On Feb. 1, amid a frenzy of rumors and unconfirmed reports, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady officially announced his retirement via a post on his Instagram. This brings to a close a 22-year-long career packed full of records and accolades.
Incredibly, this news came as a surprise to many, as they expected Brady to play through his contract. He stated his plan in an interview with USA Today: “I’ve always said 45 was the age that I wanted to reach and that was my goal. This year I’ll be 44, so next year I’ll be 45. I got a two-year contract.”
He leaves behind one of the best playoff-chasing opportunities ever gifted to a quarterback; with the NFC South Division wide open for the foreseeable future, no personal injury issues to speak of and a supporting cast eager to re-sign, Brady clearly had this choice in mind for a long time. As an off-the-cuff decision, this doesn’t make a ton of sense for Brady, so when he writes, “I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention,” it doesn’t sound like this is something he is doing unwillingly.
Foremost in the public consciousness, Brady retires with seven championships, the most won of any player in NFL history. Also in his cabinet, according to Pro Football Reference, are: the most total wins at 243; the most playoff wins at 35; the most Conference Championship appearances and wins at 14 and 10; five Super Bowl MVP’s; 15 Pro Bowl selections; 7,263 passing completions for 84,520 yards and 624 touchdowns. He also holds the best career approximate value, single-season passing completions and single season QBR, not to mention a top five placement in numerous other stat categories.
Iconic moments have always followed Brady, and there are enough of them here to make a full-length feature film trilogy: the draft combine 40-yard dash, the tuck rule game, the one-minute drive in his first Super Bowl, 59-0 in the snow, the 24-0 comeback, Malcom Butler at the goal line, the 28-3 comeback, and literally all of his scrambles are quintessential Brady.
Yes, most of these moments were not entirely Tom Brady’s doing, but he still deserves the lion’s share of credit. He is the player who stands to lose the most credit if the moment goes the other way, even if luck played a huge role for him in situations like these. Even when the luck went the other way, iconic moments were still created; Eli Manning and Nick Foles’ career-defining moments came against Brady on the biggest stage.
There’s so much luck here, good and bad, that it pervaded Brady’s entire career narrative: one could confidently say that in the US professional team sports going forward, a player will never again go from being drafted last in his class to being gifted the starting role in his second season due to another player’s injury to winning a championship that season. Only Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, who went undrafted in 1956, even comes close. Brady’s career trajectory before that critical moment was more along the lines of a Ben DiNucci or Ian Book.
But he didn’t flame out after one game, not because he had some intangible, or unteachable skill. It’s because he applied himself to learn the best football he could possibly play from one of the best coaches ever, and never looked back.