Nearly a week after his heartfelt sign-off via social media, it’s still hard to fathom Tom Brady’s career is past tense. History. The history of the NFL can’t be written without a nod to Brady. He’s embedded in it.
The first overtime Super Bowl, the first team to win a Super Bowl in its home stadium, the only 500-yard passing performance in a Super Bowl, the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history, Brady’s fingerprints are on all of them. No one completed more passes for more yards and threw more touchdowns in the history of the NFL.
Making history is Brady’s brand, but it would be revisionist history of the highest order for him to end his career as a Patriot via a one-day contract as Patriots owner Robert Kraft wants. It’s beneath an athlete of Brady’s stature and carries no real benefit for him. It would be nothing but a symbolic ceremonial salve on his hurt-feelings departure following the 2019 season.
That unfortunate exit followed years of attempting to get a long-term contract commitment from the Patriots, only to be stiff-armed into a demeaning year-to-year arrangement and coaxed into returning when, exasperated, he asked to leave following the trying 2017 season.
The one-day contract benefits only the Patriots and Krafts. It lets them off the hook for essentially siding with coach Bill Belichick on Brady making it to age 45. It allows them to speciously claim that they followed through on their pledge to have the greatest player of all-time end his career a Patriot.
It’s nothing more than public relations plastic surgery, putting a new face on Brady’s final act in Foxborough, a happy one. It’s pure Patriots fan-boy fiction.
Brady doesn’t owe the Patriots anything more than the 20 seasons and six Lombardi Trophies he gave them. He did everything for the benefit of the Patriots, including taking below-market contracts.
Plus, it’s not like he’s on bad terms with Kraft or Belichick. He’s on good terms with both. Belichick was a guest on Brady’s SiriusXM podcast “Let’s Go” on Monday night. Belichick called Brady “the greatest player,” saying it was an honor to coach him.
There has been a rapprochement with Kraft, as evidenced by Brady skipping a Buccaneers walk-through the day before a game to attend Kraft’s wedding to Dr. Dana Blumberg in October. Brady and the Krafts are back on familiar familial terms, which is wonderful for all involved. That’s a relationship that always transcended football.
There’s detente with Belichick in a relationship that was always full of mutual respect but never personally warm and fuzzy. Any ill will has subsided. Brady won the QB-coach debate. He gets the gold medal platform on the medal stand of history.
The ceremonial signing is not necessary to heal fissures among the three principals of the illustrious Patriots dynasty. That has happened. Brady should be no stranger to Gillette Stadium, and there will be a statue of him somewhere outside the beautifully renovated stadium.
If the man Brady supplanted as franchise quarterback in storybook fashion, Drew Bledsoe, can come back repeatedly in a red Patriots Hall of Fame jacket pretending his exit wasn’t bitter, then it should be easy for TB12.
Kraft was right when he told CNN in his plea for Brady to sign a one-day contract that Brady “always has been and always will be a Patriot.” That’s how the rest of the world will remember him too without the silly, phony one-day pact.
Do we remember Michael Jordan as a Washington Wizard or Bobby Orr as a Chicago Blackhawk or Willie Mays as a New York Met? No. History will handle this for the Patriots.
Then there is the downside for Brady; he alienates the Buccaneers. That organization bent over backward with TB12-pliability to give him the stage to prove the Patriots wrong and to do it his way in his final three seasons, going so far as moving on from coach Bruce Arians to facilitate Brady playing last season at age 45 following his first 40-day retirement. Winning a seventh Super Bowl in Tampa was Brady’s ultimate revenge.
Signing the single-day pact with the Patriots would be a slap in the face to the Bucs and the Glazer family. Like the incentive-laden deal he was forced to swallow for the 2018 season, there is only downside to the one-day contract for Brady. There’s no upside to Brady saving the Patriots the way he did so many times on the field.
If Brady didn’t get his storybook ending during a trying final season, why should he be obligated to provide the Patriots theirs?
As I said the first time he retired, the beauty of Brady was that he transcended being a player. He was a feeling. The feeling that anything was possible, anything was doable, and that no deficit was insurmountable. That’s the greatest tribute you can pay him.
It’s what people 25 years from now who never saw him play will struggle to grasp in an argument about who’s the GOAT if some quarterback surpasses his stats. It’s the problem in the Jordan vs. LeBron James argument, which is no argument at all. There is no statistic for indomitable will, for making the seemingly impossible possible, for generating belief.
All that is the essence of Brady. All of that is inextricably linked to a Patriots uniform.
It’s also why Brady should’ve retired following the 2021 season, because his last game then would’ve been the perfect coda — a 30-27 playoff loss to the Rams in which he led Tampa Bay back from a 27-6 third-quarter deficit to tie the game with 42 seconds left. Unfortunately, the Bucs defense collapsed to allow the game-winning field goal. Brady didn’t lose that game. He just ran out of time to win it. Fitting.
One of the reasons Brady is beloved is because he embodies the American ideal, a true rags-to-riches story, the sixth-round pick nobody who became the greatest of all-time. Cinderella became a supermodel (trademark Tom E. Curran) and married one as well.
Brady eschewed the storybook ending. He wanted to ride until the wheels came off. Ultimately, he was forced to settle for neither. Visibly diminished, he doesn’t go out on top, but he leaves with quality football left in his tank. That’s the cruelest part of his retirement.
So if Brady doesn’t get the ending he wants, then why should he give the Patriots the one they want?
In a career of comebacks, this is one Brady shouldn’t author.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.