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You’d think years would be enough time. But somehow, it’s never enough, is it?
Tom Brady has given us 23 years of excellence on the football field (assuming this really is the last one). If he truly has hung up his cleats for the last time, he’ll have put together career stats you’d probably only find on Madden and touched thousands of lives in the process through his exploits in and off the field.
He even tried and failed to walk away once just so he could complete his quest to play until age 45, even after it cost him a marriage and more valuable time with his children, just to go 8-9 and get blown out in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s like Brady channeled his inner Batman in “The Dark Knight Rises” when told he’d given Gotham City everything he had: “Not everything. Not yet.”
Apparently, he’s decided he has now, despite the fact that he can clearly still play the game at a high level.
That’s touched off something of a grieving process that last year didn’t seem to include: a true reckoning with the end of a Great One’s career. I remember feeling the same thing being a Chicagoland kid watching Michael Jordan retire twice, even when he’d ceased to be the Michael Jordan the NBA bowed to in the 90s.
Wherever you are on that grief spectrum — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and something else entirely — is entirely up to you. Feel however you want to feel.
But can we get something straight while we process? Brady doesn’t owe us anything else.
Not a second more of his time. Not a shred more of his energy.
So what if he can still play the game and reasonably compete for a title? Who cares if he didn’t retire when everyone thinks he should’ve done it or gone out on a storybook ending? No offense, but why does it matter if you feel robbed or cheated out of more greatness by his decision?
His maniacal approach to the game and the “Patriot Way” might’ve desensitized us to this point over the years, but Brady is not, in fact, a football machine put solely on this planet to collect Lombardi Trophies. He is a man — a wholly unique one in the annals of sports, but a man who breathes, bleeds, doubts, fears and grows weary just like the rest of us.
Brady’s unquenchable drive pushed him past the limits of greatness and into a realm of sports immortality that few can claim, pursuing titles long after his peers has tapped out just because he could. It almost makes you forget the toll maintaining that singular focus and will to win for so long must necessarily take on a person, even one such as him.
He’s spent more than half his life to this point entertaining us on the gridiron and leaving behind indelible moments you’ll re-watch with pride forever every time they come across your screen. He IS the standard by which excellence is measured not just in football but professional sports itself, and he achieved that after coming into the NFL 198 spots after he should have in hindsight — the most storybook career we’ll ever see.
What more could we reasonably need Brady to do for us that we would feel disappointed or think less of him as a competitor for leaving a year or two of championship-caliber play on the table? That idea is so absurd it defies logic. (Sports fandom does do crazy things to people.)
Isn’t it so much better this way: to pass on the crown to your heirs while you’re still of sound mind rather than forcing people to pry it from your cold, dead, invalid hands when you’ve become a version of yourself neither you nor anyone else recognizes? To know when you’ve finally given enough and gracefully exit the stage instead of hanging around out simply for fear of what comes next -- only to become a shell of yourself in the process?
Stepping away now is no more a mark on Brady’s competitive fire than 2022 was on his legacy, which is so firmly set in stone that no “meh” season at the end could possibly change it. (Does 2002-03 ever make you question Jordan’s career accomplishments?)
Brady owes himself the chance to leave the game on his own terms (and his family the opportunity to see him now and again). It’s as simple as that.
We’ll be fine. The game is in excellent hands going forward, with Mahomes vs. Burrow a possible reincarnation of Manning vs. Brady we can enjoy for years to come as pure football fans.
As for the Patriots? Well…at least we still have Bill Belichick and 20 years' worth of memories to keep us going while we wait for the next duck boat parade.