Tampa Bay's Tom Brady proves he isn't done with seventh Super Bowl win
By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports columnist
After he left the Patriots, a lot of people — including me — bet against Tom Brady.
So Tom Brady bet on himself.
"I think we knew this was gonna happen tonight, didn’t we?" he yelled to his Buccaneers teammates and the limited crowd at Raymond James Stadium after pummeling the Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV. Brady’s daughter held the Lombardi Trophy that the QB had just secured for Tampa Bay, and his sons stood next to him, the eldest almost at shoulder height.
None of them was alive when he won his first Super Bowl in 2002.
This Super Bowl was the highest-stakes game Brady has played in since then. When he beat Kurt Warner’s Rams and hoisted the trophy for the first of seven times, it was to prove that he — a sixth-round pick out of Michigan, as he was quick to remind everyone — could play in the NFL at an elite level.
This time, it was to cement his individual legacy.
We should’ve seen this coming. I don’t know how I didn’t put money on Brady to win the Super Bowl last March because the most dangerous Brady is an underdog Brady, a Brady with something monumental to prove.
Sure, many people had already accepted that he is the greatest of all time. But his career was synonymous with New England. The Patriots were the only team he’d ever played for, and it was impossible to separate Brady’s success from that of coach Bill Belichick.
This year, he was playing for himself.
After the Patriots defeated the Rams in 2019 for their sixth ring in less than two decades, I believed Brady should retire. How could he top six Super Bowls? I didn’t want to watch the man who quarterbacked my favorite team for almost two decades decline slowly. I didn’t want to see him become a pathetic version of himself.
I saw that version when Brady’s career in New England ended on a pick-six in Foxboro against the Titans, a team coached by his former teammate Mike Vrabel.
It turns out that wasn’t the real version of Brady, but only Brady knew it for sure. When you’re a soon-to-be 43-year-old athlete, it’s difficult to convince people that you’ve got something left in the tank after a bad season. People were ready to admit that Brady didn’t have many targets in Foxboro, especially since his favorite, Rob Gronkowski, had retired to pursue a career in broadcasting at this very network. Gronk was having a blast hurling himself off of balconies and winning WWE titles while Brady simply "Did His Job" with little joy and less assistance.
After years of accepting pay cuts for the good of the team and taking the fall in scandals such as Deflategate, Brady had had enough. The Patriots had, too. Belichick — who is also the Patriots’ GM — didn’t make any meaningful attempt to re-sign Brady last offseason. Belichick didn't sweeten Brady’s deal before the 2019 season, either, refusing to grant his golden goose an extension.
Brady showed himself out through the door that New England left wide open and booked it to Tampa Bay. He even got his buddy Gronk to come out of retirement and join him.
I’m not going to make the joke about old guys from New England retiring to Florida because everyone and their mother already has. But Brady’s move smacked of the same desperation — you can only shovel out your car and mark your parking spot in South Boston so many times before you hit a wall and flee.
But Brady didn’t have many options. Only the Bucs and the Chargers expressed interest in being his old-age home.
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians (who is no spring chicken himself, now the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl at age 68) told Brady that the QB would have some say in the roster and Arians would let Brady do his thing. Brady packed his bags and headed south.
The team sputtered inconsistently to a 7-5 start. Brady made some embarrassing blunders, such as forgetting what down it was and losing to the Nick Foles-led Bears or throwing nine interceptions through the first 11 weeks, his most in a season since 2011.
But he kept his head down, and the Bucs got their act together, winning three road games in a row to make it to the Super Bowl in Tampa, the first home game championship in Super Bowl history. Brady connected with Gronk for an 8-yard pass in the first quarter to take the lead, and the two surpassed Joe Montana and Jerry Rice for the most TDs by any QB-receiver combo in NFL postseason history.
I’m not going to go into the roller-coaster of emotions that I and many Patriots fans felt watching this. All I’ll say is the pettiness and sadness I felt at Brady’s departure — and, as a result, the wishing he would simply lose and go away — have largely become anger at Belichick for letting him go and for letting the roster deteriorate around him.
It says a lot about a locker room’s culture that Gronk would retire rather than play football with Brady at Gillette, but the minute Brady calls him from Tampa, he’s all-in. (The often-injured tight end stayed healthy all season and had seven receiving TDs in the regular season, tied for sixth in the league among TEs.)
Because Brady was right. He has a lot left in the tank. He just needed help. So Arians gave him defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who was smart enough to leave two high safeties out there all night Sunday to take away Patrick Mahomes’ favorite target, Tyreek Hill. Arians also gave Brady receivers such as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown (winning a Super Bowl couldn’t have happened to a less likable guy) and running backs such as Leonard Fournette.
Then Arians let Brady cook.
You could say the victory wasn’t Brady’s. It came because of Bowles' defense. Or it was because of the referees, who called holding and took away a Chiefs interception early in the game that could have swung momentum. You could say it was the fact the Chiefs appeared to be playing against Mahomes, dropping passes and failing to protect him from the Bucs' pressure. You could credit Arians.
But you could make an excuse for every Brady win: The Pats cheated, he got lucky, it was Belichick. By the seventh ring, however, you’d have to be an idiot to not see the common denominator.
Brady is an incredible football player, but he also has the intangibles that propel teams to championships. He knows how to lead. When I wrote about Brady’s fake newspaper, the TB Times (long story), his social media team told me that Brady made them redo images to include teammates if they made him look too much like the hero.
After the NFC Championship in Green Bay, Brady insisted on bringing his teammates to the microphone with him. When former teammate James White’s father died suddenly this year, Brady called him his "forever teammate." He’ll yell at guys on the field, yes, but it’s hard to find a player in the NFL who hasn’t loved playing with the GOAT.
Fans across the league who’ve had their teams destroyed by Brady for decades probably don’t feel the same love. But they’re not out of the woods yet because I want to be clear: This is not the time to write the legacy column. Brady is going to win two more Super Bowls with Tampa Bay. And, yes, that means he’s going to sign a new deal after his current contract is up at the end of next season.
He has said that he wants to play until he’s 45, and if we’ve learned one thing over the past 20 years, it’s to believe what Tom Brady says about himself.
I was conflicted about Brady all season, but I finally have peace. Because I understand what he was doing: pulling off the biggest flex of all time. He left the Patriots after people said he was washed and then won another Super Bowl immediately.
As a person who believes that success is the ultimate form of revenge — even if Brady’s comes at the expense of people like me — I can only respect it.
At the end of the trophy presentation, as his kids messed around with the hardware, Brady said something that, this time, no one has reason to doubt.
"Yeah, we’re coming back."