My earliest memory of a Super Bowl is quite grainy. I remember being at a family friend’s house, the open living room packed with dozens of people intensely watching a large flatscreen TV on the wall. I remember the snacks from that night well, since I was nine years old, as well as the general excitement in the air, the kind of excitement that can gather a whole community in one room on a cold Sunday night. Soon enough, curse words coated in Boston accents filled the air. This once lively living room of friends was, to put it lightly, pissed off. On that night, Feb. 5, 2012, the New England Patriots lost Super Bowl XLVI to the New York Giants in a crushing fashion. Another one just by the hairs…in the worst possible way. In hindsight, the cries of the many faithful New England fans in the room that night were due to the loss of our beloved football franchise, the Patriots, along with the pride of New England: Tom Brady.
I consider that night to have been my first real viewing of Tom Brady playing football. A pretty bad start, yes, but it was the first football game I actually felt interested in. Of course, some pundits speculated that perhaps, after being without a Super Bowl ring since 2005, the Patriots dynasty of the early 2000s was over. Looking back, it’s comical how many times commentators counted out the man who could never really be counted out. Now, 11 years, four more Super Bowl rings, and an endless amount of records later, Tom Brady has done the one thing that he’s never really done before: retire from football, permanently.
In many ways, it’s hard to even imagine a world in which TB12 is not taking the field every Sunday. Over the years it’s been a common unspoken expectation among New Englanders: when the weather gets a bit chillier and the leaves start changing, you can always expect number 12 to be taking the field. It’s as automatic as the seasons themselves, be it in Foxborough, MA or Tampa Bay, FL. Personally, I literally do not know what the world is like without Brady playing. Many people don’t. I was born on Tom’s 25th birthday, months after his first Super Bowl win in his second year in the league. Nearly everyone in my generation cannot recall a time when Tom Brady was not a starting quarterback. Of course, his unparalleled gift for playing football makes him, among all serious observers, the undisputed greatest of all time. He holds the records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions, Super Bowl wins, Super Bowl appearances, and dozens of other categories. Any other player would be praised for leading in any one of those categories, but with Brady, excellence was expected. He normalized the abnormal and created a standard that will likely never be fulfilled again.
What many casual fans don’t know, however, is that Tom Brady was never supposed to turn out this way. Drafted 199th overall in the 2000 NFL draft as a skinny backup, Brady was the ultimate underdog from the beginning. He got his big break in September 2001 after starter Drew Bledsoe went down and Brady never looked back, leading the Patriots to an improbable Super Bowl victory that season, sparking one of the greatest sports dynasties of all time.
Aside from his on-field greatness, it was truly Tom’s example, his way of life that makes him not only an excellent competitor but an inspiration for fans and foes alike. Dubbed the “TB12 Method,” Brady’s way always pushed the limits, and time and again left detractors and doubters dumbfounded. It’s a way of life that strives for excellence, built on the internal challenge to be better than the day before. A way of life that builds others up, rejects blame and earns the respect of opponents. It’s a way of life that makes it possible for the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft to retire as the undisputed greatest to play the game in 2023 at age 45. Through this, Tom Brady gave us crazy comebacks, precious community traditions, jubilant Boston streets in February, personal inspiration, and a lifetime of joy. Like many, some of my best childhood memories are attached to Brady. Through thick and thin, with family and friends, neighbors and strangers, we always pulled for 12, because in so many ways 12 represented us. An era has ended and reflection has begun, but looking back now on the legacy, the joy, and the memories, to quote Brady himself, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” Thank you, Tom, for everything.