Tom Brady turned 45 on Wednesday morning, and while most middle-aged men are suffering from back pain, icy knees or put off another workout in favor of a golf cart ride in moderate heat, what is probably the sport’s most famous sugar-free birthday cake added another candle Start of another Brady season. As always, the dots that led to here connect in an unusual way across sports, despite the physics, hence 45 reasons why 45 happened and why 45 matters, especially now.
1. The Numbers Game exercise, held every August 3rd, gets better every year. For example, in honor of Brady’s birthday, CBS Sports compiled a list of the NFL’s top players over 30. And while some may argue with Brady’s placement (first) versus Aaron Donald’s (third), the age gap between Brady’s accomplishments and those of his “older” contemporaries becomes more striking each fall.
2. Staying with this list for a moment: When Brady turned 30 – 2007! – only Aaron Rodgers had even made it into the NFL. He stayed holed up on the Packers bench that year.
3. Think of Richard Seymour, the leading defender and longtime Brady teammate in New England. Drafted a year after Brady, Seymour retired a full decade ago and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this week. He is three years younger than Brady and has already completed the five-year draft wait.
Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports (Brady); Icon Sportswire/Getty Images (head); Igor Klepacki/Unsplash (Hat)
4. Think about how much the league itself has changed since Brady arrived. His career predates the Houston Texans and he was drafted into a six-division league. It predates Red Challenge Flags and the NFL Network.
5. Brady is a walking ready to feel old fun fact. He has played against Jon Runyan Jr., whose father was his former Michigan teammate. He has played with Antoine Winfield Jr., whose father picked him up in 2001. Bucs rookie Logan Hall was born six days after Brady’s draft.
6. Brady has passed an incredible 22,938 yards since the age of 40. In his 20s, 30s and 40s, he led the league in passing yards during seasons. touchdowns too.
7. No one knows better than baseball legend and 27-year MLB veteran Nolan Ryan why Brady is still playing, why he may actually be retiring soon, and what’s really important in the calculus of top athletes to look forward to another season to return. “I didn’t set out to pitch a specific time,” Ryan said on the eve of Super Bowl LIII in early 2019. “I enjoyed what I did. It was a challenge competing against people half my age. But you have to have this attitude.”
8. Ryan recorded his last strikeout on September 17, 1993. He pitched seven innings that day, allowed one (undeserved) run and fired a 98 mph stoker to register career K number 5,714. This sign will never be broken. Sound familiar?
9. Ryan started again five days later. But in the first inning of that game, he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He was 46. He never served again. Ryan wouldn’t equate “not serving again” with “don’t think returning is possible.” What mattered was whether he wanted to, not whether he could. Does that sound familiar to you too?
10. When his pitching coach Tom House started working with Brady, Ryan saw the parallels far earlier than anyone other than his coach and his new turn-back-the-clock student. “[House] has always tried to slow down the aging process,” Ryan said in 2019. “His passion certainly influences you.”
11. As the flamethrower watched Brady from afar, Ryan marveled at more than accuracy and arm strength and avocado ice cream. The accomplishments stood out, from touchdowns to passing yards to broken records. And the rings, of course the rings – Brady needed two hands for that, after all.
12. So, yes, Brady has “retired” for 40 days this offseason, with his hiatus ramping up to keep up with other famous 40-day stretches like Noah and This Ark. Yes, he wanted to spend more time at home, with his family, present rather than obsessed with football. That’s right.
13. Which is also true, according to several in his inner circle, family isn’t the only reason Brady resigned. There was some frustration with the way Bruce Arians was running the Buccaneers, the atmosphere was more casual than in New England, less buttoned down and less accountable. It’s true that when Brady added potential stress from the way his team was specifically guided into his annual retirement-or-not equation, returning for another year of pedal-to-turf football routines was less was attractive.
14. It’s also true that wanting to be more present at home – speaking for all parents, not Brady – is not the same as actually being more present at home. My own recent paternity leave speaks for it, minus the height.
15. Arian’s move to the front office and the Bucs’ appointment of Todd Bowles as head coach for his quarterback’s Michael Jordan season should not be viewed as Brady’s sole strength, nor should it be seen as a fluke. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, hence the public concealment of events undertaken by all parties.
16. Brady’s return doesn’t signal a family issue either. They will have enough time for that.
17. That’s Brady’s equation now, what he has to account for after each season, which he started accounting for about five years ago. Not: How long do I want to play? More: Will I commit to playing next season, whatever the circumstances and how much it will ask of me? This is his health. This is his body. This is his family and his future. But that’s also situation specific, because of his team, his squad, the health of his teammates, the coach and the whole.
