Tom Brady retires with nothing left to prove and nothing left to give
There is almost no calculating Tom Brady's impact on the NFL.
Tom Brady had just stepped onto the campus of Junipero Serra High School in California when he went out for quarterback on the freshman football team. He wasn’t any good. This isn’t hyperbole or a downplaying of reality for literary effect. He literally sat on the bench, never cracking the lineup, for an 0-8-1 team that managed just two offensive touchdowns the entire season.
That offseason he became obsessed, as is his wont, with what Serra coaches called the “five-dot drill” that was designed to improve speed, quickness and footwork. It was grueling. Players generally hated it.
Brady wanted to become the starter, though, and this was the best route to that. He also told friends at the time he wanted to win and that oh-fer freshman season didn’t cut it. So he didn’t just repeat the five-dot drill over and over on the practice field. He set it up on the patio behind his family’s home, driving his siblings crazy as he ran through it all hours of the day.
As a sophomore, he became the starter. No one saw what was to come, of course, and it wasn't an immediate upward trajectory. He was seventh-string when he first arrived at the University of Michigan. He threw a pick-six on his first college pass. He went 199th in the 2000 NFL Draft and was fourth on the depth chart in New England.
He went on to play until he was 45 years old, spending 20 seasons with the Patriots and three more in Tampa Bay. He won 286 games (35 of them in the playoffs) and seven Super Bowls, both records. He threw for 102,614 yards (13,400 of them in the playoffs) and 737 touchdowns (88 in the playoffs), both records.
Heck, everything is a record with Tom Brady. The winning. The stats. The longevity.
Brady announced his retirement Wednesday morning, this time “for good,” he said, on a brief but emotional social media video. He did the same for a stretch last year, but this one seems far more personal, far more real.
“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time,” Brady said in the video, sitting on a beach. “So when I woke up this morning, I thought I’d press record and just let you know first. I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year.
“I thank you guys so much, to every single one of you for supporting me,” he continued. “My family, my friends, my teammates, my competitors, I could go on forever. There are too many. Thank you for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Brady wasn’t his best last year, but he was hardly a liability, finishing third in the league in passing yards. Considering the age and the fact he went through a midseason divorce that saw two of his children move to Miami with their mother, it’s astounding. Yet it almost became the expectation for him. Everything about him was astounding.
In the end, Brady wasn’t ready to start again somewhere new, a source said. There was speculation about Las Vegas or back to New England or even hometown San Francisco, if they wanted him. Instead, he was focused on either trying to rebuild the Buccaneers or walking off into retirement (and the Fox Sports broadcast booth).
He chose the latter.
Brady never had the strongest arm or the fastest of feet (that five-dot drill could do only so much), but he was as relentless and obsessive of a winner as the sport has known.
No one was better at figuring out defenses and making the right play. No one was better at leading by example — he was famous, even deep into his international fame, for being the first player at Gillette Stadium each morning.
No one was more dangerous late in the game, when defenses had shown their formations and begun to tire. Comebacks were his thing. Game-winning drives. Heart-wrenching finishes. From beating the Rams in his first Super Bowl to roaring back from 28-3 against Atlanta to win his fifth.
Other times he was just dominant. From the perfect regular season in 2007, when he threw a then-record 50 touchdowns, including 23 of them to Randy Moss, to blowing out Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City to take his seventh Super Bowl, this time in Tampa, and proving to any last doubter that he was more than just a product of Bill Belichick’s Patriot Way.
Mostly he was consistent. Excluding the 2008 season when he was injured in the opener, the 21 teams he started at quarterback for averaged 11.9 victories a season. That’s more than two decades of 12-4 football. This season's 8-9 campaign in Tampa was his first ever with a losing record.
He followed it up by reaching 14 conference championship games and 10 Super Bowls.
He won three Lombardi Trophies in his 20s, two in his 30s and two more in his 40s. He arguably had three separate Hall of Fame careers.
There is almost no calculating his impact on football.
He was the constant for two-plus decades, late afternoons on CBS, dueling with the Manning brothers, becoming such an icon that postgame he would get hounded for on-field selfies and pictures in recent years by opposing players, each of whom grew up watching and marveling at him. He just produced a movie about a group of 80-year-old women who became obsessive NFL fans because of him.
There was truly nothing left for Brady to prove and nothing left to give. This season looked at times like a chore as he tried to make something out of a shaky Buccaneers roster. There were no amount of dot drills that would change this for 2023.
He could have gone elsewhere, but instead he chose to end it, one of the rarest of athletic feats. Usually the game says you're done, not vice versa.
So now he heads off into the sunset via a sunrise retirement video.
For good this time, he said.