NFL

The only surprise in Tom Brady’s announcement was that he’s staying with the Bucs

Coach Bruce Arians has come across at times as envious of the credit Brady receives for the team’s success.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff
"I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands," Tom Brady stated in his comeback announcement.


Tell the truth. Were you among them?

Were you among the many around here who were too busy yelping about perceived slights to pick up on all the clues about Tom Brady’s comeback that were right there in his “retirement” announcement six weeks ago?

This fool right here was, at least in those early hours when it appeared that Brady’s unparalleled NFL career was indeed over at age 44, after (deep breath) 710 touchdown passes (playoffs included, because the playoffs always must be included to even begin to tell Brady’s story), 290 wins (playoffs included, because … you know), 22 seasons, 10 Super Bowl appearances, and seven Super Bowl victories.

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When Brady made his eight-slide announcement in an Instagram post Feb. 1, the immediate response in New England was not a collective “thank you” to him for his leading role in the greatest dynasty in NFL history, but a combination of curiosity and anger about why he excluded the Patriots from his salutations.

The needy, jilted how-could-you-forget-us-Tom? reaction was kind of pathetic — he had already warmly and graciously saluted Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, countless teammates, and Patriots Nation when he announced he wasn’t returning in March 2020 — and it distracted us from picking up on and parsing something else far more interesting that he didn’t say in his announcement: the word “retirement.”

It’s amusing to look at his statement now, which hinted at finality but never actually confirmed it, and look at all the ways he wrote around that most important word:

“I am not going to make that competitive commitment anymore …”

“But, right now, it’s best I leave the field of play …”

“As said, I am going to take it day by day …”

As it turns out, “day by day” lasted for a whole 40 days before Brady announced Sunday night that he would be coming out of a retirement that he never really confirmed in the first place. The revelation of his return wasn’t quite as succinct as Michael Jordan’s “I’m back” upon rejoining the Bulls in 1995, but it was considerably more on point than his “competitive commitment”/hiatus announcement.

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“These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” he wrote. “That time will come. But it’s not now. I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. Unfinished business LFG.”

The timing of Brady’s announcement might have been a surprise — it came down at 7:13 p.m., smack-dab in the middle of NCAA basketball bracket chatter and in the moments after Kevin Garnett’s wonderful number retirement ceremony at TD Garden — but the news itself was not.

It was not more than a few days after all the breathtaking highlight reels aired and flowery farewell columns (hi there) were written that the rumors that Brady may play again ignited, and it was then that most of us realized that he never actually said he was retired.

Reports popped up that he might try to leverage his way to the Niners (his boyhood team) or Dolphins (no idea what he’d want to do with them).

If there is any surprise in this, it’s not that he’s back. It’s that he’s back with the Bucs, particularly since coach Bruce Arians has come across at times as envious of the credit Brady receives for the team’s success.

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Don’t know about you, but I’m glad he’s back, especially if it means he’ll spend less time hocking crypto and NFTs (wishful thinking, probably). The NFL is better when he’s in it; I’m already looking forward to showdowns in 2022 with Matthew Stafford, Patrick Mahomes, and Joe Burrow. It will be fun to watch him extend the gap between himself and every other quarterback in NFL history in the record books and on the field. You just know Aaron Rodgers hates this.

There are really only two potential downsides to this: It reignites the Who Deserves More Credit? silliness regarding Brady and Bill Belichick’s roles in the Patriots dynasty. One more time for all the old times: The Patriots had the greatest quarterback and coach in NFL history at the same time. It doesn’t happen without either of them. Anyone who understates Belichick’s role either has an agenda, a very short memory, or didn’t know what they were watching. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

The other potential downside: An ugly ending. Brady will be 45 and the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history when the Bucs open the season in September. It’s possible he loses a few miles off the fastball, or takes a hit (where have you gone, Ali Marpet?) that ends up abbreviating his season.

But this is Tom Brady we’re talking about, and the best bet is to assume he’ll be as sharp as he was last season, when he should have won the NFL Most Valuable Player award. And we all remember another famous statement he once made, one in which he did use the R word: “When I suck, I’ll retire.”

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Don’t know about you, but I’m starting to think neither will ever happen.

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