Six weeks after he said goodbye, Tom Brady is saying hello.
With a Sunday evening announcement he will return to the National Football League for at least one more season, the 44-year-old quarterback ended one of the shortest retirements on record.
“These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” Brady posted on Twitter. “That time will come. But it’s not now. I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. Unfinished business.”
With that, the football world just got a little bit brighter.
Never mind the jokes headed Brady’s direction now that he has reversed course. About the way he can’t quit football. About the way this un-retirement announcement was inevitable from the moment he neglected to include the actual word “retirement’ in his initial one. About the way he can’t walk away despite already being regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time, or the way an entire football nation outside of Tampa and New England is tired of watching him win. Indeed, Brady may love and crave the attention of being an NFL star so much that he can’t let go.
But mostly, he loves and craves the satisfaction of being an NFL winner. He loves football. He loves the competition. He loves the camaraderie. He loves the preparation required to win, and he loves sharing the journey of how he takes his work off the field and turns it into success on the field.
He’s already the greatest winner the game has ever known, and we thought the ride was over. But who wouldn’t want to sign on for another round (or two?) of watching him try for more? We know the Bucs are thrilled, but the entire NFL, from its television schedulers to its retail partners, should be happy to go along for the ride.
Not yet do we have to relegate Brady’s inspiring story from NFL draft afterthought to seven-time Super Bowl champion to the dusty shelves of history, only to be pulled out and recalled with nostalgia and gauzy hindsight.
It’s like that line from the end of “The Office,” when Andy Bernard says, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.” These are Brady’s good old days, and their return is a gift from the football gods.
Here he comes, ready to pile a few more yards and a few more wins to the unmatched totals he already owns, but mostly, to chase his eighth Super Bowl ring, to add one more Lombardi Trophy to the record seven he already owns.
So many signs pointed to this happening. When an anonymously sourced report by ESPN jumped the gun on Brady’s initial announcement, it seemed as if he was unsure of his decision. The lengthy social media posts that thanked seemingly everyone in his football world — except his old bosses with the Patriots. The afterthought subtweet of thanks to New England nation. The glaring absence of that word, with an explanation rooted instead to an unwillingness to do the work anymore, as well as the desire to spend more time with his family.
The cracks kept coming. The hints to his favorite friendly interviewer Jim Gray that he would “never say never” about a potential return. And then this weekend’s visit to Manchester United — also owned by the Glazer family that owns the Bucs — and a conversation with fellow GOAT Cristiano Ronaldo, whose innocent query, “You’re done, right?” was met with enough hesitancy by Brady to make Sunday’s news unshocking.
Tom Brady has a video on his Instagram story of him talking to Cristiano Ronaldo:— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) March 13, 2022
Cristiano: “You’re finished, right?”
The face Brady makes in response.... pic.twitter.com/qJq7QSjSXP
The notion of being “done” has always presented an athlete with one of their hardest and most daunting challenges, and it’s a decision that is made for so many of them by circumstances beyond their control. Declining skills, injury, business decisions they cannot make, or family commitments they cannot ignore. The forced end of a career that is often the only life these athletes have ever known brings an entirely new set of challenges, and the adjustment to life without that structure, without that outlet, without that physical and emotional high can be devastating.
So when an athlete gets the opportunity to make that decision on his or her own terms, when they are able to evaluate their feelings and make an informed decision, they know they are among the lucky few.
And when they do it but realize they made the wrong choice? They have every right to change their mind.
Welcome back, Tom. We barely had time to miss you.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.