I wasn’t stunned when Tom Brady officially announced his retirement from the NFL after 22 seasons, seven Super Bowl titles and with ownership of every meaningful individual passing record known to football fans the world over.
The man is 44-years-old, after all. He’s rich beyond contemplation -- not only did he have his considerable salary, endorsements and investments, his model wife, Gisele Bundchen, piled on her own massive portfolio over the course of time. Between the two of them they probably earned enough to purchase an island somewhere and provide themselves all the privacy they would desire. I’m not saying they did, just that they could. People retire every day. Some, most (?) choose to walk away rather than being handed their walking papers. Only a token few NFL players are good enough to decide when, where and how to leave the game. The same goes for exits from all major professional sports. Usually when it’s the end, players are the last to acknowledge reality because their contracts run out and there aren’t any takers from other teams. It’s humiliating, I’m sure. Think of longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger; he officially retired a couple weeks ago, too. Drew Brees left at the end of last season. The media flies are buzzing around the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers now. When these guys left, or will leave, the sports world quaked for an hour or two and folks moved on. But Tom Brady’s retirement wasn’t like any others. He exited when he was still at the height of his abilities. A couple weeks ago in what turned out to be Brady’s final game, he ended his career with a heroic comeback and a touchdown drive to tie the score (against the now Super Bowl bound Los Angeles Rams). Forced to play behind a patchwork offensive line, Brady was relentlessly pursued by the Rams’ formidable pass rush. I don’t know how many times the quarterback was hit or sacked, but let’s just say, he went down a lot. Brady found a way, all-but carrying the team on his shoulders that day. That’s a lot for a guy in his mid-forties playing a brutal, physical game against men 20 years his junior. Even in leaving football for good, Brady did it his way. Virginia Aabram reported at The Washington Examiner:
“Football star Tom Brady announced his retirement Tuesday morning after spending several days denying rumors that he was leaving the sport.
“Brady, 44, announced on social media that he no longer wants to make a ‘100% competitive commitment’ to the sport and will pursue other business ventures and time with his family.
“’This is difficult for me to write, but here it goes: I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore,’ Brady said. ‘I have loved my NFL career, and now it's time for me to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention.’”
Lord knows what those “other things that require my attention” might be, but a focus on Brady’s future is what this column is really about. These words aren’t solely intended as an honorarium for Tom. There will be plenty of chatter from mainstream establishment sports news sources and the hype over Brady’s retirement will likely drown out the usual overzealous stupidity surrounding the lead-up to the annual Super Bowl (which will be played on February 13 in my former home city of Los Angeles, California).
Considering this year’s Super Bowl halftime show line-up features a gaggle of “woke” rappers and others supportive of the current cultural rot in this country, seeing Brady’s face all over the place may actually be a welcome distraction. There seemingly has been a lot of “tribute” type stuff recently, especially after the unexpected death of “Mr. Football”, John Madden, in late December.
The truth is, I was never a fan of Brady’s. There were the cheating scandals, his close association to “Emperor” (an allusion to the character in the Star Wars movies) Coach Bill Belichick, his feigned humility, his smugness, his personal training superiority complex, his corny turtle neck sweaters (did your wife really dress you, Tom?), and the fact he was responsible for eliminating some of my favorite teams over the years.
Gee, did the referees give preferential treatment to the biggest football star in the galaxy? It certainly appeared so. They needed to protect their league icon. Who knows, maybe I’m just a bitter clinger too consumed with griping. But eyes don’t always deceive.
To me, Brady wasn’t a hero. He was the guy myself and some of my family members and friends loved to hate. When he won -- which was obviously a lot -- the loss included an extra degree of stank for us on the wrong end of the final score. Brady and the Patriots became symbolic of the hated cultural and sports establishment, together with their millions of bandwagon tag-along fans flashing their red, white and blue gear. To us, Brady was the proverbial poster child for rules benders (“Spygate” and “Deflategate” among them) who stretched the limits of legality to excel. But again, he did it all the time (win, that is).
That said, towards the end his career, I developed a begrudged respect for Brady. When he left the Patriots after twenty years with the team, it was a gutsy move. He could have stayed put and accepted more curmudgeonly behavior under “Emperor” Belichick -- and who knows, maybe even won another super bowl for them. But instead, Tom said his goodbyes and went south. And he led his new team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) to a Super Bowl win in his first season there.
It was impressive. And he almost did it again this season, when the odds were even longer.
Brady clearly demonstrated that one man can make a difference, and that leadership qualities matter just as much as personal abilities. How many impossible fourth quarter comebacks did Brady lead? How valuable was his presence in the locker room? How many future stars did he mentor? What will his legacy be beyond the championship trophies, unbreakable records and MVP designations? What will Tom do now?
ESPN’s opiniated Stephen A. hopes Brady remains involved in football in some capacity -- any capacity. Many sports legends move into the broadcast booth and establish second careers as color commentators, like John Madden did after retiring from coaching. Former Ucla and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman is Fox’s lead analyst today, and he does a terrific job.
But these guys were mere mortals. Tom Brady can transcend football. Brady can help lead a cultural revolution in today’s America -- or more like, a counter-revolution.
Whoa, that’s a lot to place on one man’s shoulders, especially since Brady achieved 99 percent of his notoriety from throwing an odd shaped pigskin ball to someone else his entire playing career. Statistically speaking, on a game by game or year by year performance, Tom was only a little better than his competitors. There have been lots of good quarterbacks, but it’s Brady’s message that will permit him to influence lives outside the stadium from here on out.
Look to Brady’s retirement missive: “I have always believed the sport of football is an 'all-in' proposition -- if a 100% competitive commitment isn't there, you won't succeed, and success is what I love so much about our game. There is a physical, mental and emotional challenge EVERY single day that has allowed me to maximize my highest potential. And I have tried my very best these past 22 years. There are no shortcuts to success on the field or in life.”
Bingo! Brady loves competition! He loved beating his opponents! He loved winning! In fact, the prospect of competing, winning and success motivated him to devote his professional life to those attributes. Who does he sound like? Hint: This man had a long career where he was driven by success and showed unabashed pride in the killer instinct that allowed him to amass a great fortune. He loved it so much he changed careers in his seventies. And he’s still at it.
No, I’m not saying that Tom Brady should go into politics like Donald Trump did. The latter always enjoyed the spotlight and was a political person. A major part of his livelihood included managing and manipulating the media. Trump was good in front of a camera and didn’t need to hide behind a facemask to sell his abilities. Brady, as far as I can tell, is no Donald Trump.
But what if Brady were to make his post-playing days’ mark by promoting excellence, work ethic, liberty (to develop oneself) and self-determination? These are all good old fashioned American values, the types of things that parents used to pass down to their kids before the wishy-washy American education establishment ruined the concept of competition for them.
Tom Brady wasn’t “given” anything. He went to college on a football scholarship, but he was a backup his first two years at Michigan and had to earn his starting spot. He wasn’t selected until the 6th round of the NFL draft. He got his first chance to lead a team because of an injury. The rest is history.
The name Tom Brady will always be synonymous with pro football. The question is whether he can teach the types of values that made him a legend with everyday Americans so they can take on the competition, give it their all, work hard, and succeed. If Brady were to bypass the broadcast booth and champion the qualities that made America great, he would truly leave the world a better place.
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