There is no reason for sadness.
This is a time for celebration and fond remembrance.
Tom Brady retiring at 45, seven Super Bowl rings on his fingers, as he sits comfortably atop the list for nearly every significant passing category in football, is a reminder that time has its way with all of us — even those who seemed like they had found the fountain of youth.
It is a chance to give Brady his due but also celebrate this: Just as he leaves the game, a new wave of quarterbacks took center stage in this season’s playoffs. They are young, confident and collected — Tom Brady traits — and they even offer a little more. They possess true out-of-the-pocket mobility and a fleetness of foot that Brady lacked.
Also, this year’s Super Bowl will feature two Black starting quarterbacks for the first time, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. They are 27 and 24 years old, respectively.
They could be Tom Brady’s sons.
Should we be surprised and even skeptical of Brady’s retirement announcement? Remember that last year on this date, Brady also announced he was leaving the game. He wrote a heartfelt note and posted it on social media. Months later, itching for the drama of competition, he returned to the game that had defined his life.
Brady nodded to that hiccup in his Instagram post this morning. “I’m retiring … for good,” he said in his video, which, fittingly, he appeared to have shot while hanging out on a beach. “I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first.”
He continued: “You only get one super emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year.”
Stifling tears, he acknowledged family, friends, teammates and fellow competitors. “Thank you, guys, for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing. I love you all,” he said.
Let’s take him at his word. Brady’s 13-year marriage to the model Gisele Bündchen ended in divorce last year. He most likely has much in his personal life to attend to. The lavish contract, said to be worth at least $375 million over the next decade to be a commentator for Fox Sports as soon as the next season, should help ease the pain of career transition.
This is the right moment.
Brady looked creaky this season. True, he put up good numbers and remained among the league’s best passers.
Yet as his team limped to an 8-9 record, barely making the wild-card round of the playoffs, there were games in which he missed target after target, looked lost, and in which a hungrier opponent from the jump poleaxed his team, and him. There he lay at 45, struggling beneath a pile of defensive linemen.
Watching, it was hard not to wonder: Why keep playing?
Why, Tom, after seven Super Bowls and three league M.V.P. awards and a narrative for the ages: the skinny, slow, middle-round draft pick climbs his way to a place on football’s Mount Rushmore, sits atop it, stays and stays. Why keep going?
Brady and the Buccaneers’ season ended badly: a 31-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
And yet … it was only two years ago when he won a Super Bowl, beating Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. The safe bet was that Brady would keep going, maybe even try to play until he was 50, perhaps for the San Francisco 49ers, his beloved boyhood team.
The fact that being on an N.F.L. team at a half-century years old seemed possible — that’s surely another sign of his greatness.
What memories he provided. There are far too many to recount here fully, but several stand out. Brady, in 2002, his second season and first as a starter, leading the Patriots over the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl on the wing of a last-minute drive.
Brady — or should we have called him Tom Houdini? — in the Super Bowl of 2017, forging an escape for the ages, overcoming a third-quarter score of 28-3 on the way to beating the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28.
Wait, how did he do that? We asked the question with such metronomic constancy as Brady led his teams from the brink that it might as well have been a meme.
Yes, there was luck. Ask any Raiders fan about the notorious Tuck Rule Game. And yes, there were shenanigans. Ask any Indianapolis Colts fan about Deflategate, and they will offer chapter and verse.
Still, luck and bending the rules hardly define him.
What defines Brady, along with all the winning, is the way he bent time.
Off the field, he pushed common notions of longevity in sport with his obsessive, out-of-the-box training: resistance bands instead of weights; water, lots of electrolyte water; sleep, lots of recovery sleep. What did he eat, something like 20 protein-rich, nutrition-packed micro-meals a day?
On the field, well, he was something else to behold. He slowed minutes, owned seconds and put the hours in his hip pocket.
To watch him operate late in a game, everything on the line, his team behind but within striking distance, was to watch something uncanny and ethereal.
Everything could be breaking down into shambles around him, but No. 12 had a way of maintaining composure. Slowly, surely, carefully, he would walk from the huddle toward his center, line up his receivers and survey the scene, tall, sure, and oh-so-confident. And then — snap — Brady would deliver a sudden, perfectly placed bolt to his receivers. He did this so often and for so many years (46 fourth-quarter comebacks, 58 game-winning drives) that it took effort to keep from becoming numb to the certainty.
What a glorious ride.
But now, after 23 seasons, it’s the right moment to leave.
Mahomes and all of the other young sons of Tom Brady are ready to take it from here.