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IF BRADY WANTS TO PLAY UNTIL HE'S 100, WHO ARE WE TO PROTEST?
To the shock of no one, the G.O.A.T.’s retirement lasted all of 40 days, and now that he has turned excellence in his mid-40s from a miracle to a norm, we should keep enjoying his preposterous ride
The world is a happier place, I suppose, with one fewer Mr. Mom moping around the house in his pajamas. If Tom Brady isn’t ready to push a grocery cart or learn how to bake chicken pot pie, who are we to force him? He has obliterated all previous assumptions that an NFL quarterback can’t excel in his mid-40s, and last we examined this biology-project-in-progress, he was leading the league with 5,316 passing yards and 43 touchdowns.
So, let Brady continue to defy the laws of age, health and science. His resistance to time and a ticking body clock is so preposterous — maybe the most delightfully confounding thing we’ve seen in sports — he has made us numb to it. In a sport where only Aaron Rodgers was deemed more valuable to his team in 2021, Old Man (Hillsborough) River is back in Tampa Bay for his 23rd NFL season, meaning he has spent more time in pro football than the rest of his years on Earth.
As one who spent an entire summer returning to the same parking lot on Chicago’s west side, where a 38-year-old Michael Jordan would leave a gym and explain why he still had a competitive “itch to scratch,’’ I feel no similar urge to talk Brady out of his impulse. Jordan had zero chance of heightening his Greatest Of All Time legacy with the nondescript Washington Wizards, who went 37-45 and missed the playoffs in each of two seasons in which his scoring average drooped to 20 points. In fact, I speak for all in wishing he’d preserved his famous final scene in Utah, the suspended flick of a wrist after shoving off Bryon Russell for his sixth championship in six NBA Finals.
Brady? He’s still the G.O.A.T. And if the Buccaneers have some salary-cap issues and won’t bring back the same roster that nearly rallied for a playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams, the eventual Super Bowl champions, they still have weapons to augment Brady’s right arm. They’ll still be dangerous because he’s still dangerous, showing no signs of slippage. Eight years ago, when asked about retirement, he told a Boston radio station, “When I suck, I’ll retire.’’
Will he suck in 2022? Doubt it. “It’s hard to explain this to people, but the commitment I make, in terms of keeping my body in shape and my nutrition right, should make me healthy,’’ Brady said in 2014. “I feel better today than when I was 25, and I know that’s hard for people to believe, but I do. I work at it. Basically, I work all offseason to prepare my body to not get hurt.”
Why retire, then? As long as Gisele isn’t calling a divorce attorney and his family supports his decision, why waste another productive season — or two, or dare we say three? — at the most important position in team sports? This is not Dan Marino staying too long. This is not Steve Young risking brain damage. This is not Brett Favre stumbling into a scandal. This is Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr., still of sound mind and sturdy body, remaining at his peak performance level and having fun in the process, insisting he has “unfinished business. LFG.’’
You know what the three letters mean.
How much business is left to finish, I’m not sure. With seven Super Bowl titles, he is the only player to win more than five and likely will finish with more than the coach who chased him out of New England, Bill Belichick. No one has thrown for more yardage (84,520) and TDs (624). He is the ultimate winner: 243-73 in the regular season, 35-12 in the postseason. Along with Rodgers, who struggles in the playoffs, and Patrick Mahomes, who lately has struggled in the playoffs, and the emerging Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, Brady belongs in any gold-standard quarterbacking conversation.
He knows it, too. Life is much too short to deny a man his passion and professional fulfillment, regardless of the date on his driver’s license. There is nothing for Brady to lose except his final game, and such failure wouldn’t matter anyway, as his legacy is too massive to be dented.
“These past two months I've realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” Brady wrote on social media, confirming tea-leaves hints of recent weeks. "That time will come. But it's not now. I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I'm coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa.”
His head coach, Bruce Arians, understands. “Tom Brady loves to play football as much as anyone I have ever been around,” he said. “As Tom said, his place right now is on the football field.”
“Tom,’’ said general manager Jason Licht, “is the greatest quarterback of all time who is still playing at an elite level. With this decision now made, we will continue to move forward with our offseason plans to reload this roster for another championship run."
In no other walk of life is retirement demanded summarily before one’s 55th birthday. Just because Brady has extended his precious prime, as LeBron James is doing in basketball, doesn’t mean he should leave at a traditional juncture. It’s his life, his career. And as long as he doesn’t expose his head or knee to a devastating hit — always possible but a fate he has avoided most of his career — there is no downside to Year 23.
This is a league where Rodgers still won’t be a happy man, wary of Green Bay management despite his new $200 million contract agreement, until the Packers sign his favorite receiver, Davante Adams — and they’re still far apart on a deal. This is a league where Russell Wilson, 12 years younger than Brady, has been hit so hard and so often that you wonder how many years he has left in Denver. This is a league where the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are among teams bidding big on Deshaun Watson, who still faces 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault or harassment and faces a league suspension. This is a league where Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, former Heisman Trophy winners at Oklahoma, think they’re better than they actually are.
This is a league with too many untrustworthy quarterbacks, including Jimmy Garoppolo, who is preventing the San Francisco 49ers from winning their own Super Bowl. He’s the same Jimmy G who once was the reason Belichick wanted to move on from Tom Brady.
That was six years ago.
Jay Mariotti, called “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.