The Media Column: Tom Brady started planting the seeds for his retirement years ago

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Tom Brady may retire from the NFL this offseason, but the truth is, he’s been living in his own world for years. Through self-produced docuseries and projects, Brady has provided us with curated glimpses of his introspection, and shifting priorities in life. When he talks about taking his football future day-by-day, we know the reasons why. They were outlined in his “Tom vs. Time” series, and reiterated in the latter episodes of “Man in the Arena.”

Brady is telling his own narrative. He planted the seeds for this moment years ago.

It wasn’t that long ago when Brady relied on reporters to tell his story, just like every other athlete and public figure. Our first true glimpse at the TB12 Method came in the pages of New York Times Magazine, when Mark Leibovich wrote the feature story, “Tom Brady cannot stop.” In it, Leibovich compares Brady to Hillary Clinton, on the grounds that her friends sometimes call her “the most famous person in the world nobody knows.” Leibovich writes he’s “long thought the same could be said of Brady.”

That’s no longer the case. “Tom vs. Time” was mostly shot in and around Brady and Gisele’s Brookline estate, and one episode even takes place primarily at their Costa Rican hideaway. The upcoming “30 for 30” episode about the Tuck Rule Game is shot in Brady and Gisele’s $17 million Miami Beach property, which is right around the corner from Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s $24 million abode.

Brady has let us in, literally and figuratively — or at least revealed what he wants us to know. And what he wants us to know is, he’s been trying to balance his life for a while. The fourth episode of “Tom vs. Time,” which debuted Feb. 1, 2018, deals with Brady’s growing desire to spend more time with his family. One of the first scenes shows Brady visiting Beijing with his son, Jack.

“You don’t want to make sacrifices for your sport, but when you have a family you do. That’s just part of it,” Brady said. ”The hard part of me still playing is my kids are getting older and I’m not available to them. Things revolve around my schedule, my day. It’s hard because so much is about their dad’s life.”

If that sentiment sounds familiar, it’s because Brady revisited that theme multiple times during “Man in the Arena.” In that series, he says he became more consumed with his family around the 2011 season, when his young family with Gisele started to blossom. “Football was my life, and everything revolves around the schedule and the plan and the workouts,” Brady said. “Then all of a sudden, you decide to have a family and kids, and then it gets shaped very differently.”

The most revealing episodes of “Man in the Arena” deal with the 2017 and ’18 seasons, when Brady says he was losing his joy for football. But that’s a story we heard before. The prolog of “Tom vs. Time” deals with Brady’s loss of conviction.

Not coincidentally, it was shot in the aftermath of the Patriots' crushing Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. “It’s a big commitment sitting here, laying here three days after the year getting my Achilles worked on and my thumb,” Brady said. “When you go, ‘What are we doing this for? Who are we doing this for? Why are we doing this? You’ve got to have answers to those questions, and they have to be with a lot of conviction.”

That sounds familiar to Brady’s rumination in episode eight of “Man in the Arena.” He says he thinks the “joy was being taken away” around that time.

In between docuseries, Brady spent a considerable amount of time telling the world about his ongoing conflict with Gisele regarding his desire to keep playing football. On the Howard Stern Show in April 2020, Brady revealed Gisele wasn’t satisfied with their marriage, and even talked about getting divorced.

Nearly two years later, Brady told Jim Gray this week on his podcast, “Let’s Go,” about all of the sacrifices Gisele makes so he can keep pursuing Super Bowl rings. “My wife is my biggest supporter,” he said. “It pains her to see me get hit out there. And she deserves what she needs from me as a husband and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad.”

At first, it was surprising to read reports last week about Brady’s sudden indecision about whether he wants to play in 2022. But he’s been laying the groundwork for a while, and using his media empire to do it.

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NFL will be fine without Brady: It’s hard to imagine the NFL without Tom Brady. But if the Divisional Round ratings are any indication, the shield will be just fine. A whopping 51.6 million people tuned into Bills-Chiefs at one point, making it the most-watched Divisional Round contest on any network in five years. The game averaged nearly 43 million viewers.

That’s not surprising, considering Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen gifted us with maybe the greatest quarterback duel of all-time. Brady retiring would leave a big hole, but there are plenty of studs ready to fill his absence.

Patriots ratings still tumbling without Brady: Patriots local TV ratings were up 17 percent this season over their nadir in 2020. The Patriots averaged a 31.5 TV rating in Boston, according to Sports Business Journal, the fifth-highest increase in the NFL. But notably, that number is still down from 2019, when the Patriots averaged a 35.5 rating in Boston.

All things considered, the number for this year is pretty good news. The Patriots were in the thick of the playoff race and fans returned to their TVs. Mac Jones doesn’t possess the same drawing power as Brady, but he’s not that far away. Another competitive season should further close the gap. The operative word in that sentence, of course, is “competitive.”

Sean Payton to TV: Former Saints coach Sean Payton isn’t shy about his desire to try broadcasting. “I think I’d like to do that. I think I’d be pretty good at it,” he said this week.

Sign me up. As one of the best coaches of his era, it would be interesting to hear Payton dissect teams on a revamped “Monday Night Football” broadcast with Al Michaels, whom ESPN is reportedly pursuing. Years ago, Tony Romo showed the advantages of putting a recently retired player or coach right into the booth. Look for Payton to follow in his footsteps.