Discover more from The Sports Column
HIS LIFE IN DISARRAY, TOM BRADY SEEMS READY FOR RETIREMENT — NOW
Prioritizing Kraft’s wedding over his team, the G.O.A.T. lacks the leadership and dedication that have defined him, prompting questions about his marital woes and continuing commitment to football
He should have retired in the limousine. Just before he arrived — solo — at the Hall des Lumieres in lower Manhattan, Tom Brady could have saved his legacy from tarnish by contacting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers then and there, saying he no longer can play football because his head is elsewhere. That way, he could have strolled inside at peace, smiling all the way in a black suit, his white shirt unbuttoned to the chest as one would expect from a middle-aged, maritally shaken man attending a wedding.
But Brady was overly occupied by the surprise nuptials of his FORMER boss, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, to recover his lost common sense. The man who has defined his Greatest Of All Time pedigree as a master of leadership and preparation, a paragon of absolute commitment, now was prioritizing a Friday night party in New York over his CURRENT team’s impending game in Pittsburgh. To make the two-day getaway work, he had to miss the Bucs’ walk-through practice and meetings on Saturday morning in Florida, then charter a private jet to western Pennsylvania before rejoining his teammates and coaches at the hotel.
Not surprisingly, after two circuitous flights in less than 24 hours, Brady looked disconnected from the offense in three early red-zone failures Sunday. The defense and special teams struggled in lockstep, and the Bucs played like garbage in a 20-18 loss to a reeling, battered team without three starting defensive backs. The G.O.A.T. was outplayed by career stumblebum Mitch Trubisky, who hadn’t been partying in another city, allowing him to replace injured Kenny Pickett and rally the Steelers. Making matters worse: Brady lit into members of his makeshift offensive line, taking out his frustrations on human beings instead of the sideline tablets he’d hurled in recent weeks.
“You’re so much better than the way you’re f—ing playing!” he screamed in a rant audible on the Fox broadcast, his future TV employers doing him no favors as they prepare to pay him $375 million upon retirement.
And what were those linemen and other teammates possibly muttering under their breath about Brady? The fodder was plentiful. In one photo from the wedding, who had more facial work, Jon Bon Jovi or Brady? Did another esteemed guest, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, inform Brady that the eight-year anniversary of Deflategate is approaching? How nice to hang with ancient Patriots teammates such as Vince Wilfork, Randy Moss and Drew Bledsoe when he could have been with his present-day teammates? Did Kraft, 81, really wear RKK-monogrammed Air Force sneakers with his midnight-blue velvet Armani dinner jacket as he danced with his new wife, 47-year-old doctor Dana Blumberg? When Elton John crooned, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” was he aiming the lyrics at Brady?
Perhaps it’s time to retire today. If the Brady Machine can be so easily disrupted by his failing marriage — and if reports are true he dearly wants to save his union with Gisele Bundchen — why would he want to continue a season that won’t end well? Should he quit football and patch up things at home for the sake of their kids? If Gisele is retaining divorce attorneys because she’s furious that his promised retirement lasted only 40 days, he should at least consider saving his marriage and forget about saving the Buccaneers. He already has gifted them one championship. They won’t be playing in another Super Bowl, with or without him, even out of a shoddy and navigable NFC.
Right now, Tom Brady looks like a 45-year-old man who stayed one year too long and has little interest in his professed labor of love. For the Bucs to wake up and even think about challenging the front-running Philadelphia Eagles, they’ll need their legendary quarterback to show he cares. At the moment, he is making a mockery of the team’s front office and coach Todd Bowles, whose unwavering support appears to be waning. Was he referring to Brady when he said key team members are resting on the laurels of their title, which happened 20 months ago during the pandemic peak?
“I think guys that are living off the Super Bowl are living in a fantasy land,” said Bowles, who replaced Bruce Arians last offseason. “You’ve got to get your hands dirty and go to work like everybody else. We’ve been working hard, but we’ve got to work harder because nobody’s going to give us anything or feel sorry. So we have to go back as coaches, as players, and the time for talking is over. You’ve either got to put up or shut up.”
This is the same Bowles who already allows Brady, with the blessing of owner Joel Glazer and general manager Jason Licht, to miss practice if he prefers on certain Wednesdays … after excusing his 11-day hiatus from training camp, necessary so he could take a pre-scheduled trip with Gisele and the kids to the Bahamas. At the time, I was compelled to give Brady whatever space he needed, given his accomplishments and renowned dedication. So far this season, he is neither accomplished nor dedicated. It was fair to ask Bowles, after a speech that didn’t cite names, about the team time that Brady missed Saturday.
“Didn’t miss anything,” the coach said.
Did Brady’s absence impact the team’s play? “Absolutely not,” he said.
Stop babying him. Stop issuing passive-aggressive quotes. Make Brady accountable to his teammates and the organization or suggest he retire. The line is fine in a locker room between standard preferential treatment and a perilous double standard. Veteran linebacker Lavonte David seemed to be saying just that when he commented, “Leaders gotta lead.”
