Reliving the night Tom Brady separated from the rest – Super Bowl XLIX against the Seahawks

It was then that he set the stage for the late-career flourish that sends him into retirement beyond the reach of anyone who’s ever played. 

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick celebrate another Super Bowl title. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

After Julian Edelman fair caught a punt at the Patriots’ 36-yard line, the 70,288 bearing personal witness to Super Bowl XLIX seemed to take a deep breath. The scoreboard showed six minutes and 52 seconds remaining in regulation, and the Seahawks leading by three. Just a moment earlier it had shown Seattle’s margin at 10, so with the tension mounting at University of Phoenix Stadium, and history hanging in its grasp, it sounded as though the crowd had seized on this break to take a collective pause.

Glendale quieted. Quickly. Briefly. But long enough that out of the cacophony came a rising clamor. 


“Bra-dy!” it bellowed in rhythm. “Bra-dy! Bra-dy!” 

By its end, that night in many ways belonged to Malcolm Butler. It was his goal-line interception, of course, that miraculously thwarted the Seahawks’ attempt to retake the lead from the Patriots in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

But as Brady officially retires after 22 seasons, history should just as clearly remember that night as the moment he separated himself from every other quarterback who’d played the position, and truly began the transition from transformative hall of famer to the consensus, all-caps Greatest Of All Time.

His greatness had long since been bona fide – let there be no doubt. He’d already won three titles, plus a couple of NFL MVPs, and authored an undefeated regular season. He was the first-team QB for the NFL’s All-Decade Team for 2000-09, and by his 13th season as a starter he’d started amassing statistics to match his credentials as an unparalleled winner.

We can’t forget the circumstances surrounding him on that night in the desert, though. That night he went back to compete in another Super Bowl in the same stadium where the Giants had ruined his perfect season, and began to tarnish Brady and the Patriots’ air of invincibility.


By the time New England got back to Glendale for XLIX, it had lost another Super Bowl to New York, and it had endured a decade of postseason disappointments that depreciated a lot of the dominance it had achieved during the regular seasons. 

It had been a full decade since Brady won his third title – that coming in February 2005 – and over the interim his playoff record was just 9-8. There were a couple of jarring one-and-dones in that mix, and in addition to losing two Super Bowls on neutral turf, his Patriots had lost three of the four times they had been forced to travel for playoff games on the road. At age 37, there were plenty of questions about whether Brady was too old to be capable of leading his team to a championship. 

And those were the easy ones. 

The other questions had to do with air pressure, and Ideal Gas Law, and why a bag of balls went into a bathroom on its way to the field. As Brady prepared for the Seahawks, Deflategate was raging. The national news reporters were descending on Foxborough. Bill Belichick was evoking Mona Lisa Vida. And Brady’s accomplishments were being called into question by scandal. Again.


So when Brady stood behind center with two ticks less than 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, he wasn’t just surveying a Seahawks defense bidding to be considered among the best of all time. As Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels discussed it on the NBC broadcast, Brady was looking at a landscape where his legacy was on the line. He was on the cusp of falling to losing a third straight Super Bowl. He was about to incur a defeat that would only amplify the controversy and embolden the conspiracists. He was down, 24-14. Oh, and he was facing third and 14.

But Brady did what Brady does. He took the snap, climbed the pocket, and fired a strike to Edelman over the middle for a gain of 21. Four plays later he hit Edelman for 21 more – again on third down – and a couple plays after that he went to Danny Amendola for a four-yard score.

That brought New England within three points, and after the Patriots’ defense delivered its second consecutive three-and-out, Edelman called for a fair catch. It was then the chants began to burble.

These same chants were heard earlier, when Brady opened the night by completing nine of his first 10 passes and staked the Pats to an early lead. But maybe even more interestingly, they’d also been heard four months earlier, in Foxborough, on the first Monday of October.

That was the night the Patriots were “On to Cincinnati,” according to Belichick, the coach who’d yanked Brady from an ugly loss at Kansas City a week prior. Rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo finished that one, but Brady returned to face the Bengals, and wasted no time making clear that the job remained his. 


As part of an 80-yard, 10-play, opening-drive statement that night, Brady converted a fourth down with his legs, finishing the run by initiating contact rather than shying away from it. The home crowd feeding off its star, Gillette Stadium erupted as the Patriots landed a punch that reaffirmed their rank among the contenders. 

“Bra-dy! Bra-dy! Bra-dy!” they chanted.

As his name echoed again four months later, and the stage was set so Brady held everything in his hands, he was perfect. Two completions to Shane Vereen. Another to Vereen after hitting Edelman. Then he went to Rob Gronkowski. Vereen again. Gronkowski again. Vereen ran for seven more, then a throw to Brandon LaFell set up first and goal. After LeGarrette Blount burnt some clock, Edelman juked his defender off the edge and Brady found him all alone at the edge of the end zone.

Nine throws, nine completions – the last of which was his night’s fourth touchdown. Thanks to Butler, it was good for his fourth title, too, and so it was that night when he set the stage for the late-career flourish that sends him into retirement beyond the reach of anyone who’s ever played. 

And perhaps anyone who ever will.


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