By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It says a lot about us all — as a region, as a media market, as a football market, etc. — that the release of a five-minute video on social media in which the local quarterback restates things that he’s stated many times before can become the top story in town. It speaks to the import of professional football, sure, as well as the celebrity of the subject, of course. But more than anything, the drawn-out reaction, the forced “takes,” the whiny cries of being “sick of this” — whatever the reactions may be, they are anything but scarce in this market.
So, in the wake of Tom Brady dropping an epilogue for “Tom Vs. Time” and saying that he spent time with his family this offseason (we knew this) and that he hopes to be able to play to age 45 (we knew this too), everybody’s rushed to have some sort of take in reaction to this video — which nobody forced them to watch in the first place. It’s quite the phenomenon.
Anyway, while the comments from Brady weren’t entirely revelatory, the quarterback did shine a light on what his mind-set is right now — at age 41, already considered by many to be the greatest quarterback of all time — as he enters the 2018 season and beyond. Considering this is a man who — if you can temporarily put aside your personal feelings toward his company, his guru, his brand, his bird sanctuary, and whatever else he has going on — is one of the most ferociously competitive athletes to ever play professional sports, is is always interesting to gain perspective on what drives him and what fuels him, even after he’s accomplished so much.
Brady was kind enough to share.
“I still feel like there’s things to accomplish,” Brady said. “It’d be like getting close to the top of the mountain and being like, ‘Ah, that’s good, I’m good.’ It’s like, no, you worked really hard to get to this point, why not finish it off?”
The comment is fascinating, to say the least. Here is Brady — he of five Super Bowl victories, he of four Super Bowl MVPs, he of three NFL MVPs, he of the most wins by any quarterback of all time, he of the greatest seasons ever for a 39-year-old and a 40-year-old quarterback — looking at himself in the mirror and seeing an incomplete project. He’s accomplished more than anyone else ever has, yet he doesn’t feel as though he’s reached the top of the mountain.
That may just be how a perfectionist and a hyper-competitive person thinks about everything. He may never actually feel as though he’s sitting on the mountaintop, no matter what he’s able to accomplish. But if we do take Brady at his word, we’re left to wonder what exactly he might still be seeking to accomplish before closing the book on his football career.
Another Super Bowl
This one is, of course, the most obvious idea, because there’s no point in playing football if you’re not playing to win. And having gotten so close to winning a sixth Super Bowl — a SIXTH Super Bowl — just a few short months ago, it’s fair to assume that Brady wants that sixth championship more than ever.
And in case you forgot, Brady is not the only NFL player to win five Super Bowls. Charles Haley won five during his career — three with the 49ers, two with the Cowboys. He obviously didn’t have the type of influence on a game that the quarterback would — Haley had 4.5 sacks in the five Super Bowl appearances — but he’s still got five. Winning No. 6 would leave Brady in a class unto himself.
Brady owns the record for most postseason passing yards by a rather wide margin; he has 10,226 playoff passing yards, to Peyton Manning’s 7,339 playoff passing yards. Brady’s lead in playoff touchdowns is flat-out comical, as he’s thrown 71 touchdowns in the playoffs. Joe Montana ranks second … with 45.
In terms of regular-season records, though, Brady has some work to do. He’s 5,781 yards shy of the record for most regular-season passing yards, a record currently owned by Manning. Brady is also 51 touchdowns shy of Manning’s all-time regular-season record of 539.
Brady could presumably reach those numbers in two years. However, the presence and persistence of Drew Brees figures to complicate that quest. Brees has the same number of touchdowns as Brady and over 4,000 more passing yards. So passing him and passing Manning may prove to be overly difficult.
So, what’s become somewhat in vogue around here recently is to go with the combined numbers of the regular season. If you do that, it looks like this:
Most Career Passing Yards (Regular + Postseason)
1. Peyton Manning: 79,279
2. Tom Brady: 76,385
(Drew Brees has 74,654 total combined passing yards.)
Most Career Passing TDs (Regular + Postseason)
1. Peyton Manning: 579
2. Tom Brady: 559
(Drew Brees has 517 total combined touchdowns.)
It may seem silly, thinking that this matters to Brady. And maybe it doesn’t. Certainly throughout his career, he’s never hesitated to hand the ball off to a running back and letting his teammate get the touchdown when it’s been the smartest play to run. If Brady wanted to have padded his stats over the years with short touchdown passes, he’s had ample opportunity.
