Like George Costanza, the great Tom Brady ended on a high note last January. Though Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers failed to defend their Super Bowl LV championship, the stirring comeback he summoned after falling behind 27-3 in a divisional-round playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams was one of his most indelible efforts in a career packed with them.
When Brady announced his retirement nine days later, I felt he’d provided a fitting final image.
As for what has happened since — well, I wish I could unsee it.
We now know that Brady was potentially plotting to come out of retirement — as a part-owner and quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, with Sean Payton as his head coach — before Brian Flores, who’d just been fired as Miami’s head coach, filed a lawsuit against the franchise and the league alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices. The timing of the suit, which broke the same day as Brady’s retirement announcement, compelled the Dolphins to scuttle the plan, and owner Steve Ross has since been penalized for tampering, with evidence showing that the Dolphins’ clandestine pursuit of Brady went back several years. Brady is not in trouble for any of that, but it’s a sketchy look for an all-time great.
Forty days after saying goodbye to the game, Brady unretired, announcing that he was returning to the Buccaneers. Seventeen days after that, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians stepped down, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles replaced him. Again, at the very least, it was a weird look.
Then, earlier this month, Bowles announced that Brady would miss part of training camp for undisclosed reasons, leading to all sorts of rampant rumors during what turned out to be an 11-day absence, including whispers that Brady was appearing on the FOX game show “The Masked Singer.”
It’s a lot — and, oh yeah, Brady is 45 years old. What he has accomplished these past five seasons (or more) has defied medical science, and we should regard that as a gift. And yet, the notion that he’ll be able to continue playing at a high level, indefinitely, is silly.
Remember the 2018 docuseries, “Tom vs. Time”? At some point, it’s a battle that Brady simply cannot win.
There’s an old NFL adage that once a player even thinks about retirement — let alone says it aloud — he’s already gone. Football at this level requires such a pronounced level of physical, mental and emotional commitment that an almost maniacal mindset is necessary; the moment a player lets his mind drift toward the aftermath, it’s very hard to recapture that edge. Brady? He actually retired, then came back.
Is he still harboring that unearthly level of commitment and intensity? Or is there a strain of ambivalence that will prevent him from being Brady-like? I think these are fair questions.
I also believe — based on past experience — that it’s quite possible that Brady will come out in Week 1, throw for 450 yards and three touchdowns and lead the Bucs to victory, and I’ll be throwing up my hands once more and saying, “Don’t listen to anything I’ve been telling you about this particular human.”
Hell, he’s probably a good singer, too — masked or otherwise.