The night of the Super Bowl earlier this month would have been perfect time for Tom Brady to drop the mic and ride off into the sunset.
He has no more worlds left to conquer in the NFL. He is the only player to win six Super Bowl rings. He could have left the way John Elway did after winning back-to-back Super Bowls or the way Peyton Manning did after winning his last one.
Brady, though, is not the retiring type, even though it was obvious this year that he is starting to show his age.
The New England Patriots lost five games during the regular season on the road to teams that didn’t make the playoffs. They would have lost to Kansas City in the AFC title game with Brady throwing a game-deciding interception if Dee Ford hadn’t lined up offsides.
And they probably would have lost to the New Orleans Saints if not for the bad non-call against the Rams that cost Saints a Super Bowl berth. It is hard to imagine the Patriots holding Drew Brees to under 13 points.
And they were fortunate to get the matchup against the Rams, who had an inexperienced coach and quarterback who weren’t ready for the moment.
This was their last hurrah. Next year, Brady will be a year older and Rob Gronkowski will likely be gone.
This is likely to end badly for Brady. Think of Willie Mays dropping fly balls in centerfield for the New York Mets. Think of Joe Theismann in 1985. We all remember Theismann suffering the career-ending broken leg in that Monday night game against the New York Giants. What is forgotten is that he was 5-5 at that point but Joe Gibbs refused to bench him because he had taken him to two Super Bowls.
Jay Schroeder came off the bench and beat the Giants and went 4-1 the rest of the way, but they still missed the playoffs. Had Gibbs made the move earlier, the Redskins probably would have made the playoffs.
Bill Belichick, of course, would have no trouble benching Brady next year. No coach has ever been so ruthless in getting rid of players who can no longer do it. But it is unlikely Bob Kraft will let him do it. Kraft will let Brady go out on his own terms unless it becomes so obvious his time has passed. And Belichick has no one waiting in the wings anyway. The current backup is Brian Hoyer. It will be interesting to see if Belichick drafts one next year.
The Patriots still might win the division next year because they play in the cozy AFC East. But getting that first-round bye will be a challenge. They will play at Philadelphia, Baltimore and Houston. They will host Pittsburgh Dallas, Kansas City and Cleveland. Those seven games will all be a challenge for the Patriots. Five of them made the playoffs last year.
But I understand why he will keep playing, even though he has a supermodel wife, great kids and more money than he can ever spend. You can argue that Brady has had as good a life as anybody on the planet.
Still, he understands that he will never have an experience again of being a Super Bowl winning quarterback once he retires. Once it’s over, it’s over.
I am reminded of line in the famous Gay Talese profile of Joe DiMaggio. Marilyn Monroe came back from a USO visit to Korea and said, “Joe, Joe, you never heard such cheering.”
DiMaggio had a three word answer: “Yes, I have.”
Brady has heard that cheering. He doesn’t want it to end. He has done it for so long that he can’t accept the fact he is starting to age and he is not getting any younger.
He is ready to start a long, slow decline. Or it could come quickly if he suffers a major injury.
The bottom line is that he’s never likely to win another Super Bowl.
He will not accept that. He has thrived his entire career on proving his critics wrong. He won’t prove them wrong this time.
No player in the history of the NFL has enjoyed the kind of run he has. But it’s over now. He just can’t accept it.
The curtain is about to fall on his career.