TAMPA, Fla. — There was a subtle tip of the cap on Sunday — or maybe it was an adjustment, depending on who you ask — then Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady put his head down and walked off into the corner of the south zone. of Raymond James Stadium, possibly for the last time in his 22-season NFL career, after falling in the NFC Divisional Round.
Is this how it ends for the 44-year-old signalman who built perhaps the greatest career in professional sports, 20 of them with coach Bill Belichick to orchestrate the Nova Scotia Patriots dynasty? England, and the latter two elevating the Buccaneers from obscurity to NFL prominence? Was it Brady’s exit, without a wave to the fans, without a tearful goodbye, just a man trailing behind his offensive coordinator to the sequel?
Eleven months ago, as confetti rained down on Ray James – the first time an NFL team had won a Super Bowl on home soil – and moments after his sons Jack and Benjamin and daughter Vivian rushed into his arms , his wife Gisele Bundchen whispered in his ear, “What more do you have to prove? »
And despite some pleas from his teammates, Shaq Barrett jokingly said last week, “Don’t hang up on them, Tom. Dude, don’t” – Bundchen is right. Brady has literally nothing left to prove as a player, with seven championships – one more than Michael Jordan’s six with the Chicago Bulls – and an encyclopedic number of records to his credit.
It holds the NFL record for most Super Bowl wins – more than any franchise in NFL history – career wins (243), playoff wins (35), completions (7,263 ), career passing yards (84,529) and career passing touchdowns (624). ). His 485 completions this year were an NFL record in a single season. His 13,049 career postseason passing yards are also nearly double the next closest player (Peyton Manning, 7,339).
But is this how it will come out?
Brady said on his “Let’s go!” podcast Monday, “It’s not always what I want – it’s what we want as a family.”
He said he didn’t need a farewell tour of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who likely ended his career in the AFC wildcard round. One could argue about Brady’s emotional return to Foxborough, Massachusetts in Week 4 and his Man in the Arena series on ESPN+ – which lifted the curtain and summed up his stellar career – were his farewells.
Brady said he didn’t need a win to walk away “proud and satisfied”.
Yes, steel-eyed Brady, who launches Microsoft Surface and berates officials, who hasn’t shaken hands with quarterback Nick Foles twice and can barely make it through two minutes of post-game availability following a loss, said he would be fine ending his career this way. Think about it.
It shows how little we know about the man, that while football and winning are seemingly everything to him, they are not the alone thing.
For a loss as heartbreaking as last week’s division game, Brady was thrilled to be able to enjoy Monday morning waffles with his kids because he didn’t park in the parking lot of the team’s AdventHealth training center headquarters before the game. ‘dawn. You could hear it when a sweet little voice happily mumbled “Hello”, on the Monday night podcast – from her 9-year-old daughter – which showed her family was thrilled to be reunited with her dad.
As lavishly as these NFL megastars live, they aren’t immune to the challenges other families often face, as their time together is compartmentalized into a six-month offseason.
“She deserves what she needs from me as a husband, and my kids deserve what they need from me as a father,” Brady said of Bundchen, a budding model and philanthropist, who, according to he has turned down professional opportunities over the past decade. in addition to taking care of their families.
Maybe Brady wants to be there to see 14-year-old Jack, who lives with his mother, Bridget Moynihan, in New York City, on leave for his first day of high school. Maybe he wants to go fishing or sketching with 12-year-old Benny, or spend more time talking about unicorns and ponies with Vivi and helping her achieve her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
Brady revealed to Howard Stern that he was not keeping up his end of the bargain as a husband and that Bundchen had threatened a divorce. The two then entered into marriage counseling.
Brady said he always kept a letter she wrote to him in his drawer, keeping him to her priorities. He also revealed on his podcast how hard it is for Bundchen to watch him take hits — Brady’s bloody lip during the Rams playoff game probably didn’t help.
The reality is that Brady no longer needs the NFL to define him professionally – he has a global health and wellness brand in TB12, a cross-platform production company called 199 Productions and now a Brady apparel brand. who hopes to one day rival Jordan.
But does the NFL need Brady? If last Sunday’s division games showed us anything, it’s that Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills are more than ready to carry the torch at quarterback. -back. Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers could also make it happen.
However, none of these players – except for Mahomes – have had the chance to touch a Lombardi trophy, or dealt with anything close to the perpetual limelight in which Brady has existed for two decades. . None of these players are global icons, and may never be, because you could argue that Brady is the NFL’s first and only, in a sport that aspires to do what football and NBA have done to cultivate international fan bases.
But in the NFC, the closet would be visibly empty if the Green Bay Packers’ Brady and Aaron Rodgers retired. If we’re looking for veterans, then Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams fits the bill — especially if he leads them to the Super Bowl with a win over the San Francisco 49ers this weekend.
Maybe Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals – both human freak and Jedi master – although he and coach Kliff Kingsbury were a disappointment. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson last won a Super Bowl in 2013, and Dallas Cowboys Dak Prescott is 1-3 in four career playoff games.
Those players are also a far cry from breaking any of the records that Brady and former Saints quarterback Drew Brees have broken over the past two years.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me – it’s just a higher level,” Bucs left guard Ali Marpet said of Brady’s season. “Every week, it’s like they announce a record, and it’s usually his record that [he] broken at the stadium. It’s like, ‘Oh, Tom broke another record.’ It’s just amazing.
There’s no denying that things would change drastically in Tampa Bay too, as quickly as they did when Brady arrived and the city seemingly became the center of the NFL universe overnight. He is contracted until 2022 on a two-year deal worth $50 million. If he leaves, the Bucs will recoup $16 million of his signing bonus.
But that creates a problem as the Bucs don’t have a successor in the pipeline, with Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin and Kyle Trask remaining on the roster. Trask, who the Bucs selected in the second round of last year’s draft in Florida, took a redshirt year and was inactive in every game. He is far from ready; it got few representatives last year. The Arians said they would look for free agents if that were the case.
Plus, there’s the domino effect of players like tight end Rob Gronkowski also potentially leaving, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich realistically leaving for a head coaching job. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles could also leave.
Arians said on Monday there was a “good chance” he would return to playmaking duties if Leftwich left.
Overall, they would have a void without Brady in the NFL. He was Cinderella’s story – the sixth-round draft pick turned real-life superhero – even when scandals like Spygate and Deflategate threatened to tarnish his image and career as the wins continued to pile up.
And somehow he emerged from the dark and dreary relics of Foxborough and the shadow of Belichick to become this likable, seemingly normal guy with nerdy dad jokes who, like all of us, showed that he was not immune to bouts of forgetfulness (obviously ranked fourth nationally television is a bit different from “Honey, where are my keys?” or the effects of the day drinking in the heat from Florida.
Once upon a time there was an NFL without Brady, without Manning and without Brees. But they really helped usher in a generation of some of the best quarterback games we’ve ever seen and could ever see, and coupled with a series of rule changes, they helped make it the current league focused on QBs. Brady happens to be the last one standing, and his goodbye would really close a chapter on this whole generation.