Tom Brady clearly still loves football and competition, so returning is right for him | Opinion
The last-second loss gnawed at Tom Brady. Maybe more intensely than he ever expected.
So, a month-and-a-half after announcing his retirement, the most decorated player in NFL history reversed course and announced Sunday night he’s coming back to play a 23rd NFL season.
“Unfinished business” is how he described the task at hand, no doubt still replaying images of the 30-27 loss to the Rams in the divisional playoffs.
That has to be the feeling that bounced around inside his head ever since he decided it was time to hang up his cleats. But at some point, Brady realized he couldn’t ignore said feelings, and the only way to free himself was to scratch the itch.
So here he is. “Going nowhere,” as he has famously declared time and time again. Back between the lines. Back in the arena against his most vaunted opponent, Father Time, who thus far, Brady has managed to one-up again and again.
Eventually, Father Time WILL secure victory. But Brady will try his damnedest to deal him another L while he can.
It’s the right call. Maybe the only call to make.
Sure, Brady -- with seven Super Bowl rings, five Super Bowl MVPs, three regular-season MVP honors and a laundry list of other individual accolades -- has accomplished all that there is to accomplish. He has proven everything a football player could prove. But because his love for the game and competition remains so steadfastly intense, Brady is right to run it back.
Life is full of far too many regrets. Brady is trying to ensure he has none.
“LFG,” he said, to punctuate his statement Sunday. (Translation: Let’s expletive go!)
Shortly after, his Buccaneers teammates responded, jubilant that the window of opportunity they believed may have closed with his retirement might remain open a bit longer.
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So, was it a mistake to declare his retirement earlier this offseason? Should Brady have taken more time to make his decision? Who are we to say?
Maybe he thought he was done. Or maybe he felt compelled to retire for other people in his life. He mentioned multiple times that he owed it to his family -- which sacrificed much over the years to enable him to pursue his goals -- to finally fill those voids that his profession created.
But maybe Brady felt he couldn’t be the best version of himself as a father, husband, brother, son and friend if he were miserable and constantly second-guessing his decision. Shortly after the initial retirement announcement, Brady declared himself at peace. He described himself as excited about the next chapter and the next challenge.
What did that look like? He wasn’t sure. He could have pursued just about anything. But ultimately, the options proved undesirable. Ultimately, the challenge that was most appealing to Brady’s 44-year-old, ultra-competitive brain was the one that’s most familiar.
The timing of Brady’s return -- or the brevity of his retirement -- came as more of a surprise than his decision to return. The GOAT yielding to an intense itch late in the summer, around the time that he usually would have reported for training camp, would have made sense. Such a move would have surprised no one.
But his obsession with competition, preparation and camaraderie is so strong that he couldn’t even last two months without all that. So rather than delay the inevitable, he’s declaring “I’m back,” before he ever missed so much as an offseason conditioning session.
Brady takes his place with a slew of all-time greats who despite having nothing left to prove, scrapped retirement plans and returned. Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, George Foreman, Michael Phelps, Roger Clemens, Mario Lemieux, Floyd Mayweather, and the list goes on.
Brady’s return certainly does not guarantee a fairytale ending. Aside from Jordan (after his first retirement), Foreman and Phelps, comebacks historically never end with that coveted championship grand finale.
And the Buccaneers have a slew of challenges -- matters that will require resolution before they can declare themselves similarly equipped to contend as they did in 2021. They have 24 players set to hit free agency. They’re more than $3 million over the salary cap. Their offensive line figures to be worse than it was last year, and although the NFC South seems just as weak as it was last season, the Rams, Packers and 49ers all stand in the Bucs’ way.
Brady, like most other comeback icons before him, may certainly fall short in this quest for the ultimate prize. The Bucs may again fail him -- as they did last year when they couldn't capitalize on his career-high 5,316 passing yards, 43 touchdown passes and continued postseason heroics as they fell short against the eventual champion Rams.
But win or lose, Brady is making the right call, because the itch remains, his abilities remain, and so too does the opportunity to attempt a feat none before him have even had the chance to attempt. He’ll not have to ask himself, “What if,” for the rest of his days.
Playing football -- engaging in that physical and mental battle against opponents and one’s self -- is what makes Tom Brady happy, and he has done it better than any to ever play the game.
Opposing defensive coordinators and players, along with Father Time, may be gritting their teeth and rolling their eyes. But Brady is smiling. That’s all that matters.