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Bob Ryan

Tom Brady should be a Patriots lifer, don’t you think?

Red Auerbach (center) got to enjoy a pair of Celtics for life, Bill Russell (left) and John Havlicek.1968 file/associated press/Associated Press

Close your eyes. Picture our Tommy wearing another No. 12 jersey.

Repugnant? Horrifying? Sacrilegious? Just plain wrong? Something like that.

John Hannah never wore another jersey. Gino Cappelletti never wore another jersey. Troy Brown never wore another jersey. But the Greatest Patriot of Them All may very well be wearing another jersey for the 2020 season. Tom Brady seems determined to become a free agent, for whatever reason. There could very well be a tack-on year or two elsewhere. It just doesn’t seem right, does it?

Bruins fans know the drill. Neither of the two greatest players ever to pull on a Bruins sweater finished his career in this town. In Bobby Orr’s case, it was a disgrace orchestrated by a despicable agent. In Ray Bourque’s case, it was an understandable desire to know what it feels like to hold the Stanley Cup. He went with a complete fan blessing. He even came back here with the Cup as a Colorado Avalanche to great fanfare and no one thought there was anything inappropriate about it. But, darn it, it would have been a better story had he been a Bruins lifer.

The Celtics are a somewhat different story. Their Mount Rushmore consists of 100 percent career Celtics. Bill Russell (1956-69), Bob Cousy (1950-63), John Havlicek (1962-78), and Larry Bird (1979-92) never dressed in colors other than green and white. And right behind them as hallowed Celtics lifers are the likes of Kevin McHale (1980-93), Tom Heinsohn (1956-65), and Sam Jones (1957-69), Hall of Famers all. (OK, Cousy did activate himself for those seven foolish games while coaching the 1969-70 Cincinnati Royals. But it’s more like a bad dream.)


Ted Williams (1939-60) tops the Red Sox list, of course. But Carl Yastrzemski (1961-83) wins the longevity prize in these here parts. Jim Rice (1974-89) never left town, either. After that there is something of a dropoff in stature, although Bobby Doerr (1937-51) is a Hall of Famer and many think Dominic DiMaggio (1940-53) should be.


While we’re on the subject, I want to pay homage to one of my all-time favorite Red Sox players to watch and/or cover. Bob Stanley (1977-89) threw every one of his 1,707 big league innings in a Red Sox uniform. We now know that Mookie Betts will not be added to this list, but we’ll leave that one alone today.

Who does and who doesn’t become a team lifer is an interesting topic. Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Jerry Rice were not. Drew Brees feels like one, but he, like Favre, arrived at the city where he made his reputation in a trade to begin with. So, if Brady does indeed flee he will join a pretty distinguished list. But if he remains here he will join Otto Graham (Cleveland, 1946-55), Terry Bradshaw (Pittsburgh, 1970-83), John Elway (Denver, 1983-98), and Troy Aikman (Dallas, 1989-2000) as A-list QBs who barked out signals for one club only.

Some people are completely and utterly associated with one city. Maurice “Rocket” Richard was practically the embodiment of Montreal from 1942-60. Stan Musial (1941-63) was the de facto Mr. St. Louis till the day he died. You think Walter Payton, you think Chicago. Same with Gale Sayers. Alabama-born Bart Starr was Green Bay from 1956-71 and until the day he died. Go ahead. Think of either Joe DiMaggio (1936-51) or Mickey Mantle (1951-68) in any other uniform than the one in pinstripes. Bob Feller (1936-56) will forever represent Cleveland. I think we can likewise place Derek Jeter (1995-2014) on this list. Hey, and Al Kaline (1953-74) sure means Detroit to me.


Derek Jeter played 20 seasons with the Yankees and hit a walk-off single in his final game at Yankee Stadium.Julie Jacobson/AP/Associated Press

What’s actually far more interesting is the roster of true greats who did not play exclusively for the team you most remember associated with them.

Willie Mays (1951-73) did not retire as a Giant. Sadly, he is often as remembered for his embarrassing stumble as a Met in the 1973 World Series as for his legendary Series catch off Vic Wertz 19 years earlier. Gordie Howe (1946-isn’t he still playing?) did not retire as a Red Wing. Hank Aaron (1954-76) did not retire as a Brave. Ty Cobb (1905-28) did not retire as a Tiger. Bobby Hull (1957-80) did not retire as a Black Hawk. One that still grates me: Michael Jordan (1984-2003) did not retire as a Bull. Yes, he averaged over 20 each year, but the world could have done without those two somewhat superfluous years in Washington.

The list of NBA greats who did not enjoy permanent employment with just one franchise includes many pretty much at the top of the food chain. Ready? Wilt Chamberlain (1959-73), Oscar Robertson (1960-74), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-89), Moses Malone (1974-95), Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-2002), Patrick Ewing (1985-2002), Elvin Hayes (1968-84), and, of course, Kevin Garnett (1995-2016), Paul Pierce (1999-2017), and Ray Allen (1996-2014). Now add contemporaries Dwyane Wade (2003-19), LeBron James (2003-), and Kevin Durant (2007-).


Claiming exclusive NBA franchise status are such non-Celtics luminaries as George Mikan (1948-56), Bob Pettit (1954-65), Elgin Baylor (1958-71), Jerry West (1960-74), Wes Unseld (1968-81), David Robinson (1989-2003), Tim Duncan (1997-2016), and Dirk Nowitzki (1999-2019).

And Kobe Bryant (1996-2016).

With some greats, it was never an issue. Pretty much the anti-lifer was Rickey Henderson. He perambulated from the A’s to the Yankees to the A’s to the Blue Jays to the A’s to the Padres to the Angels to the A’s to the Mets to the Mariners to the Padres to — wait! the Red Sox — to the Dodgers in a Cooperstown-bound journey that began in 1979 and ended in 2003.

You want more baseball lifers? Try Whitey Ford (Yankees, 1950-67), Sandy Koufax (Dodgers, 1955-66), George Brett (Royals, 1973-93), Brooks Robinson (Orioles, 1955-77), Cal Ripken Jr. (Orioles, 1981-2001), and Robin Yount (Brewers, 1974-93).

Guess who isn’t? Yogi Berra, believe it or not. He played four foolish games for the 1965 Mets, where he had signed on as a coach after being fired as Yankees manager after losing the ’64 Series to the Cardinals.

Tom Brady should retire as a New England Patriot. He should be careful what he wishes for. Don’t you agree?

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.