The Legacy of Tom Brady

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Tom Brady celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Cheifs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Derek McLeod, Staff Writer

There’s something to be said about an all-time athlete walking away from a career that put them on the top of the professional sports world for two decades.

Think of Lions’ legends Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, all-world athletes who called it a career in the middle of their prime. Jim Brown, widely regarded as the one of the greatest running backs of all time, retired at age 30. Think about Michael Jordan, who fresh off his first three-peat with the Chicago Bulls in 1993, retired at his peak, only to return to cap off his legendary career.

Then, I want you to compare those situations to Tom Brady’s retirement from football. Regardless of personal feelings towards Brady, his prowess and efficiency at the quarterback position can’t be disputed. Tom Brady, at 44 years old, playing against guys who weren’t even born when Brady debuted in the NFL, can boast that he retired in his prime. Funny thing is that Brady didn’t even miss a step when he stunned the world and moved to Tampa Bay, showcasing Brady’s arm strength and ability to attack downfield more than his historic stint in New England.

That’s the Brady magic that we found ourselves so accustomed to seeing. In New England, Tom Brady was the field general. Morning talk show hosts and skeptics would call him a mere game manager, but it didn’t halt the sixth-round pick from Michigan. He just kept winning. For 20 years, Tom Brady upheld the Patriots franchise and turned them into the perennial winning franchise the world knows today. Before Brady, the Patriots had only briefly flirted with immortality, being run off the field in two previous Super Bowl appearances. That all changed once Patriots starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, and little ole Thomas Brady was thrust into the starting lineup. The rest was history. Six Super Bowls later, two NFL MVP awards, passing records aplenty, Brady wrapped his final season with the Patriots on a sour note, with a brutal playoff showing in a loss to the Titans and growing friction between the GOAT and the Patriots brass.

With that, a new chapter was born. Brady spurning the franchise where he had created his star and taking his talents down south to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Tompa Bay” was born, and Brady unleashed all frustrations on opposing defenses stunned at the downfield shots Brady was taking with an unmatched receiving corp. It didn’t take long for Brady to reassert his dominance, efficiently handling the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs in that year’s Super Bowl 31-9 to win Brady his 7th NFL Championship, solidifying himself as the greatest of all time to detractors who thought otherwise. Then, just a year later, the mystical Brady calls it quits at 44 years old after leading the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns. How mental is that?

Brady is a rare case, and it makes sense given the rarified air accompanied by only a few others. As sports fans, we have never seen a player reaching greater heights in their forties, never mind mid-way through them. Brady’s time with the Bucs proved what many had known for years; Tom was always capable of more. Not to say Patriots Brady isn’t still the most outstanding quarterback we’ve seen, but the late-career version of Brady showed the world that he still had some tricks up his sleeve.

It is ultimately silly to compare Brady to other all-time greats who walked away at the top of their profession. They are all legends, but we know now that Brady was a different case, one we may not get the opportunity to witness again. If you took Brady’s career from age 22-29, he’s already a Hall of Famer. Look at his career during the bulk of his success, from 30-39 years old. He’s the greatest of a generation. Even in his forties, Brady’s career numbers during that five-year span eclipsed some of the statistics he posted during his twenties. It’s unreal to look at Tom Brady, who managed to post three separate Hall of Fame careers during his run as the face of the NFL.

Tom Brady’s career did not come without hiccups. The Spygate scandal rocked the league and potentially cheated their opponents out of Super Bowl victories. The Deflategate scandal left more question marks on Brady’s legacy. Brady’s dreams of a perfect NFL season came crumbling down with a 2007 loss to the underdog New York Giants. 2011 and 2018 losses to the Giants and Eagles saw the world’s doubters take endless shots at Brady and the Pats, glitches in the matrix of a dream run for New England. Through it all, Brady stood tall. And he now stands alone as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of football. Now that, my friends, is a legacy worth remembering