No statistic underscores Brady’s decline more than inefficiency inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Last season, the Bucs were the NFL’s second-best red-zone offense, with a touchdown conversion rate of 66 percent. This season, after the Pittsburgh screwups, they’ve dropped to 9 TDs in 18 tries. A week earlier, Brady had complained about “a lot of bad football” in the league. Now he’s contributing to it.
There is no excuse for Brady’s latest side trip. Would such a folly even enter the brainstream of Peyton Manning? Hell, Bill Belichick — involved in his own divorce proceedings with Brady 2 1/2 years before Gisele — didn’t attend the wedding even as he still draws paychecks from Kraft. He was too busy preparing rookie Bailey Zappe for his second straight successful start, a 38-15 victory in Cleveland that leaves the Patriots at 3-3 — same record as the Bucs. While Zappe was throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns for a 118.4 passer rating, Brady was managing just one scoring pass and 243 yards with an 87.8 rating. Much as Kraft enjoyed Brady’s presence at the bash, he enjoyed the victory much more.
“We didn’t earn it. We didn’t earn the win,” Brady said afterward. “It’s a game of earning it, and it’s a game of playing well and performing well. And we’re just not doing a good job of that. I don’t think we’ve done it for six weeks. I think we’re all playing less than what we’re capable of, and we’ve all got to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out why.”
It’s safe to assume the league’s new quarterbacking elite — Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson — weren’t flying privately around the country in the hours preceding their Sunday games. They are locked in, with MVP favorite Allen poised to lead the Buffalo Bills to a possible Super Bowl showdown against Hurts and the Eagles. You never want to count out Brady, but time is blurring past him. His final NFL game will be upon us before we know it. Might Fox give him a mic on the Super Bowl studio set in Arizona?
He isn’t alone in old-man quarterbacking hell. Aaron Rodgers said long ago that he won’t play too far into his 40s, and it’s a good thing. Not even ayahuasca can help him now. He’s looking every day of his 38 years and 10 months in an unsightly season when the 3-3 Green Bay Packers, hearing unthinkable boos at Lambeau Field, are averaging only 17.8 points a game. They’ve never scored fewer in a six-game span with Rodgers as their starting QB. Without beloved target Davante Adams, who signed with Las Vegas and finds himself in a legal quagmire after shoving a credentialed photographer, Rodgers has no relationship with ball-dropping receivers and is absorbing hits from defenses like never before.
Naturally, true to his holier-than-thou arrogance, Rodgers says he only needs to improve his performance “probably a little tick.” His finger seems to have landed on coach Matt LaFleur and his longtime nemesis, general manager Brian Gutekunst, after a stunning 27-10 home loss to the reborn New York Jets.
Of LaFleur, Rodgers said: “I'm not attacking anything. I just think that based on how we've played the last two weeks, I think it's going to be in our best interests to simplify things for everybody — for the line, for the backs, for the receivers. Just simplify some things, and maybe that'll help us get back on track. … Nobody works harder than Matt on the plan each week, and nobody comes with better ideas than him and his staff. But if it's not working, it's not because those guys aren't grinding. It's because we're not executing. If you think we have the right players, then we need to simplify things. If you don't, then that's a whole other conversation.”
Acquiring players is the responsibility of Gutekunst. Rodgers is urging him to act quickly. Odell Beckham Jr.? Or will the Los Angeles Rams win a bidding war? “There's the possibility, if certain guys emerge, of us having a chance to make a run,” Rodgers said. “I know Brian believes the same thing. But if there's an opportunity, I would expect that Brian will be in the mix.”
And the players? They’d better respond to losing with appropriate fire. After a loss to the also-reborn New York Giants in London, Rodgers took exception about certain laissez-faire attitudes. “It's going to be interesting to see how we all respond to this tomorrow and this week," he said. "I feel like we had a great week of practice, so this performance today was surprising. We've got to watch our language and the kind of energy we're manifesting, but I'm going to be steady with the guys and I expect our leadership to do the same.”
Who has the better chance of a bounceback? History suggests Brady. Recency suggests Rodgers, who did win league MVP awards the last two seasons. But for once, after all his controversies involving vaccines and romantic partners, Rodgers seems to be drama-free off the field. The same can’t be said for Brady, who wakes up and each day and wonders what Gisele might do next. Last week, she responded to a social-media offering from author and former Hindu monk Jay Shetty, who shared a quote about love and life: “You can’t be in a committed relationship with someone who is inconsistent with you. Read that again.” Shetty added, “Love is a daily effort. Some days it may come easier than others and that’s OK, but what should always stay consistent is the respect and admiration you have for your partner’s values and goals.”
Knowing the world is watching her every twitch, Gisele didn’t have to chime in. But, oh, she did, liking Shetty’s comment and adding a praying hands emoji. Days later, Brady was foolishly contributing to Page Six megacoverage of his life by attending a wedding amid crawling paparazzi.
Has he figured out yet that Page Six is an element of the New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who owns the network that agreed to pay him $375 million? Might Murdoch be sleaze-pushing him into retirement so Brady can join the booth sooner than later?
Sending a gift via the wedding registry would have been much simpler and smarter. Much safer, too, in salvaging what’s left of any happy ending.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.