2022 was bad — but it could have been worse. This essay is part of an end-of-the-year series looking at the silver linings.
Admit it: You thought Tom Brady was going to get away with it. You thought he’d get away with all of it. That’s one reason we’ve been snarling at Brady for 20 years, despite him being (obviously) the greatest football player of all time: It always works out for him. We all assumed it would this time, too.
It always works out for him. We all assumed it would this time, too.
After all, the Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback got to live the dream in February: He got to read his own obituaries. After shocking the football world with a retirement announcement, the seven-time Super Bowl champion was showered with countless hosannas and odes to the GOAT. (I wrote a few myself.) But just a few weeks later he changed his mind, much to the chagrin of many, including his wife. (Reportedly.)
It was infuriating: Brady has always, famously, gotten whatever he wanted — the titles, the money, the beautiful wife, the perfect children, the favorable referee treatment, the apparent inability to age — and now he was about to get even more. Not content to transform the Bucs into a championship team, he was going to make them his second dynasty. He’d come right back and win another Super Bowl, basking in ever-more glorious pronouncements. Because isn’t that what always happens?
But a different thing happened to Tom Brady: He showed his mortality. He realized he couldn’t do it alone. And now, he may actually face some consequences, possibly for the first time ever. Even if you’re a huge Brady fan — and I’ll confess to being somewhat of an occasional apologist myself — it’s hard to argue that his return hasn’t been a fiasco.
There is, of course, the issue of his marriage, which may or may not have been broken up by his seemingly obsessive desire to return to the field. But the real issue is what’s happening on the field itself. Brady is without question having the worst year of his Hall of Fame life, with his touchdown-per-game rate cut in half and his yards-per-catch (generally a signifier of down-field offensive prowess) the lowest of his career. Brady looks slower and, in perhaps an indicator of his mood, grouchier and more prone to tantrums than we’ve ever seen him.
And the worst part about this is that Brady is still probably the best player on his team. The Buccaneers, the team he won the Super Bowl with two years ago, have collapsed, starting the season 6-8 and looking like maybe the worst team Brady has played on in two decades. Brady has looked old, sure, but more than anything, he has looked irritated by the chumps surrounding him. The whole point of Tom Brady returning to football is to win another Super Bowl, to go for his unprecedented eighth championship ring. But this team is terrible. He can’t fix it. And he seems to know it.
There has to be a part of Brady — a big part, if what he’s doing to those poor sideline tablets can be believed — who has regrets, even as he claims he doesn’t.
This is a surprise, right? This is the exact opposite of what we thought would happen. It seemed so predictable: Brady retires, comes back, wins another Super Bowl, gets whatever he desires. But there has to be a part of Brady — a big part, if what he’s doing to those poor sideline tablets can be believed — who has regrets, even as he claims he doesn’t. Who reportedly regrets not spending more time at home as he’d promised, regrets un-retiring, regrets coming back to this team, regrets continuing to get bone-crushed every game by men 100 pounds heavier than him and half his age, regrets assuming — like the rest of the world — that he would find a way to win, again.
Instead, it looks like Tom Brady is finally going to lose. This isn’t a reason to hate him. If anything, I’d argue it’s the most relatable he’s ever been. Father Time is undefeated. Life doesn’t work out perfectly for everybody all the time. Not even Tom Brady. It’s almost a relief.