Did Someone Say Tom Brady Retired One Year Too Late? Right Again, Old Balls.

Julio Aguilar. Getty Images.

On this February 1st, our Second Annual Tom Brady Retirement celebration, there will of course be many tributes to the player and reflections on his career. Or we may just all keep reposting what we all said last year at this time in order to free us up to get back to watching The Last of Us. It's kind of a roll-your-own situation. 

But before we do anything, I'm going to take a moment to reflect back to something I say in the Before Times. In the long, long ago of mid-December, 2022. After Brady came off one of his worst performances in recent memory. Following a Week 14 blowout loss to San Francisco:

When I had the audacity to question whether or not he had made a terrible mistake in not staying retired after his first retirement last February 1st:

I got fairly well dragged through the village streets by the angry mob for that one. It got over a hundred comments. The vast majority of which were the modern equivalent of calling for me to be put in the stockades in the square and pelted with rocks and garbage, or burned as a heretic. Which was fine. Bring it on. It's all part of the public discourse and I don't mind ending up on the pointy end of the pitchfork when it's held by people who bring the pageviews and buy the merchandise. Speak your truth. I get plenty of love at home, thanks.

But since then, Brady led the Bucs to a 2-3 record, including a one & done in the playoffs for just the forth time in his 21 seasons as a starter. With than in mind, let's reassess what I said then, and tell me where the lie is in any of this:

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 an 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. …

[T]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.

Every word of this would be getting thrown right back into my handsome, boyish face if Brady had taken the Bucs deep into the playoffs or - dare we dream? - to Arizona next week. Deservedly so. But he didn't come close. He finished under .500 for the first time after never even coming close since he first became a starter. (His previous low was 9-7 in 2002.) That playoff loss came at home to a Dallas team that was on a 3-10 postseason streak. He threw an interception in the end zone while it was still a one-score game, and didn't throw a touchdown pass until the final play of the 3rd quarter with his team down 24-0. 

Tell me where any of this sounds like a fitting end to the greatest career in the history of the sport. Never mind. You can't. Brady's 2022 season will forever be remembered as him staying around too long. Getting mired in a tampering scandal, getting his head coach fired, skipping workouts, going to his old boss' wedding in Manhattan on a Friday night, then flying on his own to meet his team in Pittsburgh, then ruthlessly tearing into his offensive line for not working hard enough to protect him:

Let me again add, how this decision affected his personal life. It did to his marriage what battery fires are doing to Teslas.

And to what end? So he could go 8-10 and have this season forever be remembered as him looking perpetually cheesed off and dropping weight like a teenager with body dysmorphia? No, he did not need this. He didn't need any of it. But damage done.

To that end, as a Brady fan of some standing for 20-plus years, I'm relieved he's not going to take another stab at it. He played to the age of 45, which was his stated goal all along. If he tried to swing that deal to the Dolphins that got blown up by Brian Flores' lawsuit against the league or attempted a reunion with Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas, it would only have gotten worse. The time to celebrate his career is coming shortly. Once again. But there's no arguing he should've just let last year's tributes be the exclamation point on his incredible career.