Don’t worry about what could have been New England fans.
Focus on what actually was.
Let’s not fret over how it ended Patriot Nation, but rather rejoice in the memories of how it all played out so almost unbelievably.
With his second retirement in 12 months, this one seemingly far more genuine and emotional, Tom Brady is actually walking away from the NFL after 23 reality-altering seasons.
And to steal a line from The Natural: “There goes Tom Brady, the best there ever was in this game.”
Because like it or not. Like him or not. That’s an indisputable fact at this point.
It isn’t just, as Bill Belichick put it in his statement congratulating his former quarterback on his retirement, that Brady was “the most successful player in league history.”
That’s certainly true. Seven Super Bowl rings may that point in arguable at this point.
Brady certainly is, as Patriots owner Robert Kraft put it, “the ultimate champion.”
The Lombardi Trophies say it all.
But Brady was so much more than just his wins and rings.
He was, as former teammates, coaches and Kraft will note, “the fiercest competitor.” Whether it was beer-chugging, a bucket throwing drill in practice or the Super Bowl, Brady was in it to win it at all times.
Brady was the guy who covered up most of his injuries rather than sell them for all the world to see like so many other unnamed Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks do. Thumb popping through the skin on his right hand the week of the AFC title game? Heck, let’s just go win!
Brady rewrote the record books with his maniacal mind and laser accurate right arm. But his fire and desire to win left us with, yes, memorable runs too. Recall that TD in the Snow Bowl capped by a fall-on-his-face spike? Or that scamper early in his career against the Bills on which his helmet was violently separated from his head, only to see him jump up as quick as quick could be?
Brady was the quiet lover with nothing but good things to say most of the time – at least that’s what he led us to believe -- until the fierce competitor bubbled up like the Incredible Hulk. Then he might refer to his offensive line as “fat cows” on the practice field or chew out a teammate or coach on the sideline.
Whatever it took, Brady did it. And it almost always worked.
He was walking, talking football success for more than two decades.
But he wasn’t perfect. There were minor, annoying warts on his career along the way. Sure he was involved in Spygate, Deflategate and whatever gate is assigned to the recent scandal about him possibly joining the Dolphins. Those fueled his haters and critics, but really in many ways now are just minor blips on his career accomplishment radar.
Sure, Brady would sometimes go cleats-high toward a helpless defender when the protected-class QB ended a run with a slide. He’d beg for a flag when an opponent like Ray Lewis had the gumption to eve so much as buzz his tower in the pocket. Or maybe he’d even try to trip an opponent who’d dared to recover a fumble. It was all in name of competition.
And make no mistake there was an evolution to Brady’s personality and, as it evolved, brand. Somewhere along the way he became a human corporation, with all the social media promotion required for such. Hell, maybe he even turned into some sort of diva QB, the man who’d spent years taking less than true market value displaying reconfigured values later in his career.
But even as TB12 and the Brady Brand seemingly took center stage, the winning continued. In turning his back on New England he took his late-career talents to Tampa Bay and in created a winner where only losing had previously resided.
The days of comparisons to Joe Montana or Peyton Manning have long since passed. Brady is above that.
The time for parsing his wins vs. his statistics or his regular season work vs. his postseason success is long over.
Whether you measure it by rings, statistics or reputation, Brady leaves football atop the mountain.
Too often these days, athletes are anointed something long before they actually deserve it. It’s what we do in this culture of recency bias and living in the blinding moment.
But Tom Brady truly is the GOAT, a title a lifetime in the making.
Tom Brady is indeed the Greatest Of All Time, whether you like him or not.