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The Legacy of NFL’s Greatest of All Time

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Tom Brady has officially retired from football. The Buccaneers quarterback (QB) is ending a career of 22 seasons in the National Football League (NFL).

Tom Brady won more Super Bowl titles than any player in NFL history. In fact, he’s won more Super Bowl titles than any franchise in NFL history, yet his legacy goes beyond his accomplishments. Retiring at age 44 as the best player in the NFL this season (according to Pro Football Focus rankings) is nothing short of extraordinary. Still, his actual impact is how he won and his example as a player and a leader.

His honors and statistical accomplishments overwhelm any comparison with current and past NFL peers. He won a total of seven super bowls, playing in ten. The next QB with the most wins is Joe Montana, who won “just” four of them during the 1980s (Brady’s childhood idol). His 35 playoff wins are more than double Montana’s as well.

His seven titles total more than any NFL franchise ever. He has the most career wins, fourth-quarter comebacks, game-winning drives, Pro Bowl selections, touchdown passes, yards and completions in NFL history. He is the oldest player to win NFL Regular Season MVP and Super Bowl MVP. These records highlight his extensive career, but he still comes on top even when correcting for eras. His career-winning percentage in regular-season games of 77% and 75% in playoffs are easily the best in NFL history.

Altogether, Brady’s list of over 100 NFL records is enough to put him as the most accomplished player in NFL history, analogous only to the list of records Wayne Gretzky had at the time of his retirement from the NHL. The difference is the former Patriots QB parted way with that organization and went on to win another Super Bowl in Tampa Bay. Amid a pandemic season, Brady went on to take the Buccaneers and win Super Bowl LV, something Gretzky never could after he left the Oilers.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (C) talks with his wife, Gisele Bundchen (R), as his daughter, Vivian Lake Brady (L) looks on after winning the first overtime Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, USA, 05 February 2017

Brady’s ability to win, dominate, and play under pressure is reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s run with the Bulls in the 1990s. Over his career, no lead was too far if you were playing versus Tom Brady. Super Bowl LI, in which the Brady-led Patriots overcame a record 25 point deficit to beat the Falcons, is the quintessential game of his historic career. Michael Jordan inspired the same fear in his opponents when he played for the Bulls. The mere presence of the two always felt powerful.

However, there is a difference between the two. The playoffs are all played in one win-or-go-home matchup in the NFL: you win, continue, lose, and your season is over. The NBA finals are played in a best-of-seven final; Brady never had the luxury to lose and recover. Michael Jordan lost eleven times in the NBA finals, setting his winning percentage to 68% for NBA finals games. Brady winning percentage in Super Bowls? 70%. More to the point, Jordan didn’t win with any other team or under any other coach, while Brady achieved that in the 2020 season.

Even if you compare any athlete in other team sports, such as MLB or international soccer, the complicated nature of the NFL sets TB12 among all of them. Other American sports have loose salary rules, and in soccer, the wealthiest teams attract the best talent, period.

On the other hand, the NFL has a strict business model in which teams are franchises, and the product is not each team but an uber-competitive institution designed for parity. The NFL has a stringent salary cap on players of any professional league in the world. Combined with free agency and a straight draft of college players, it ensures that every team can be one to three seasons away from reaching the Super Bowl, regardless of their current state. Tom Brady was an anomaly in the design.

For years, while being the league’s best player, TB12 purposely cut his salary to ensure his team could keep the necessary talent to continue being contenders. His unselfish stand on his finances broke the NFL salary cap system, and his longevity gave him a chance to play and win with multiple generations of players at the top level. He played for so long he recently trash-talked a rival during a game to ask his father about him. After each SB titles, he visited the White House, happening under four different US presidents.

Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. is the most accomplished athlete of all time. And his most significant legacy is how he became The GOAT (Greatest of All-Time).

The Goat had three Hall-of-Fame careers in one. In the first part of his career, he won three Super Bowls in his first four years as a starter. His beginning is one of an under-appreciated and underrated quarterback. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft as pick 199. He barely made the team as the fourth quarterback in the depth chart (unthinkable in today’s NFL of two or three quarterbacks per team). What no scout saw were his intangibles. Because of his great disposition in practices, his relentless study of the game, and his work ethic, he was rose to a backup quarterback in the depth chart by his second season.

