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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Tom Brady: The story with many perspectives

The unbelievable journey of the 6th round quarterback has come to an end after 22 years — forever changing football in the process

By OMAR NAVARRO — sports@theaggie.org

By now, the story has been told countless times. But this story has been the story of the NFL for the last 22 years.

“Poor build, skinny, lacks great physical stature and strength, and gets knocked down easily,” a scouting report of a quarterback’s combine performance after the 2000 NFL Draft reads.

How did this unimpressive, lightly regarded quarterback prospect go from 6th round pick and 4th string quarterback of the New England Patriots to the greatest quarterback of all time? The career of Tom Brady never seizes to amaze not only football fans but fans across all sports.

After 22 seasons in the NFL, Brady officially announced his retirement from football. A ride that seemed endless, came to an end in a decision that was somewhat unexpected. 

“This is difficult for me to write, but here it goes: I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore. I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention,” Brady said in his Instagram announcement. “I’ve done a lot of reflecting the past week and have asked myself difficult questions. And I am so proud of what we have achieved. My teammates, coaches, fellow competitors, and fans deserve 100% of me, but right now, it’s best I leave the field of play to the next generation of dedicated and committed athletes.”

A 15x Pro-Bowler, 3x MVP, the player with the most touchdown passes, regular and postseason wins, passing yards, Super Bowl appearances and most importantly, the most Super Bowls (7) in NFL history, the accolades throughout Brady’s career can stretch across multiple pages. He single-handedly rewrote the NFL record book in 22 years — while also becoming the NFL’s all-time biggest villain.

Sports thrive the most when there is a “bad guy” or a villain. A person everyone loves to hate. You either love him and his team or you hate them and hope they lose. It happens to every great player across all sports but for some reason, this felt different. For Brady, his time, controversy and winning with the Patriots produced one of the greatest, if not the greatest, evil empire in sports. Just like in movies, almost everyone wants to see the bad guy lose. The problem with that is, in this situation, it seemed like the villain always won. 

“What do we do about the haters? We love ‘em,” Brady said prior to Super Bowl LIII. “We love ‘em back. Because we don’t hate back.”

Whether it was Brady and his dynasty Patriots beating basically everyone in front of them or the cheating scandals they were involved in (and yes those will never be forgotten), everyone who disliked Brady felt they had a reason to do so. 

The hate didn’t stay in New England though, it just followed him to Tampa Bay as he joined the Buccaneers. According to a social media study done by BetOnline in 2021, Brady was the most disliked player in the NFL in 36 of the 50 states in the country.

Throughout his career, Brady continued to break through even when he wasn’t supposed to. Even being drafted in the 6th round, he had little to no expectations on his NFL career. In his rookie season, the late-round pick made his way up to #2 on the depth chart behind Patriots’ starting quarterback at the time, Drew Bledsoe. In Brady’s second year, a hit occurred that changed the NFL as we know it. While scrambling for a first down, Bledsoe was hit hard by New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis and suffered a lung injury that would keep him out a month. That meant the second-year QB would take the reins — and he never looked back. 

Brady and the Patriots went 11-3 the rest of the regular season after he took over and rode it all the way to the Super Bowl (after the infamous “Tuck Rule” game), where they were 14-point underdogs to a high powered and all time offense of the St. Louis Rams. After over 58 minutes of gameplay, it came down to one drive. Tied at 17, and despite not having impressive offensive numbers, Brady led a game-winning field goal drive with 1:30 left in the game — the start of something we would see for years on end. 

Brady and the Patriots would miss the playoffs the following year after their Super Bowl win but come back to win two straight, back to back, in 2003 and 2004 — the last team to ever do that. The Patriots would not see the Super Bowl again until the 2007 season, where Brady won his first MVP; they went a perfect 16-0 in the regular season and looked to cement themselves as the only team to never lose a game in a 16 game season. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, though, had other ideas. After a circus catch labeled the “Helmet Catch” extended the game for the Giants, Manning led a touchdown drive to bury the Patriots, end the dream of a perfect season and deny Brady a perfect Super Bowl record. 

