There are retirements, and then there are seismic shifts to the NFL landscape.
There are announcements from athletes that are met with some fanfare and a few farewells, and then there are decisions that stop the league in its tracks.
There are careers that deserve to be honored for their accomplishments and glory, and then there are careers that demand everyone stop and take notice, honoring not just that solo journey of triumph but the collective impact it had on others.
Tom Brady had one of those careers.
And now, it’s over. For real this time.
With a short yet clearly emotional video posted Wednesday morning, Brady confirmed that he is finally ready to leave the game, these few heartfelt words serving as a perfect replacement for last year’s lengthy emotional essay that never actually included the word “retirement” and was retracted after six confusing weeks:
“Good morning, guys. I’ll get to the point right away: I’m retiring. For good.”
After a third season in Tampa, after 20 amazing years in New England, Brady made the call, walking away at age 45 just as he’d always told us he would.
“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time,” he said, “so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press ‘record’ and let you guys know first. It won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year, so I really thank you guys so much, to every single one of you for supporting me.”
With the wind blowing around him, Brady’s voice thickened as he wrapped it up.
“My family, my friends, my teammates, my competitors, I could go on forever, there’s too many. Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream, I wouldn’t change a thing. Love you all.”
He walks away as the best of all time, even if he wasn’t always at his best this past season. But the occasional sideline tirades, the unfamiliar duck-and-cover throws, the sunken, tired eyes on a perpetually boyish face, all of it is forgotten now, eclipsed by the memories of one of the greatest NFL success stories of all time.
The 199th pick of the 2000 draft leaves a legacy defined not simply by seven Super Bowl titles, five Super Bowl MVP awards, three league MVP trophies, 15 Pro Bowl nods, and a pile of statistical records that no one will ever match.
In the ultimate team sport, Brady proved himself the ultimate team player, using his own approach and skill set to elevate those around him, never demanding from anyone what he wouldn’t give himself, but never settling for less than what was necessary for success. In New England, pairing with a like-minded and similarly focused coach in Bill Belichick, the two of them set a standard that many have tried to emulate but none has ever replicated.
A few years back, when Brady was still with the Patriots and Tom Coughlin was general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the teams combined for some training camp practices. Coughlin, who’d famously bested Brady in two Super Bowls with the Giants, couldn’t help but marvel at Brady’s unceasing effort.
During a two-minute drill, Brady threw a ball that didn’t get out of bounds. The receiver did not get the ball back, but there was Brady, sprinting outside the numbers, grabbing the ball, sprinting back to the huddle, setting the ball down, and clocking it.
“If you’re standing there watching it as a receiver, you just got the greatest lesson of all time,” Coughlin told me last year, after the initial Brady retirement. “To me, what the man brings to the table, I will say he’s the greatest of all time, but that’s not what I talk about. To me he is the greatest person to set the expectation level of the entire franchise at the highest level you can imagine.
“When a player was drafted by the New England Patriots or was a free agent and went to the New England Patriots, they knew when they stepped into that building that the level of expectation for championships is through the roof because this man demonstrated it year in and year out.
“His accomplishments speak for themselves, and you can take all the stats to call him the greatest of all time. But he’s the greatest of all time for me because of what he brought to the building. When he made the commitment, he made it 100 percent.”
Football has always separated itself from its sporting brethren because of its game-planning challenge, because its outcomes can be decided as much by what is done in the run-up to the game as in the game itself. What goes on in the mind can be as vital to success as what can be done with the body. Brady was his generation’s biggest game-planning challenge, daring opponents to outsmart him, demanding teammates keep up with him.
We’ve seen the last of it now, the thrilling fourth-quarter comebacks, the methodical, back-breaking drives, the quick dump-offs in the flat or the soaring, full-flighted throws downfield.
What a ride. The best one ever.
Read more about Tom Brady
- Tom Brady retires once again — and ‘for good’ this time, he says
- Dan Shaughnessy: This time, we believe him: Tom Brady is done, and the moment is right
- Timeline: Looking back at the highlights from Tom Brady’s 23-year NFL career
- A secret plan, a bombshell lawsuit, and a soccer match: Inside Tom Brady’s un-retirement
- ‘Newly retired group meets on the golf course’: Ex-NFLers, celebs offer Tom Brady congrats on retirement