As luck would have it, an injury to the starter Drew Bledsoe in one of the early games of the 2001 season caused coach Bill Belichick to pull Brady to play as QB. Tom never looked back and approached every game as it could be his last. When Bledsoe returned from his injury, Belichick (also arguably the greatest coach of all time) made the correct call of keeping the young Tom Brady as the starter. The Patriots went on to win the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons.

Those teams, however, we’re centered on their defense, guided in the offense by a young quarterback with limited athletic talent but brilliant and “clutch” performances. The Patriots won two out of the three Super Bowls with last-minute offensive drives to win the game. Tom Brady had risen from a late-drafted player with a lack of natural abilities to become the most recognized winner in the NFL.

By the end of the 2006 season, the Patriots’ defense was starting to fade away. In the off-season, Belichick changed the team’s strategy around the offense by acquiring great offensive players to support Brady’s attack, and hence began Brady’s second stage of his career.

With new offensive weapons, Brady’s 2007 record-breaking season was one for the ages. Not only was TB12 the most recognized winner and the most statistically accomplished in the league. New England entered the postseason with a perfect 16-0 record, and the sky was the limit. However, he did not win the Super Bowl as the Patriots would lose in one of the biggest upsets in sports history versus the New York Giants. Tom “Terrific” continued playing as the apex NFL player for seven years but found defeat again in the Super Bowl in the 2011 season and AFC championships in 2012 and 2013.

As Brady would state later, he got so used to winning earlier in his career that he almost took for granted the success he had achieved in his 20s. While the Patriots were ongoing over a “rebuild” phase in the early 2010s, it seems Brady had to reinvent himself to succeed.

The “dry” spell between 2005-2013 could be considered a Hall-of-Fame career itself (two MVPs, two SB appearances), but for him, that’s was never enough. This stage of his career is what we can learn from the most. Tom Brady relied on his discipline to follow through. He was the first to get to the facilities to practice in the morning. He became an obsessive practitioner of healthy living and eating.

Tom Brady - El American
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Patriots defeated the Falcons in overtime of Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas, USA, 05 February 2017

Tom aimed to work harder than any of his competitors. He was a leader who led by example and always set the mentality for the rest of his team. Even former rivals that joined him as teammates say TB12 is one of the players most enjoyable to play with, making them better in the process. Regardless of the circumstances, his teammates and opponents knew he could lead them back whenever the team was down. He didn’t play selfishly or try to be the hero every time; he methodically drove his team to the goal, beating the game through strategy and cleverness over talent.

He became a husband and father during the second stage of his career. He proved to have a well-rounded life that wasn’t just about the sports he loved but about being a good person in the process. Exemplifying on and off the field, with no excuses, letting his play do the talking. Even during the “Deflategate scandal” (that turned out to be more speculation than an actual incident), he took the punishment swiftly to avoid any more attention than necessary for the team and just moved on to play ball. The lessons of the second stage of his career set him for the juggernaut that was the final third of his career.

Between 2014 and 2021, Tom Brady won four SBs, between the ages of 37 and 44. Elite quarterbacks tend to fade away in performance after they hit 38 (Brees, Roethlisberger, Manning, to name a few), yet Brady won an MVP at age 40, one NFC, and four AFC championships. Even after the Patriots decided not to renew his contract due to his age, he took his talents to Tampa Bay to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at age 43. He didn’t look back and crushed his status as sports’ GOAT.

Sports are, after all, fictitious but extraordinary creations by men. For athletes, they demand the very best of ability, resilience and intelligence. For spectators, it allows us to immerse into a world where we become fanatics of a fictitious cause. Rooting for your team or player will enable you to live and drain enormous feelings, from agony to exaltation, that only a few other moments in life can give you.

The NFL has become the most American sport. The one with the most complicated rules. The one with larger sets of team rosters. The one that incorporates most different talents (say kickers vs offensive linemen). While the sport with the most negligible international presence, it is the most valuable league globally.

Tom Brady represents the best version of American sports. From underdog beginnings, he won under extraordinary circumstances to his rise into the upper echelon of greatness. Winning championships in games that seem to have come out of movie scripts. All of this while portraying an example to fans and teammates on service, humility and perseverance. Love him or hate him, all NFL fans will surely miss him. Godspeed, Tom Brady.

If this is, in fact, the end of it.

Carlos is an economist with studies in business and political science. He currently lives in Canada, where he is a portfolio analyst for the oil sector // Carlos es un economista con estudios en negocios y ciencias políticas. En la actualidad vive en Canadá, donde es analista de portafolios del sector petrolero

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