I am really glad I did not write this column last year.
It would have been the perfect opportunity. When Tom Brady “retired” last spring, formally-officially-certainly-absolutely-unequivocally ending his two decade reign of terror over the NFL, it was full of pomp and circumstance. The greatest athlete of my lifetime, and by far the most important to me, had finally hung up his cleats after conquering every frontier a football player could conquer. It was emotional. I can neither confirm nor deny if I cried.
Retirement was logical, and perhaps even gracious. Brady would have completed by far the greatest career in NFL history without significantly declining. He could have ridden off into the sunset — and into a comically lucrative deal with Fox Sports — without a blemish on the ledger.
But Brady has never been logical, and certainly never gracious. He is a killer, one who hunts on instinct and an insatiable desire to win over, and over, and over again. So, when he came out of retirement for the 2022 season, I was not shocked, but merely relieved that I had not yet written his farewell letter.
But I’m going for it this time, because early Wednesday morning Brady announced his retirement again, with no fanfare. The announcement took the form of a 53-second video, posted to his social media accounts where he thanked his team and everyone who had supported him along the way.
Brady’s career can be split into two distinct phases: B.O. and A.O. — Before Oliver and Anno Olivieri, colloquially known as the Year of Oliver — the dividing line being my ninth birthday, when my football fanaticism began, or around 2012. Before then, I cannot speak to the technical brilliance of Brady’s fastball-spiral, supercomputer processing and stone-like poise in the pocket. What I can say, for both the B.O. and A.O. eras, is that Brady was a superhero.
It is impossible — and will never in the future be possible — to overstate the collective confidence I had that Brady could, and actually would, climb out of any hole the Patriots had dug themselves into. When I was lying on the floor of my living room, with the Patriots trailing 28–3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, I began processing what impossible streak of miracles would have to unfold consecutively for us to win. I determined that step one was to have the Patriots defense break through and sack Matt Ryan to push the Falcons out of field goal range to keep it a three score game. Then that very thing happened, and a part of me started to believe. Brady had done nothing, but now he had an opening. Armed with one single percentage point of mathematical possibility, he brought us all the way back, because of course he did.
To me, Brady’s football life was never about his statistical performance or the six Lombardi Trophies he hand-delivered to New England. He did not allow me to lose hope in the Patriots, becoming the physical embodiment of it ain’t being over till it’s over. I bid Brady a fond farewell.