When legendary quarterback Tom Brady announced his retirement from the NFL on Feb. 1, 2022, the sports community mourned. Brady’s career was incredibly successful, including 20 seasons with the New England Patriots and another two with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throughout which he won seven Super Bowls. He is the all time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, with 84,520 and 624 respectively. Following his announcement, social media tributes came pouring in almost immediately, venerating the 44-year-old QB as “the GOAT” and making tributes to his 22 years in the NFL.
Yet, only 40 days later on March 13, 2022, Brady changed his mind. On Instagram he posted: “These past two months I have realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands. That time will come. But it’s not now. I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. Without them, none of this is possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. We have unfinished business. LFG.”
This announcement sent social media into a tailspin. The post, which currently has 2.7 million likes on Instagram, released a shockwave through the sports community. Fans were thrilled, though the other NFL teams were not, mourning with GIFs and jokes alike.
But Brady’s unretirement isn’t completely unprecedented in professional sports. Michael Jordan retired three times; Magic Johnson, Rob Gronkowski, and Marshawn Lynch, all retired before returning a few years later. Considering the length of his career, perhaps Brady doesn’t know how to live life “in the stands,” as he said. It would be unimaginably difficult to abandon a professional career spanning half his life span.
Yet, he retired in the wake of his seventh Super Bowl, the most of any player in NFL history — it’s good to go out on a high, right? In ending his retirement early, Brady runs the risk of tarnishing his legacy. Brady’s performance in the coming season will be telling of how long he intends to stay in the game –– at 44, he is the oldest player in the NFL. But even with his age, few will ever come close to reaching Brady’s legacy.
While the career of a professional athlete is finite, Brady’s recommitment to the Buccaneers perhaps signals a new phase in his career: Plotting the path to the Super Bowl once more, but with more commitment than ever before. Brady’s presence in the NFL makes the sport better. He challenges the NFC and forces his opponents to rise to the next level. As the next season begins in September, Brady will once again begin the hunt for the Lombardi trophy; only time will tell whether or not he can secure it once more. Sometimes it takes walking away to realize the job isn’t done, and even with Brady’s age, would you bet against him?