It was the news that Patriots Nation had long feared, and hoped would not be true.
Tom Brady will wear a new uniform for the first time in his pro career when the 2020 NFL Season begins.
For New England, the heartache felt by the crushing end of a 19+ year love affair, is much to handle. Especially, when you consider the present circumstances in which we currently live.
However, for Brady, the decision to leave the only professional franchise for which he has played is more than just bittersweet. He is seeking a new opportunity that will lead to a new challenge.
What else should you expect from an athlete that is perpetually driven by the pursuit of the ‘next one?’
American author and businessman Jim Rohn was once quoted as saying: ‘Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” For all great athletes, dedication and discipline is an essential component of both achieving, and maintaining, long-term success. It is that drive that separates them from the rest. Tom Brady knows that all too well. He lives it each and every day. That is why he is pursuing yet another ‘next one.’ In this case, that ‘next one’ is the next stop in his illustrious career.
The term ‘next one’ has long been associated with New England’s now former 42 year-old signal caller. Whether referring to his pursuit of championships, or the yearly discussion regarding his playing status, Brady is perpetually motivated by the desire to win. That desire has served him well. As such, He has reached a level of rarefied air in securing six Super Bowl titles during his tenure in New England. That is an accomplishment that no other NFL quarterback has ever enjoyed.
However, along with his six successful visits to the Super Bowl stage, Brady has also experienced his share of defeat. He is sure to still grimace at the bitter taste of a 41-33 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. The devastating end to a perfect season in 2007 is one of which he rarely speaks, both publicly and privately. Lastly, his New England Patriots tenure ended at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, courtesy of his thrown pick-six to former teammate, safety Logan Ryan. The road to heartache can be just as likely traveled as that of victory. Tom Brady knows that better than anyone. That difficult lesson continues to stoke the flames of his competitive fire. Simply put, it keeps him focused on the ‘next one.’ It is probably safe to say that it was this ‘fire’ that drives him to remain on a football field into his forties.
Despite being engulfed by sea of envy in most of the country, Brady is adored in New England. It is certainly not a stretch to say that he might be the most beloved sports figure in the history of a city that has been the home of icons such as Williams, Orr, Bird, and Russell. However, Brady is not always the poster child for that typical New England, blue-collar grit. Sometimes, it is easy to lose sight of this when we see Brady looking 007-Esque in mattress commercials, or dressed to the ‘nines’ in the latest fashion. He is often the subject of criticism, and even ridicule by those who claim that Brady’s toughness does not pass the ‘eye test.’
However, do not let that exterior fool you. Brady is as tough as they come – physically, mentally and emotionally. He has had to overcome adversity throughout his entire football career. After working tirelessly to earn the top quarterback spot for his senior year at the University of Michigan, Brady was forced to share the spotlight under center with teammate Drew Henson. When taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Brady was immediately thrust into the New England spotlight. Undaunted, he confidently looked at his teammates and told them, “Climb on my back.”
This was quite a bold statement from a then 24-year-old backup quarterback; especially one who was labeled as having a ‘poor build’ and being ‘too scrawny to succeed at the position.’ However, Brady won the respect of his teammates, as well as the league. Since then, that determination has led to six Super Bowl Titles, four Super Bowl MVPs, three League MVPs and countless game-winning drives. While he might be an unfounded villain in most other regions of the NFL universe, he is firmly entrenched among the immortal beloveds of New England sports. Had he focused on the opinions of his critics, Brady would never have enjoyed this unparalleled level of success. Instead, his eyes were focused on ‘the next one.’
Still, those searching for the greatest example of Tom Brady’s emotional determination need not look further than Super Bowl LI, a 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. While the Patriots’ conquering of a seemingly insurmountable 28-3 third-quarter deficit has reached near-mythic proportions, this example was much more personal. In fact, it came after the game had been won. It was when an emotional and tearful Brady embraced his mother Galynn, who had been fighting cancer for the past year.
