Tom Brady retires, leaving behind an unimaginable legacy

Tom Brady, New England Patriots. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Tom Brady, New England Patriots. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

On Wednesday morning, Tom Brady announced his retirement on social media, ending a 23-year career of impossible proportions. 

There goes the best that ever was.

After 23 seasons in the NFL arena, Tom Brady is finally tired. As in retired.

At 45 years old, Brady has accomplished more than any other player in NFL history, and likely, the future. He walks away with a career record of 251-82 with the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a winner of three MVPs and seven Super Bowls. Brady reached 10 Super Bowls, was named to 15 Pro Bowls and earned three First-Team All-Pro honors while making two All-Decade Teams.

Brady won 35 playoff games. Only five teams have more in their respective histories, one being the Patriots.

And yet all those mind-boggling numbers aren’t at the heart of why Brady means what he does to the average fan.

Brady was the everyman who became the American dream. He was raised by a middle-class family in the Bay Area, was lightly recruited coming out of high school, and fought for snaps throughout his collegiate career at Michigan.

A sixth-round pick, Brady wasn’t guaranteed a roster spot out of training camp with New England, let alone an eventual chance to start. As a rookie, he threw three passes and completed one for six yards.

Then Drew Bledsoe got hurt, Brady stepped in, and almost a quarter-century later, here we are.

Brady ultimately became the defining athlete of his sport, the winner for all time. Nobody would argue Brady has superior physical gifts to many of his contemporaries. He never had the biggest arm, the best frame or the most mobility.

And again, that’s part of the allure. Watching Brady was to see someone getting the best out of themselves. To push the limits of who his body allowed him to be through sheer force of will. So often, we see the person in various walks of life who failed to achieve what they’re capable of. Brady was a weekly testament to what could be if only we demand the best of ourselves.

When people compare Brady to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, they’re wrong. Brady was never Jordan or Woods. He shared the commonality of being uncommonly driven to succeed, but he didn’t have the physical prowess of others. Brady was never a prodigy, never expected to succeed in the way those two were.

Brady is much more akin to Bill Russell, who few believe was the greatest basketball player to live, but is undeniably the sport’s greatest winner. Russell was barely noticed in high school before — unlike Brady — becoming a force in college, then winning 11 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics. He remains revered by his teammates.

If there’s a final summation for Brady, it’s the legacy left behind. It’s the impossible story of a kid at the NFL Scouting Combine looking like a human bag of milk, who couldn’t outrun a grocer. That kid somehow became the greatest winner the country’s biggest sport has ever known.

In the decades to come, Brady will undoubtedly be in the public eye as a broadcaster or otherwise. He’ll be met by fans young and old, wanting an autograph or simply a moment. They’ll want to say they met a living legend.

They’ll say they met greatness. They’ll say they saw the best that ever was.

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