There are few teams in sports synonymous in the inner-circle context of greatest to ever do it in their respective sport. With MLB, it’s the vaunted Murderer’s Row New York Yankeesled by Lou Gehrig, that have reached mythos within the game. In the NHL, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier re-defined skaters in Edmonton. Jerry Reinsdorf and Phil Jackson’s ’96 Bulls became the quintessential team in basketball, at the height of the Air Jordan phenomenon.
In football, that team was originally the San Francisco 49ers. When Tom Brady entered the league in 2000, wide receiver Jerry Rice had solidified his status as the game’s premiere player in his final season in San Francisco. Rice was the cornerstone of football’s most recent dynasty, the constant in an equation that replaced Joe Montana with Steve Young and continued to result in Super Bowl victories. Rice and the quarterbacks weren’t the only Hall of Famer’s on those 49ers teams from that won championships in the 1980s and 1990s, but Rice is widely considered to be the most dynamic offensive player in NFL history. Rice accumulated nearly 23,000 yards in his career, retiring with mind-boggling numbers in addition to being the face of what was widely regarded as the NFL’s greatest team.
Brady grew up less than 30 miles south of the San Francisco metropolitan area, going to games at Candlestick to see Rice, Montana, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley and a myriad of Hall of Famers assembled by head coach Bill Walsh for the 49ers’ dynasty. Now, nearly 30 years after the 49ers won their final championship in the 1994 season, Brady has announced his retirement from the National Football League as the undisputed greatest to ever play the game, even better than the two Hall of Fame quarterbacks that he idolized and the biggest game-changer to ever play in the NFL. Brady and long-time tight-end Rob Gronkowski shattered the mark for most playoff touchdowns by a duo in NFL history set by Rice and Montana on his way to an incredible seven championships over 23 seasons. After Brady and Gronkowski won a championship in Tampa Bay, Rice told California-based talk radio station 95.7 The Game that “[Brady] can have the GOAT status. I never wanted it anyhow.”
As Tom Terrific calls it quits, he exits the game with an enduring—albeit complicated—legacy. As he surpassed Rice and the 49ers for greatest player and dynasty, respectively, the San Francisco native curated a collection of questionable controversies to coincide with the greatest dynasty that sports has ever seen, numerous NFL records and an underdog story that’s second to none.
There’s probably nothing new that The Jameus of a random publication can tell you about the greatness of TB12 or share about his story. However, my inherent self-awareness aside, that doesn’t mean the story isn’t worth sharing and celebrating. Brady’s story is already chronicled as one of determination, a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance. He wasn’t good enough to make an 0-8 Junior Varsity team in high school, much less have many scouts clamoring for him in college. Brady took over for Brian Griese at Michigan after the program had won a National Championship. He was seventh on the depth chart and not expecting to get a real look. In his final season in Ann Arbor, he split time with Drew Henson, a quarterback that briefly played in the NFL and in Major League Baseball. He wasn’t a hot commodity as an NFL prospect, being drafted 199th overall by the New England Patriots. Renown draft analyst Mel Kiper seemed to be the only person to like the pick in real-time, but even he questioned Brady’s mobility coming out of college. Yet, the Patriots were already designed for a player with Brady’s makeup, as Drew Bledsoe wasn’t exactly the poster-child for mobility. It was an offensive scheme designed to give the quarterback ample time to read and assess the field after dropping back, fitting Brady’s skills to a tee.
People may not have been confident in Brady’s chances in the NFL, but Brady himself was. Ahead of his rookie season, Brady walked into Foxborough and right up to Robert Kraft with a pizza under his arm, and went to introduce himself. When the Patriots owner informed him that he was aware of who he was, Brady simply responded by looking directly into his eyes and telling him that he “is the best decision [the Patriots] ever made.”
Brady wasn’t expecting to get any real opportunity in New England despite that, though, as Bledsoe became the NFL’s first quarterback to put pen to ink on a deal worth in excess of $100M. Later that year, Bledsoe went down with a hit from Mo Lewis and Shaun Ellis that caused hemothorax, causing him to be out of action for weeks. Brady entered and Brady never left.
With Bill Belichick on the hot seat with an underperforming Patriots squad, Brady not only turned Belichick’s career around, but the entire franchise. The Patriots posted 44 points against the Colts in Brady’s first NFL start and he never looked back. With the Chargers up ten in Week 5 with just a few minutes left in regulation, Brady forced overtime and eventually Adam Vinatieri sank a game-winning field goal. It was the first of a record 58 game-winning drives Tom has in his career and the first of many nailed down by his future Hall of Fame kicker. The Patriots went on a tear, winning eleven, including the last six consecutive games of the season, to sneak into the playoffs. As Brady’s arrived signaled the changing of the guard in the NFL, it’s only fitting that the first of the controversies to sift through arrives in his first big game.