18. The key question now is, if Brady does everything he can and his team does everything they can, are they positioned as they were last season and the one before that, when Brady won his seventh Super Bowl? to make a legitimate run? If the answer is yes, it’s more likely that he’ll return. If the answer is no, there is a greater chance that he will retire.
19. The tricky part is what happens when he comes back, whether this season or next or the season after that, wins an eighth title and still gets all the “yes” answers in this equation. (More on that in a moment.)
20. This is greedy. This is fair. That’s Brady’s rare duality, the part that’s also a contradiction in terms. For years, the quarterback has said he cares more than anything about his process, what it takes to win and mustering the energy to start another round of obsession that, if not unhealthy, is right on the limit is. I believe him when he says that winning is not as important as process, growth over result and all that. But an important distinction should be made. Brady really cares about winning. His legacy is very important to him. But shaping a season or a career unlike any other in professional football history begins with a process that leads to victory and leads to legacy. None of these concepts exist without the others, nor how they combine into a single aspiration.
21. Process matters because winning matters. The process in and of itself is not the end goal or the only one.
22. Familiars are addressing the same issues this summer as they have in recent summers. Brady looks as good as ever based on eye tests and advanced metrics and another offseason striving for perfection he’ll never achieve, the ideal that’s intentionally hard to attain, an annual exercise to to move his own goalposts.
23. The Madden video game franchise still ranks him the highest (97) among NFL quarterbacks, ahead of Rodgers (96), Patrick Mahomes (95), Josh Allen (92), and Joe Burrow (90).
24. Brady has also been the game’s cover model twice – and both times in his 40s. On the solo version of Madden NFL 18 and the Madden NFL 22 game with Mahomes.
25. It’s easy to look at the Bucs in terms of the 2022 season and see why Brady came back. They, not the defending champion Rams, are the betting favorites to win the NFC.
26. Why not? Start there when skills remain so undiminished as everyone bends over backwards to point it out. Tampa Bay signed a pair of running backs (Leonard Fournette, Giovani Bernard) with complementary skills, along with a stud corner (Carlton Davis) and a receiver (Breshad Perriman); added security Logan Ryan and two other solid targets Brady is likely to raise (Russell Gage and Kyle Rudolph); and spent half of his eight draft picks on offensive depth.
No one has caught more touchdowns from Brady than Gronkowski, and it’s not particularly close.
Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated
27. Losing center Ryan Jensen hurts. Losing tight end Rob Gronkowski could hurt more. Gronk has caught 90 of Brady’s 624 career touchdown passes, by far the most of any player.
28. Randy Moss is second on this list with 39 Brady TDs, followed by Julian Edelman (36), Wes Welker (34) and Mike Evans (26). Evans is already fifth after just two seasons, and his pace of 13 Brady TD balls per season could push him past some Patriots legends.
29. The addition of Julio Jones, no matter the age (33), should balance the other departures. Seven Pro Bowls is seven Pro Bowls.
30. Imagine if Chris Godwin fully recovered from the cruciate ligament rupture he sustained in week 15 of last season against the Saints. Brady will be at his disposal with Mike Evans, Godwin and Jones, along with Gage in the slot, Perriman roaming downfield and Rudolph lining up in end zones across the league.
31. Not to mention Cameron Brate, Tyler Johnson, a versatile running back core and two rookie tight ends. Plus, if it’s not clear, the perfect quarterback to distribute the ball.
32. Who in the NFC scares you more than Tampa? The rams? The Bucs almost brought them down last January despite a string of injuries. The packers? Just lost Davante Adams. the cowboys? nines? cardinals? Eagle? saints? No, no, no, no and… no. Nobody is scarier than the Bucs.
33. The strength of the schedule could play a role. The Bucs’ schedule is as brutal as waking up at 45. They start the season with road trips to Dallas and New Orleans, then host the Packers and Chiefs.
34. Brady’s strength will be more important. Brady is still Brady, GOAT of all GOATs, except those who know him best are wrong and those who don’t know much at all are right. Eventually that is what will happen. Brady is getting old. His arm strength will decrease. His arm will lose enough momentum to make his accuracy untenable. He will not be able to make up for aging with experience.
35. But when that happens, it’s not because the chair analysts saw something that Brady’s coaches, world-renowned experts, happened to miss.