For one of the few times in his professional career, the ‘next one’ did not indicate an additional first down, or a key divisional victory. It did not even indicate the fifth championship, to which he had just led his team. Instead, this moment culminated in a victory that he absolutely wanted in his mother’s honor. This time, Tom Brady’s ‘next one’ was about the chance to once again make his mother proud. For all of the on field heroics we’ve seen him accomplish through the years, it was this moment that poignantly showcased Brady’s emotional durability. The man who seems too good to be true (at times) was human after all. Football did not matter. All that did matter was the health of his mother and the warmth of his family. Of all possible motivational factors for an athlete, those that are personal tend to be the most potent.
As he prepares to embark on a new endeavor, Brady leaves behind an indelible legacy in New England. Though the team will move forward, his presence will continue to be felt throughout Gillette Stadium. His longtime teammates will undoubtedly miss his drive, encouragement and competitive spirit. Yet, the example he set will continue to drive the Patriots in the post-Brady era. Defensive captain, (and recently re-signed) safety Devin McCourty recalled a moment, which (in his opinion) embodies the example which Tom Brady intends to set. Of this example, McCourty said:
“When we played San Francisco in 2016, I want to say it was after we lost to Seattle, we had just traded Jamie (Collins) and we went to San Fran and I think a lot of people are doubting us and we go out and get a big win. Everybody’s on the plane celebrating, standing up, laughing and joking and you look over at Tom and he’s on his laptop. He got hit in the leg so he’s massaging it, he’s watching film and totally locked in on watching the game we just played. I think that just spoke volumes. He’s always moving on to the next, he’s always preparing. And that’s just how he is day-in and day-out.”
To support that point, when asked if there is anything Tom Brady can’t do, friend and teammate Julian Edelman has routinely replied, “Quit!”
Some might argue that Brady might have been wise to take an opportunity to ‘ride off into the sunset’ with a gleam of Lombardi-trophy silver in his eye. After all, the chance to retire while standing at the pinnacle of athletic success is a luxury to which very few athletes are afforded. Brady’s retirement would surely have aroused the delight of fans of all NFL teams not named the New England Patriots. It would also have made some envy-ridden members of the national (and local) media squeal with glee.
Much to the chagrin of his legions of detractors, however, Brady does not find his motivation in appeasing the unfounded opinions of media “talking heads.” Instead, Brady finds his motivation in a lesson that he learned as a student-athlete at the University of Michigan, from longtime Wolverines equipment manager Jon Falk. In a popular 2002 interview with NFL Films, Brady was quoted as saying:
“I had an equipment manager in college — he had been at Michigan for 25 years or so — he’s got so many Big Ten rings, he doesn’t have enough fingers for all the rings he’s got. He said, ‘You know what, Tom? You know what my favorite ring is?’ I said, ‘Which one’s that?’ He goes, ‘The next one.’ And that’s what I think: ‘The next one.’”
Approaching his 43rd birthday in August, Tom Brady will continue his professional football career beyond the confines of New England. Brady has enjoyed an unprecedented level of success and longevity in a sport that is not known for a long shelf-life. Physically, he is still more than capable. Mentally, he might be stronger than ever. It is yet another chance to prove the doubters wrong. It would not be smart to dismiss him. After all, betting against Tom Brady is not exactly a profitable strategy.
By the true New England Patriots fan, Tom Brady will neither be vilified, nor forgotten. Instead, with a heavy heart, a grateful nation of fans will continue to toast him from afar, as they prepare for a season in New England that will no longer include their franchise’s favorite son.
For Brady, a new chapter is about to be written. All else remains background noise. Make no mistake in thinking that he no longer has championship aspirations. Rest assured, he does; and he will for as long as he wears shoulder pads. He may, or may not, achieve that goal before the sun does finally set on his storied NFL career. However, one thing with Brady is always certain. Win or lose, his attention will soon be squarely focused on his ‘next one.’
It is just hard to believe that Tom Brady’s ‘next one’ will be sought while wearing a different NFL uniform.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC