Tom Brady was most certainly angling for a championship when he latched on to the Buccaneers last March. To argue that he was motivated to bounce back from a disappointing season would be an understatement. His numbers were down to a level where critics deemed him a veritable candidate for the rocking chair, and where the Patriots, who rode on his shoulders since they selected him with the 199 th pick in the 2000 draft but smarted from an immediate-past wild card loss, refused to give him the long-term deal he sought.
And so he wanted to prove a point, and emphatically.
To be sure, Brady could have gone to a handful of other destinations and been given at least as good a chance to compete for the hardware. The rigors of the National Football League are such that nothing is etched in stone, and the Buccaneers, while stacked with talent, carried the baggage of desperation borne of a prolonged absence from the playoffs dating back to 2007. All the same, there can be no denying that he chose with purpose. Not for nothing was he able to affix his Hancock on a two-year contract worth a whopping $50 million. And not for nothing did he bring such notables as Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, and Antonio Brown along with him. One was a year into retirement, the other a discard, and the third a walking public relations nightmare, and yet he still finagled roster spots for them.
Indeed, the Buccaneers all but handed Brady the keys to the kingdom. They were already trending upwards before his arrival, but they figured him to be more than merely an upgrade to the interception-prone Jameis Winston. They viewed him as a culture changer, a living legend from whom everybody else could generate confidence. They viewed him as a winner, period. And if they now underscore the reward and not delve on the risk of their fateful decision close to 11 months ago, it’s because they dared dream, and dream big. He was no sure thing, especially in the midst of a pandemic that eliminated his transition period and cut practice time to a minimum, but he was close — perhaps even closest — to one.
The gamble went both ways, of course. Already acknowledged as the greatest quarterback in the annals of the sport, Brady didn’t need to hurdle yet another obstacle at 42. He could have just enjoyed the fruits of two decades’ worth of labor. Instead, he deliberately staked his reputation because he felt he needed to show all and sundry — and even himself — that he was far from done. And while doubt crept into his latest campaign on occasion, there was simply no stopping him from regaining the respect and respectability he believed he shouldn’t have lost in the first place.
Today, Brady stands on top of pro football anew. He wasn’t at his finest in Super Bowl LV, but because the Buccaneers had his back, all he needed to be was, well, himself. And now he has seven rings on his fingers and a fifth Most Valuable Player award on his mantel. That he stands triumphant after going through a postseason climb against a Who’s Who of names under center serves only to highlight the gravity of his accomplishment. He’s looking at wins versus Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes with pride, and rightly so.
Back when Brady signed with the Buccaneers, he spoke of getting a new jersey number since his usual 12 was already being worn by Pro Bowl receiver Chris Godwin. General manager Jason Lichtenstein recalled him asking if 7 was available. Why? Because, said the surefire Hall of Famer, it stands for the number of titles he will have at the end of the season. And, true enough, it does. Although he still got to use 12, the anecdote speaks of his sense of purpose — one that will, no doubt, fuel his desire to mount the first successful title defense since he himself did it in 2005. As he noted emphatically the other day, “We’re coming back!” As far as he’s concerned, the stage is set, and the stage is his.
ANTHONY L. CUAYCONG has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.