36. Brady himself saw this film. He can still vividly remember sitting at the Pacific Athletic Club near his childhood home in Northern California when his favorite team, the 49ers, traded his idol Joe Montana. It wouldn’t be him, he promised, before anyone believed he’d actually make it to the NFL, let alone win a Super Bowl. He was right, by the way. He wasn’t Montana, wild as that sounds. He was better, wild as that may sound.
37. Brady’s inevitable demise will come from things like aging and physics. Make this prediction for many years in a row and you will eventually be right.
38. But the dolphins don’t make that bet. Miami went into full manipulation mode for TB12, according to an NFL investigation released Tuesday. A piece of property was even on the table. But let’s be honest: Above all, the Finns wanted a quarterback.
39. Brady didn’t go to the Bahamas this spring just to go to the beach. He brought up wideouts and performed workouts after answering the only question that matters to him at this point. Motivated? Yes. Enough to be him? Without doubt.
Brady holds his seventh Lombardi Trophy. Is it his last?
40. Brady’s confidants understand why he publicly says he cares little about his legacy. You don’t want to speak for him. But they don’t exactly buy that notion either. For example, Brady is aware of Ryan’s strikeout record, which is nearly 1,000K higher than the second-highest career tally (Randy Johnson). Ryan’s experience is Brady’s future, unbreakable brands and all, all by the day, whenever and wherever it comes. Ryan said he just knew. It was time. He went to his manager and said, “I don’t think I can do that anymore.” He didn’t mean bad luck. He said he lived up to his standard as a pitcher. That was always the hardest part. to be him.
41. What happens next? House once told me he views athletes who come back year after year, regardless of injury or gray hair or emerging talent to fight back, as “little islands of specialness” in the great sea of pro sports. Brady, House argues, is a “better pitcher” today than he was 10 years ago. But these islands come at a high price: the rest of a life put on hold longer than their peers.
42. The numbers will continue to tumble. Should Brady reach another Super Bowl, he could set a new record for playoff wins by a starting quarterback against NFC teams, according to the same CBS Sports article. This is truly remarkable, even more stunning than usual, because Brady played in the other conference for two decades, beat six NFC teams in Super Bowls, then switched to the NFC and continued to accumulate playoff wins (four currently and counting).
43. In comparison, Brett Favre has 12 such wins, while Montana, Rodgers and Brady have 10 each. Numbers like that — 35 playoff wins, more than double Montana’s total — could be chewed through forever and made into Mad Libs books for Statheads , which are specific to Brady only. (Free title suggestion: Brady By the Numbers.) What Brady really wants, though, is the perfect ending. Think John Elway or Peyton Manning, a Super Bowl triumph in retirement.
44. A bradyophile might ask: didn’t he already have that, after leaving New England for Tampa and winning another Super Bowl, no less at the Bucs’ home stadium, without Bill Belichick, two seasons ago? He has. But he also saw a more perfect ending, an eighth title, plus another split from Rodgers, Mahomes and contemporaries like Manning and Drew Brees and all that might come after. Perhaps Bill Russell (RIP) is the only fair comp.
45. Incidentally, an eighth ring would tie him to Bill Belichick, who earned two pre-Brady as the Giants’ defensive coordinator. Ho hum, his eight would also be Double Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
Does this mean Brady will retire after this season at 45? Of course not. The calculus may have changed, but the process — an annual review influenced by a variety of factors — hasn’t. That mindset made Brady Brady, a brand and an icon, both of which weren’t focused on defying fathertime, but on eliminating him entirely. That’s why Brady could play to 50. Why another title win might still not be enough. why it could be. And why, regardless of this season’s outcome, he might retire to consider multimillion-dollar offers from networks (including his already-signed deal with Fox), a host of other companies, and enough cash to never settle for anything but pleasure keep thinking.
That, to me, is the strangest thing about how we tend to see Brady, his career and his legacy in the dreaded “media.” We tend to examine him in a historical sense, making comparisons to other elite players or other special islands of longevity. But Brady never saw himself that way, so those notions have never been closely followed for him and those closest to him. We’re making the wrong comparisons. There is none. There aren’t any left.
Brady is back. Of course he is. He’s celebrating another birthday. Moron. And while mere mortals, like an out-of-shape sportswriter who’s spent a little time in Brady’s orbit, would bet that this is actually his final season, anyone who bets sees this whole thing wrong. We won’t see anyone like Brady, not directly, ever again. When is the wrong question. It’s better, easier and more accurate to just enjoy what’s left.
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