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Pat Leonard: Tom Brady’s imperfect ending doesn’t diminish his NFL greatness

MOBILE — Tom Brady’s voice shook Wednesday morning when he said “I wouldn’t change a thing” as he announced his retirement “for good.”

It was difficult in that moment not to wonder about Brady the human being, about the personal cost of his determination to play until age 45, about whether he actually would change something if he could go back one calendar year to his first fleeting retirement from football.

When the emotion clears, though, what will be remembered about Brady’s time in Tampa Bay is not this disappointing whimper of a final season and slow trudge to the finish, but the manner in which Brady’s persistence to escape New England somehow elevated a six-time Super Bowl winner’s on-field legacy to new heights.

We take it for granted with Brady because he won so often in his career: seven Super Bowls, five Super Bowl MVPs, 15 Pro Bowls, three All-Pros.

We take it for granted because Brady has reigned for so long, from his sixth-round selection in the 2000 NFL Draft to Wednesday.

He entered the league six years before Twitter’s first launch and on Wednesday used the 17-year-old social media platform to tell the world he’s finished.

But Brady already was considered the G.O.A.T. by many when he left the Patriots with six rings as one of the co-captains of an all-time dynasty.

He had nothing left to prove except, well, the seemingly impossible: that he could win a championship without arguably the greatest NFL coach of all time, Bill Belichick.

He didn’t need to do it, though. No one would have reduced Brady to a middling system quarterback if he’d hung them up right there and retired a Patriot.

The debate of who deserved the most credit for their dynasty would have raged on in local bars on fall Sundays, sure. But nothing would have knocked Brady from the pedestal of what he’d accomplished, especially after how quietly and unsuspectingly he had entered the league two decades prior.

The fact that Brady did it — that he left and won a Super Bowl without Belichick, that he did in his first 2020 season with the Bucs, that he lifted the Lombardi Trophy a seventh time — will go down as one of the more absurdly impressive feats in NFL history.

And it vaulted Brady’s legacy into another stratosphere, even if that Covid-year championship was aided by playing in empty or half-empty stadiums.

That went particularly for Tampa’s run through road playoff games at Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay as a Wild Card, not to mention three Brady interceptions at Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship Game.

The crazy part, then, is that Brady got better in 2021.

He threw for 5,316 yards, 43 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on a 13-4 Tampa team. The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers won his second straight MVP award that season, but it should have been the fourth of Brady’s career.

This is not to deify Brady, who is far from perfect.

And the reality is that Brady was actually a sympathetic figure on Wednesday, having gone through a divorce and unretired to play a painful and seemingly joyless 2022 season for reasons only Brady truly knows.

Maybe his refusal to quit playing football last year damaged his personal life. Or maybe he unretired and played again as a way to cope with a loss that he already knew was coming.

Regardless, his Super Bowl in the Florida sun will always be the reason that Brady isn’t just remembered as a great player.

He will be remembered as an extraordinary one, the kind of competitor we may not see again for a long time between those white lines.

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Source: Berkshire mont

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