As the snow fell harder than Brady in the draft, Brady and the Patriots trailed Super Bowl favorite Oakland Raiders as Jon Gruden’s ballclub got a crucial stop as Charles Woodson, Brady’s teammate in Michigan, recovered a fumble caused by Brady. The call was overturned on instant replay as Brady’s forward progress eliminated the possibility of a fumble, making it an incomplete pass. The game is now cited as the ‘tuck rule’ game, as the rule was implemented in 1999 and hadn’t been used in a spot of that nature yet. As Gruden didn’t protest, Al Davis severed their working relationship and Gruden went to Tampa, making Brady indirectly responsible for the Bucs winning the Super Bowl the next year. A clutch pass to David Patten and an incredible field goal by Vinatieri forced overtime, where the Patriots won 16-13. Ironically enough, to win his first championship, Brady had to upset a team whose top wide receiver was Jerry Rice.
The Patriots won their first Super Bowl despite a knee injury that Brady played through as the Patriots defense kept the Greatest Show on Turf at bay. Brady passed Joe Namath as the youngest Super Bowl winning quarterback ever, the Patriots traded Bledsoe in the offseason, and Brady was the unquestioned leader of the football team.
Brady and the Patriots won the Super Bowl in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Brady went from a very solid quarterback to the best the game had to offer. In his first All Pro season (fourth Pro Bowl overall), Brady had a scintillating 8.7 touchdown percentage, becoming only the second quarterback since Ken Stabler in 1976 to post a mark at least that high over the course of a season. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 50 touchdown passes as he and Randy Moss re-wrote the record book. He passed for 4800 yards, posted a stellar QBR of 87 and led the league with a very nice 69% completion rate. As Brady led the Patriots to the first undefeated regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins, Brady won the first of his three MVP awards. But as Brady put his best foot forward, the Patriots reputation took a nasty hit. In September of 2007, Jets coach Eric Mangini, who had been a member of Belichick’s staff previously, gave a tip to the NFL that the Patriots illegally recorded sideline conversations of their opposition to gain an unfair edge in competition. The controversy has since been labeled ‘Spygate,’ and Brady has been unfairly criticized for it in the fifteen years since.
The Patriots lost that Super Bowl to Eli Manning and the Giants, perhaps a game best remembered for David Tyree’s helmet catch, but it’s 2008 that put a damper on Brady’s run early on with the Patriots. His streak of 111 consecutive starts was snapped when a hit from Bernie Pollard tore Brady’s ACL and caused him to miss the entire 2008 campaign. It’s the only time the Patriots missed the playoffs from the 2003 to the 2019 season with Brady expected to be the starting quarterback. Despite that, Brady picked up where he left off in 2009 as he continued to lead the Patriots on their way to 17 AFC East crowns under TB12. He found Benjamin Watson in the final seconds of the season opener for a come-from-behind Tom Brady special and the Patriots were off for the races. Despite an October blizzard, Brady set a record in a game against the Titans for the most touchdowns thrown in a quarter in NFL history. Their 59-0 route of Tennessee is the largest margin of victory in NFL history. Despite playing through a broken finger and broken ribs, Brady posted one of his best seasons and was named the 2009 Comeback Player of the Year.
In 2010, Brady became the fastest quarterback to 100 wins in history while on the path to his second MVP. During the season, Brady led the league with 36 touchdowns, a 79.1 QBR, a mere 0.8 pick percentage and exactly 3,900 yards. In 2011, Brady made yet another Super Bowl, his first appearance since 2007, only to once again lose to an Eli Manning Giants team. In the divisional playoffs, he tied Steve Young, the same quarterback he used to watch in awe at Candlestick, with a record-six touchdown passes in a game against the Denver Broncos. But, personal achievements aside, his team still hadn’t won since the 2004 season.
It wasn’t until the 2014 season that the drought ended, marking a ten-year stretch for Brady and New England. Just as the dynasty seemed to have its book closed shut, another chapter was written, and it included perhaps the most infamous Super Bowl blunder ever. As the Seahawks were yards from a game-winning touchdown and Marshawn Lynch was poised to run it in, Seattle Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevel called for a Russell Wilson pass that ended up being picked off in the red zone. With that, Brady had his fourth ring, tying him with Terry Bradshaw and, like usual, one of his childhood heroes Joe Montana for most Super Bowl championships as a starting quarterback.
