You might not have noticed it because the attention of the world is on a very different news story at the moment, but a whole sporting era has come to an end within the past week. Tom Brady, one of the most legendary quarterbacks ever to take to the field in the sport of American football, has departed the New England Patriots. He’d been there since the year 2000. As an audience, we’ve watched Brady grow up from bright-eyed promising young talent to the game’s unofficial elder statesman, winning multiple honors in the process. It’s been a beautiful story, but now it’s over.
When we say it’s over, though, we’re not talking about Brady’s football career. Somewhat improbably, we’re only talking about the portion of his long and glorious career that’s been spent with the New England Patriots. When the announcement came that Brady wouldn’t be staying with the team for the 2020 season, most people assumed that he was announcing his retirement at the same time. He’s 42 years old – 43 in August – and he’s done everything there is to do and won everything there is to won. Many of the journalists who wrote about his exit from New England eulogized his career at the same time, believing that it had come to an end. Apparently, the only person who thinks Tom Brady still has unfinished business in the football world is Tom Brady.
Although at the time of writing it isn’t a completely done deal yet, it appears that the 2020 NFL season will see Tom Brady plying his trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers clearly feel that Brady still has something to offer them, and they’ve sweetened the pot with an offer that’s thought to be worth a figure in excess of thirty million dollars per year to come and play for them. The Los Angeles Chargers are also thought to have made a similar offer, but Brady opted for Tampa Bay because he wasn’t prepared to move so far away from the East Coast because he wants to stay close to his family. Nobody can say right now whether the NFL season will start on time – much as we all hope it will – but when it does start, a 43-year-old Brady will be taking to the field in Florida.
It’s impossible to say whether this is going to be a smart move or not. We’ll only know that at the end of the season. There’s an old gambling saying, though, and it’s one that Brady’s old enough to have heard several times. “You’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.” If you were playing UK slot games and winning, you’d have to recognize when your luck has run out in order to walk away from the game in profit. There are plenty of players who’ve played the ‘Gridiron Glory’ online slots game – a game that may not even exist if it weren’t for Brady’s high profile – and wished they’d walked away a spin or five sooner. Comparing Brady’s sporting greatness to the triviality of an online slots game might be a little unfair, but the point still stands.
We can’t and won’t take anything away from Brady’s abilities, nor his seeming ability to slow down the hands of time. He’s taken care of himself and his body impeccably well, and there were few signs of him slowing down in comparison to his younger teammates last season. The science of sport has advanced during the past two decades, and great athletes are now able to stay at the top of their sports for longer. Soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo is still one of the best in the world at the age of 35. Ten years ago, most 35-year-old soccer players had either retired or dropped down a level or two. Floyd Mayweather has taken to the boxing ring in his 40s and managed to remain undefeated. Conditioning and a good diet can help you to go longer, but time eventually beats us all. Every passing year will take some of the edges off Brady’s game.
Only Tom Brady and the people close to him will know for sure whether he’s a lesser player at 42 than he was at 41 and whether his physical attributes are declining. Is he half a pace slower than he was twelve months ago? Are his reactions a microsecond behind his peak? Is he a little weaker physically than he was when he turned 40? These are the things that his most trusted advisers should be watching for, and it’s to be hoped that they’re giving the information to him straight if they see signs that he’s beginning to fade. That wouldn’t just be bad news for the prospects of the Buccaneers in the near future; it would also be bad news for the enduring legacy of Tom Brady as a football legend.
Nobody likes to see anyone stick around too long in any field of sports or entertainment. Part of leaving a great legacy is knowing when to say goodbye and walk away from the stage, leaving your audience want that more. Brady had that opportunity when he decided to cut ties with the Patriots. It would have been the perfect end to a picturebook career. He’s decided to pass on that, and we should salute him for that bold move. He’s bet on himself still having something to offer for the next twelve months. Perhaps it’s foolhardy. Perhaps he’s motivated by the fact that the Super Bowl will be held in Tampa next time around, and he wants to be part of the first team in history that contests a Super Bowl in their home stadium. It would be one more phenomenal achievement in a career that’s been full of them. It is, however, a big risk, and one that’s far from guaranteed to pay off.
Seeing Brady play in someone else’s jersey next season is going to be a strange experience. We just hope it’s one that he doesn’t live to regret. There’s a lot of truth to the old sentiment that form is temporary and class is permanent, but it’s not a universal truth – class can’t really be eternal, even for Tom Brady. Let’s hope his lasts for long enough to give him the swan song he deserves.