably since shortly after he was potty-trained and stopped sucking his thumb. But when it’s time, it’s time. Reflexes only have to slow a bit — which they will with age — to make the difference between driving that fastball into the gap or fouling it off, between spotting that open receiver in time or a fraction too late, and between getting that straight right back in time or catching an overhand left over the top of it. In time, all good things come to an end. And that time may be hard to spot. (READ MORE by Larry Thornberry: Lessons From Georgia’s Victory)
Some great ones knew when it was time to walk away, did so, and didn’t look back: Rocky Marciano, Joe DiMaggio, and Sandy Koufax to name just three. But there are examples of others who stayed at the dance too long. Muhammad Ali got the living hell beat out of him in his last few fights, by which time he floated like a brick and had little sting left. I almost teared up watching a 42-year-old Willie Mays falling down in the outfield during the 1973 World Series. The young Mays was such poetry in motion that the contrast was almost unbearable. I, for one, would hate to see Tom Brady hauled off an NFL field on a stretcher.
If this retirement is for real, one downside to it is that the Great One is going out after an unedifying season. Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers led an incredibly weak NFC South division with an embarrassing 8–9 season record and were one and out in the playoffs that they had no business being in. But this was not all Brady’s fault. Bucs management didn’t surround him with much of a supporting cast. He still managed to lead the NFL in pass completions, though on too many occasions he was clearly missing throws a younger Brady never would have missed. At times he looked, well, old.
So we’ll have to see how Brady feels as spring approaches summer and he feels the first symptoms of football withdrawal syndrome (restlessness, irritability, difficulty in concentrating or sleeping). And if the 49ers haven’t solved their quarterback problem by then, what enticements might they dangle before Tom? The supporting cast in San Francisco would be ever so much stronger than in Tampa. So should the gaudy offer come, Tom will have a decision to make. Let’s hope he makes the right one.
Tom Brady’s long career on the field has been a magnificent one. He’s given fans many thrills, spills, and chills. He taught NFL teams nursing a narrow lead late in the game to never turn the ball over to a Tom Brady team with time left on the clock. He’s been the gold standard for NFL quarterbacks for the longest time. But it does seem time to thank him for the great memories and wish him a long, healthy, and prosperous life as a broadcaster.
A Remarkable, Miraculous Young Man