As Brady found himself celebrating championship glory once again, the celebration ended prematurely. Brady was suspended by the league for his role in Deflate Gate: a controversy where Belichick and the Patriots knowingly altered the ball in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts. While it’s noted that Brady didn’t have anything to do with the decision to doctor the balls, common sense dictated that Brady on some level had some semblance of knowledge as the quarterback touches the ball on every offensive snap. Funnily enough, one of my fondest memories of High School was a lesson from my Physics teacher on the physics behind Deflate Gate.
Yet, while not everybody loves Tom Brady, one thing everybody does love is a redemption arch. The very next season after the Seahawks disaster, Brady found himself in the Super Bowl again. Lady Gaga played the Super Bowl LI halftime show, which is only fitting seeing as Tom Brady would have Paparazzi all over him after the game. This time, Brady and the Patriots played the Falcons. The Patriots were down 28-3 in the third quarter. Staring defeat in the eyes, Brady led the Patriots to the largest comeback win in Super Bowl history with New England scoring nineteen unanswered in the fourth. James White scored the game-winning touchdown and because of that, there’s a movie currently in theatres about Brady’s game starring Jane Fonda. Brady became the oldest player to win Super Bowl MVP, something he hadn’t even done for the last time in his career.
Brady led the Patriots to another Super Bowl, granted a defensive-driven game in his second to last year in New England. As his Patriots contract came to a close, Brady decided he wasn’t going to re-sign and left for Tampa Bay.
In his first year under a Bruce Arians offense, an older Brady saw an offensive rejuvenation. Brady threw for 40 touchdowns, his highest total since 2007. He threw for more yards than every season since his 2017 MVP campaign and posted a 66 QBR in his first season in Tampa. The Bucs balled out in the playoffs as a wild card team, highlighted by an exhilarating catch by Scotty Miller against the Packers.
The Bucs defeated the Chiefs in a stunning yet dominant performance in January of 2021. The Bucs won 31-9 in a game where Brady became the first quarterback to throw for at least 80% passing in a Super Bowl half. It was the Bucs first championship since the 2002 season. He’s the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl and he retires with more championships than every single NFL franchise.
After the 2021 season, he announced his NFL retirement on February 1st, but unretired ahead of his last year, presenting a 2022 February 1st retirement to ironically present a Groundhog’s Day situation. His return fell flat as he could never get on the same page with WR1 Mike Evans, the Bucs could never get inspired under the leadership of Todd Bowles and his tumultuous home life. The Bucs finished under .500 and it’s the first time a Tom Brady team finished below that threshold, yet he still found his way to win a division championship in a weak NFC South. Now, Brady retires with $35M in dead money on his deal. As Tristan Wirfs is due an extension and players such as Sean Bunting and Lavonte David hit free agency, Tampa has a lot of cap space conundrums. But Tom Brady brought a championship to Tampa and did so in their home stadium, winning it at Raymond James. For the Bucs, it was all worth it. Furthermore, for the Patriots, it’s the best decision the team has ever made.
Tom Brady retires with 89,290 passing yards-an NFL record. He has three seasons with at least 40 touchdowns-an NFL record. He once had a stretch of 300 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in three consecutive games-an NFL record. He has 640 touchdown passes-an NFL record.
He’s the oldest player to have been named NFL MVP. He’s retiring the all-time leader in many categories for two clubs. He has more championships than Mike and Carol Brady have children and the Eric Brady Days of Our Lives Character had actors. He’s the top of every list ranking the NFL’s best.
Yet, he’ll be remembered for the Tuck Rule. He’ll be remembered for Spy Gate. He’ll be remembered for Deflate Gate. Most importantly: he’ll be remembered for being the ultimate competitor that did anything to win and did those things very well. He wasn’t the most gifted and he wasn’t supposed to make it to the NFL, but he’s leaving behind a legacy second-to-none because people like Tom Brady win and do so because they have grit, perseverance and a sixth sense in how they play the game. Because of Tom Brady, both the city of Boston and the city of Tampa have deeper roots in the game of football than they did before him. He’s beloved because when you watch Tom Brady every Sunday you understand what you’re witnessing and that’s greatness that comes across once in a generation, or, really, once in a dynasty.
At the end, Tom Brady and the Patriots are the team synonymous with the NFL. Brady has been the face of the league for over two decades, with an entire generation not even knowing what the game looked like before he rose to prominence. Here’s to a great career, Tom. The undisputed greatest of all-time.