The perfectly imperfect retirement of Tom Brady

Tom Brady.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

For a perfectionist, it was a messy ending. Legendary NFL quarterback Tom Brady's retirement came first as a rumor, walked back through a series of non-denial denials, culminating in a social media post that confirmed what had gone from unthinkable to seemingly inevitable.

The lack of the storybook ending had many of us certain Brady would not retire. He ended the season with a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round, a failed defense of the Super Bowl title. Yet leading the league in touchdown passes and passing yards at age 44, he had a strong individual season.

Brady had said he would play until he "sucked." He was not even close to sucking. But he was close to his long-stated goal of playing until age 45 and was under contract with the Tampa Buccaneers for one more season.

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Still, the signs were there even before the late-season retirement rumors began. Brady developed interests outside football for the first time in his life. He was clearly preparing business enterprises for his post-NFL career. He produced a series looking back at his career rather than forward. These were indications that he was thinking differently.

For the past decade of Brady's remarkable run, commentators recited the phrase "Father Time is undefeated." If this retirement stands — and some of us will only believe it when an entire football season has come and gone without #12 taking the field — the fans will have never have seen Brady look like a broken old man chasing that elusive final victory. The erstwhile New England Patriot's last touchdown pass was a 55-yard deep shot to Mike Evans.

Brady's longtime nemesis Peyton Manning got to end his career with a Super Bowl title, but he did so looking like a shadow of his former self. He threw nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions in his final regular-season (Brady's stat line was 43 scores and 12 picks). Manning is an all-time great player himself. But he was an aging athlete carried by his defense to his final win. Brady nearly dragged much younger men to the doorstep of the conference championship by sheer force of will — and, to be sure, some timely Rams turnovers — tying a game in which he had trailed 27-3 before his defense gave out.

In a way, a fitting if imperfect end to a near-perfect career. Father Time is no longer undefeated. Brady battled him to at least a draw.

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