But, well, remember that email? The one which was never supposed to see the light of day? The one sent from Brady to his friend, in which he revealed a competitive side that he’d never share publicly? The one where Brady in 2014 wrote, “I’ve got another 7 or 8 years. [Manning] has 2. That’s the final chapter. Game on”?
It was, at the very least, an indication that Brady is not only aware of the constant comparisons that were made between himself and Manning, but that he did care about coming out on top. So to say that these records matter to Brady does not seem like an absurd possibility in the least.
Catching A Touchdown
Now, on the list of absurdities, this one’s rather high. But when you look at the ridiculously dense pages of statistics which Brady has racked up since 2000, the only thing he hasn’t done is catch a touchdown.
Seriously — he’s thrown some passes, obviously. He’s run with some effectiveness. He’s punted. He’s held on PATs and field goals. He’s been credited with nine tackles (hit stick!). He’s even caught two passes (with an average of 29.5 yards per reception).
But he’s never caught a touchdown. It’s probably not very important to him. But after being unable to haul in the slight overthrow from Danny Amendola in Super Bowl LII, on the same night that Nick Foles caught a wide-open touchdown pass, perhaps it is one item Brady might need to check off his list before he feels he’s done in this league.
(Probably not though.)
Regular Season MVP
With a large contingent of football fans and analysts believing Brady to be the GOAT, it is a bit striking that Brady has “only” been named MVP of the league three times, right?
I threw some quotation marks around “only,” because, well, he’s only the fifth player to ever win three MVP awards. But there is one player who’s won more than three MVP awards, and that player is, of course, Peyton Manning. Four times as a member of the Colts, and once with the Broncos, Manning was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
That Brady was able to win the MVP award at the age of 40 was remarkable unto itself, and it makes it somewhat plausible that he could theoretically win the award again at age 41. But winning two more, after winning just three MVPs in his first 16 seasons as an NFL starter? That seems to be too lofty a goal, even for Brady.
This one seems unlikely, and perhaps borders on the Hot Take territory. But might Brady believe he has something to prove by winning somewhere other than New England?
It’s not something that Robert Kraft would like to see, and it’s probably not something that Brady spends much time fantasizing about. But for someone who’s worked under Bill Belichick for the better part of two decades, it’s possible that there’s a desire for … something different. Brady himself certainly seemed open to the idea earlier this year, when he responded to a Mark Leibovich email about his status on the Patriots by saying, “It’s April and I don’t intend to retire. And I certainly don’t intend to get traded. … [The Patriots] can do whatever they want.”
Like someone who’s only worked at one company for 20 years, or someone who’s just looking to scratch an itch for exploration, maybe there’s a small part of Brady that wants to win somewhere other than New England.
Going Out On Top
Maybe it’s just that simple. Walking away from football after getting strip-sacked to (essentially) lose a Super Bowl? That’s no way for a champion to go out. Likewise, a quarterback being unable to throw the football while having his defense carry him to a title would be an undignified end to an illustrious career.
Maybe Brady will feel it’s time to walk away only after feeling that confetti rain down upon him after another strong performance. He need not throw for 505 yards, like he did in Super Bowl LII. He need not lead a miraculous comeback, like he did in Super Bowl LI. He need not even win the MVP; his four are the most of all time, and the only other players to even win two Super Bowl MVPs have zero chance of ever catching him.
Perhaps, given all that Brady has in terms of his family life and his business outside of football, he’s just looking to end his career on the right note. Maybe he was sitting in his basement in San Mateo in February of 2000, fresh off graduating from Michigan, watching on some tube TV as John Elway did what every quarterback dreams of doing: being the best player on a Super Bowl-winning team, then “riding off into the sunset,” as they say.
Such a goal is not at all an easy one to attain. Just because Brady and the Patriots have made it to four of the past seven Super Bowls doesn’t mean that getting there is easy. But after making the Super Bowl in exactly half of his seasons as an NFL starter, and after winning the Super Bowl in roughly one-third of his NFL seasons, one can easily see why Brady would feel otherwise. And one could imagine that, with all that he has waiting for him in his post-football life, he may just be waiting for the moment to feel right.
That’s probably not something that’s attached to a number, or a statistic, or anything of the sort. He might just be waiting for that feeling. And for someone who’s really only known winning for as long as he’s played football, you have to imagine that the feeling can only come after the grandest victory possible.