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Tom Brady Has Become the Perfect Example of Why Retiring a Year Too Early is Better Than a Year Too Late

Lachlan Cunningham. Getty Images.

Let me begin with a footnote to my own headline, in case it's not obvious. I'm talking here only about the true legacy players in any sport. Not the vast majority of rank & file type guys who won't have long careers and fat contracts paid out in dump trucks of gold and who need to squeeze every last dollar out of professional sports before they have to go scratch out a living like the rest of us non-athletic slobs. This refers to those elites who could always use another $25 million, but who have already made generational wealth in the game. For those few, money is no longer and issue, so their most valuable asset becomes what they did on the field/court/rink/ring/octagon. How they'll be remembered. And like any prized possession, it diminishes in value when it gets damaged. 

Which brings us to Tom Brady, who, with three wins in Tampa's last four games including one of the great comebacks in a career full of them, had a lot of people convinced he had finally gotten back to some reasonable facsimile of what he was last year. And I raise my hand on that:

But then there was that debacle in San Francisco. Just his third time playing in his hometown. With him getting comped 100 tickets for family and friends. And in his 376th career start, Brock Purdy played circles around him making his first start. He produced his lowest passer rating of the year with a 63.7, his third lowest completion percentage at 61.82%, his lowest yards per attempt, a miserable 4.60, and threw multiple picks for the first time in 22 games. 

And worst, Brady suffered the ultimate indignity - for him - of having his future employers realize America shouldn't be subjected to his failure any more:

When an NFL broadcast partner decides to show the country Carolina at Seattle instead of you as an act of mercy, things have gone truly gone horribly, horribly wrong. To put how wrong in perspective, consider the following:

You can't undo this kind of damage to your legacy. It's not a piece of furniture that got dinged you can sand and stain. There's no dent puller to take out where the shopping cart hit you. This is permanent. Brady's 2022 - with all the ancillary off-the-field stuff like getting Bruce Arians fired, the scandal of him negotiating with Dolphins ownership while under contract to the Patriots, the FTX debacle, his personal life and so on - will forever be the last paragraph of one of the greatest stories ever told. It's indelible. It can't be deleted. 

I mean, there have been moments like last week's triumph over New Orleans. But they've only come in flashes. He used to play at that level for months straight with no off games mixed in. As recently as 2020. And even Fat Las Vegas Elvis, who set the standard for legacy-defiling endings, was capable of pulling the occasional "Suspicious Minds"-type banger out of bloated ass. But they weren't enough to erase the memory of his pill-addled mumbling and the sweat coming through his way too small jumpsuits. 

It should not have ended like this, losing the kinds of games he never lost before:

… including to Mr. Irrelevant. Or signing balls after a humiliating defeat like he's at the Pro Bowl or something:

It should've ended last year. In defeat, to be sure. Denied the sort of ride into the sunset that John Elway and Peyton Manning enjoyed. But with his dignity intact and his legacy pure. Remembered for his final 4th quarter playoff comeback, only to be let down by the Bucs defense. But still leading the league in yards and touchdowns. Still a winner. And not this sub-.500 shell of a GOAT we saw in San Fran yesterday. 

He stayed too long. And the greatest career in the history of the game is diminished by it. Sad. Very, very sad. Hopefully future greats will be better at realizing when enough is enough.