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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Tom Brady is back and the NFL is better for it

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With the kind of speed he never showed on the actual football field, Tom Brady changed course and decided to retire from the NFL. He has said on various social media accounts that he will return to Tampa Bay for the 2022 season.

“These last two months I have realized that my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” Brady tweeted. “That time will come. But it is not now. I love my teammates and I love my family who supports me. They make it all possible. I will be back for my 23rd season in Tampa. unfinished business.”

Brady officially announced his retirement on February 1, so the whole thing lasted just 40 days. It’s a Britney Spears marriage. Brett Favre was impressed with the change. Barry Sanders never changed directions so easily.

Whatever happens, 40 days must have been like two months for Brady. Too many handyman chores around the house? Did the stock market crash decimate his savings? Or was it the increase in gasoline prices?

Who cares? Brady is back and for the NFL in general, and the Buccaneers in particular, this is fantastic.

There will be many days after Brady. The league is more fun with him in it.

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He will turn 45 during training camp, fulfilling a goal once mocked playing until that age. However, he will enter the season with the active Ironman streak among quarterbacks: 107 games (and none missed due to injury since 2009). He can boost his career stats (playoffs included), like crossing the 100,000 passing yards mark (currently 97,569).

He has played in 365 games, winning 278 of them, including 35 in the playoffs. He has had 67 game-winning drives and 710 touchdowns.

It’s not like it’s been fading lately. He completed 67.5 percent of his passes in 2021 for 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns. The Bucs went 13-4 and seemed to be having a lot of fun.

Tom Brady is back for his 23rd season in the NFL. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

In the divisional round, Brady led Tampa back from 3-27 to tie the Los Angeles Rams in the final minute. It took a dramatic drive from Matthew Stafford to win the game to beat him.

If Leonard Fournette hadn’t scored on what was a 4-and-1 from the 9-yard line, the Bucs might have run out the clock, scored to tie the game, won the coin toss and won the Super Bowl.

Instead, Stafford got time and the rest is history. The Lombardi Trophy is in Los Angeles

There’s no way Brady didn’t think about how close Tampa was … and how open the NFC remains compared to his old AFC, which is now chock-full of quarterback talent.

Tampa needs a lot of work to maintain and develop a Super Bowl-caliber roster for this fall, but the key piece is in place. Brady tends to attract talent and free agency is about to start.

According to various social media accounts, Brady has spent the last six weeks on vacation, with his family and most recently visiting Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored three goals in his presence. After the game, Ronaldo asked Brady if he was retired and Brady seemed non-committal.

Hours later, he was back.

Brady is no different than most athletes. They stop playing when someone tells them it’s time to stop playing. He maybe he’s cutting himself in high school. Maybe that’s when no college recruiter shows interest. Maybe that’s when the draft comes and goes: Brady had to wait until the 199th pick before New England took him in 2000.

Maybe that’s when neither team really wants them.

That’s not Brady. Not yet. Tampa didn’t have a viable replacement. The immediate future was not inspired. Who knows if Brady can really lead the Bucs to another Super Bowl, the eighth, but at least the season is exciting again.

Tom Brady still has more football in him. He still has the competitive fire that took him so long. He gave retirement life a brief try and immediately realized it wasn’t for him.

Good for Brady. He is playing for the love of the game, for himself, for his own worth. The dream he chased all those years ago growing up in San Mateo, Calif., overshadowed by his older sisters, bottom of the depth chart at Michigan or a last-round draft pick out of New England, are still his dreams.

Brady is back. Retirement can wait.

LFG, as he would say.

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