Tom Brady was writing the greatest story in the history of football and maybe all of sports. After 10 Super Bowls, seven Super Bowl wins, five Super Bowl MVPs, two decades on top, records and money galore (and he even got The Girl), he was riding off into the sunset amid gushy prose from a fawning media and a hero-worship documentary and fame that transcended sports.
And then he blew the ending.
Completely botched it.
You know that part where he was riding off into the sunset? He did a U-turn. Almost as soon as the Brady going-away party ended, he was back (talk about awkward). He’s rewriting the ending — the worst ending since “Grease.” In this new ending, he looks ordinary. He looks baffled and confused. He looks frustrated and exasperated with his teammates. He looks … 45. He’s losing games in this iteration. He’s throwing errant passes. He’s screaming profanities at his offensive linemen. Everything is falling apart around him — his team (three wins in eight games), his composure, his marriage.
Ten months ago he announced his retirement after leading the league with another 5,000-yard passing performance. He decided it was time to leave the game. He was going to — all together now — spend more time with his family.
A Biblical 40 days later he unretired.
He couldn’t walk/ride away.
At some point the decline must happen. He’s facing an unbeatable opponent. Father Time is unbeaten and will never lose. It beat Muhammad Ali. It even beat Michael Jordan. It’ll beat Brady; it’s just taking longer than usual.
He had gotten away with it through his 44th year. He tempted fate when he returned. It’s as if Father Time, who has been extraordinarily patient with Mr. Brady, said enough is enough. Brady was making him look bad. TB12 was attributing his longevity to his diet and his private cook and his personal trainer. He was writing books about it. So his magical run had to end or Brady might push this thing into his 60s, and Father Time wasn’t going to have that.
Now Brady is self-destructing like Antonio Brown.
We’ve seen this before. Jordan wrote the perfect ending. He won his sixth NBA championship almost singlehandedly, picking Karl Malone’s pocket and then sinking the push-off jump shot over Bryon Russell for the title. He retired — and then three years later he returned and played two more unremarkable, anticlimactic seasons at the ages of 38 and 39.
If Brady’s life came with a private editor, he would’ve changed the ending back to the original. Brady had it right the first time.
Father Time has been doing a lot of catching up this season. He has made it his mission to humble aging future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers, who will soon be 39, looks ordinary. Russell Wilson, 33, looks worse than that. And Matt Ryan looks even worse than that (benched for the remainder of the season).
On the other hand, the great Drew Brees retired at 41 in 2020 after 20 years in the NFL to — all together now — spend more time with his family. He didn’t return to the game even when his old team tried to lure him back late last season when their quarterbacks were hurt and a playoff berth was within reach.
Then there’s Brady. “I really don’t (know when I’ll be done playing),” he told Variety in May.
Brady is losing more than his grip on the game. He and his wife, the model Gisele Bundchen, filed for divorce recently after 13 years of marriage. Their marital troubles seemed to begin when Brady unretired. This summer Brady said he needed to be better about balancing his attention to football and family.
A few years ago Brady said he thought he could play until he was 45. Last fall, when he was asked by teammate Rob Gronkowski in a recorded interview if he could play until he was 50, Brady said, “I don’t find it so difficult. … I think I can. I think it’s a yes.”
The temptation to write a better ending will probably provide even more motivation to return, but of course there are no guarantees that he will ever again match the ending he wrote originally. He left the script a long time ago and no one knows when enough will be enough for Brady.