In 2008, Brady suffered a season-ending ACL injury that almost entirely bashed New England’s Super Bowl hopes. Although they went 11-5, they missed the playoffs entirely. His return in 2009 saw him throw for almost 4400 yards and 28 touchdowns — but suffer a first round playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. In 2010, Brady won his second MVP award, throwing 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions and leading the Patriots to the #1 seed in the AFC. But again, Brady would go on to lose the first playoff game against the New York Jets.

2011 saw another dominant season and a familiar foe in the Super Bowl — Eli Manning and the Giants. Not only was the result similar, the way it happened was identical as Manning did it to them again. After 2012 and 2013 ended with no Super Bowl once again and Brady now 36, everyone thought we might never see him win another again. Like he always did, he broke through.

In one of the most criticized play calls in NFL history, the Seahawks decided to throw the ball near the goal line with 26 seconds left. This moment in history gave Brady his 4th Super Bowl — and the floodgates opened. He would go on to win his 5th in 2016 — with one of the greatest comebacks in sports history that saw his team be down by a score of 28-3 — and his 6th in 2018 with another MVP sandwiched in 2017. He now had more Super Bowl titles than all but one team. 

His 20-year tenure came to an end in 2020, as the quarterback signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — a franchise that holds the worst winning percentage in NFL history. That didn’t matter, as he won a record-breaking 7th Super Bowl with Tampa Bay, and as a player held more titles than any other team in the NFL. In 2021, what would be his last year, he put up another MVP-caliber season at age 44, but fell in what would be the final game of his career to the Los Angeles Rams. He always talked about playing until age 45, but he ended it one year short. 

“I had an equipment manager in college — he had been at Michigan for 25 years or so — he’s got so many Big Ten rings, he doesn’t have enough fingers for all the rings he’s got,” Brady said in a voiceover of a video prior to the 2015 season. “He said, ‘You know what, Tom? You know what my favorite ring is?’ I said, ‘Which one’s that?’ He goes, ‘The next one.’ And that’s what I think: ‘The next one.'”

Brady always looked toward the next one. It’s what drove him to play 22 years in a brutal sport like football and what gave him the motivation to continue to get better and put in the time and work into the age of 44. 

The thing is, this wasn’t supposed to happen. The NFL is set up in a way where parity is the standard and given the violent nature of the sport, almost no one will be physically capable of staying long enough while playing at a high level. Even if they were, the little things that have to break a team’s way every year are not guaranteed. He broke all of that. Brady dominated a sport and league that isn’t supposed to be like that. He changed football forever. 

For the first time since 2000, the NFL will start a season without Brady on a roster. Teams no longer have to worry about the guy wearing #12 on the other side or have to worry about having to get through him to compete for a Super Bowl. It is the beginning of a new era. 

The league is still in great shape. There are a multitude of young quarterbacks around the league that will continue to push the NFL forward. But, the most intriguing part of Brady’s retirement is that he went out with all of us still thinking he could still play. Brady didn’t go out on a decline, he went out still playing at an MVP level at age 44. We have never and maybe will never see that again. That is only one of the many things that we took for granted throughout his illustrious career. We will likely never see a Tom Brady ever again. Arguably the NFL’s greatest quarterback of all time — and the greatest villain of all time.

It’s hard to imagine football without Brady. Those who loved him or most who hated him now sit back and realize what they just witnessed. This type of greatness is not something that comes around often — it’s rare. 

In hindsight, getting to 10 Super Bowls and winning seven is absurd, but it happened. From the start to the finish, it’s been a marvelous ride no matter what side you were on. Even though in the future we and other generations might look back at what happened and be in awe, we’re all just lucky to have experienced it in real time. From his rise to becoming a starter, the thrilling wins and losses to the spectacular individual performances, that’s the story of his career — unbelievable. 

“When you talk to all these people, you realize, ‘Now I know why this guy’s done what he’s done.’ You can see why. There’s a competitiveness, there’s a spirit about them,” Brady said in a 2002 interview that is now a part of history following his first Super Bowl win. “John Elway makes people feel like that. And he made his teammates feel like that, and his coaches. Everyone else believed in him, and everyone else was like, ‘Hey man, if I’m on your side, we’re gonna win.’ When you’re around people like that, you just kind of feel like, you know, man, I’m sitting next to the man.”

“I got a lot of years to catch up to those guys,” he said.

That, you did, Tom Brady. That, you did.

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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